Friday, July 07, 2006

How Old is Too Old to Be a Screenwriter? (Part Two)

Hollywood take note: boomers are aging and the battle is raging.

Variety reported late last year on an AARP series of 23 (I repeat twenty-three!) class action lawsuits being heard in California Supreme Court charging the networks, studios, talent agencies and production companies with age discrimination. Tracy Keenan Wynn (The Longest Yard, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), co-counseled by the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), is joined by more than 150 writers over the age of 40.

In part one of this series, we began by tackling the Big A’s: Ageism and Access. More and more writers are asking about the possibilities of their becoming screenwriters, even if they’re over 40. Who would take these older writers seriously? Well, as promised, here’s the good news:

Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Age 48
Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash), Age 53
Mike Leigh (Vera Drake), Age 63
Brad Bird (The Incredibles), Age over 40
Alvin Sargent (Spider-Man 2 and 3), Age over 65
David Magee (Finding Neverland), Age 44

The list goes on ...William Goldman is pushing 70; David Mamet is 53; the Cohen brothers are easily beyond 35. Academy Award-winning authors of Shakespeare in Love’s, Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman are no spring chickens. Norman is closer to 60 than 50, and Stoppard turns 64 last year.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “But those guys all fall under the category of already established writers.” Perhaps the more relevant question has to do not with the plight of established screenwriters, but with the new screenwriter with a few miles on him or her?

Generally speaking, people do get better with age when it comes to career performance. Professional athletes, lawyers, chefs, actors, and writers tend to improve with time. Raw enthusiasm; energy and youthful effervescence are slowly translated into depth of experience and increased skill. In other words, guessing at what life is like is replaced by living it. So why shouldn’t someone who starts writing screenplays at 35 or 40 get the benefit of the doubt that she will write a good one?

Well, if you’re a young 37 and can pass for say, 30, no problem. If you’re a youthful 47, in good shape and have a full head of hair, again, no problem. But if you’re out of shape and balding and have bad skin and are an overall physical wreck, you may have problems. Not with someone reading your script. But when you get called for a meeting!

Assuming you’re a true diamond in the rough … Agents and managers say age isn’t an issue. All that matters is a good script; and in part they are right. Great writing and a strong story are always paramount. But a word to the wise, try not to take any meetings until s/he has read your script (and fallen in love with what’s between the covers!), especially if you’re a high-end baby boomer not in your best shape.

This is why it’s to your advantage to find an agent, first. She will send out your script, and nobody will have to know that you have children in college or that you’re about to become a grandfather. (P.S. - While you’re looking for someone to “champion” your work, if you’re worried, why not hit the gym while you’re at it!)

Is it better to be young and starting out as a screenwriter? Yes. Are the odds against you if you’re over 35 and writing your first blockbuster? Absolutely. But as D.B. Gilles says, The Screenwriter Within, “…that’s all the more reason to try.” Why? “Because you know that the best stories are always the ones when your hero triumphs over insurmountable odds.”

So, the next time someone says you’re too old to be writing for Hollywood, take them back to the beginning of this article and point out how many produced writers are over 40. Remember, too, if the California Supreme Court rules in your favor, the studios will have to adapt. (Forget John Lennon and just Imagine ... “quotas” for women, minorities, and ... those over forty!)

The bottom line is being encouraged. It’s never too late to be what you might have been. Besides, there’s only so much you can squeeze out of a zit-faced 20-year-old who still lives at home with his parents. And if you’re still worried, and really motivated – go ahead, pick up the latest graphic novel or buy stock in Marvel Comics!

Above all, tell the world through your writing to get with the program – the largest market force in American still resides with the baby boomers that are “growing” and “graying” every day.

Write what they want to see, and then watch Hollywood come knocking on your doorstep.

Kevin C.

3 Comments:

Blogger elias said...

I agree with the good news.

8:53 PM  
Blogger jean said...

It's August, 2009. Is anybody still out there? I'm 67 years old and just wrote my first screenplay.
About me and my husband running away three years ago and living on a sail boat. Never sailed.

We sold everything, (hubby lost job), took sailing lessons for one week, and ran off to St. Thomas and bought a 2006 sailboat. I'll tell more if anyone is out there.

7:18 PM  
Blogger jean said...

It's August, 2009. Is anybody still out there? I'm 67 years old and just wrote my first screenplay.
About me and my husband running away three years ago and living on a sail boat. Never sailed.

We sold everything, (hubby lost job), took sailing lessons for one week, and ran off to St. Thomas and bought a 2006 sailboat. I'll tell more if anyone is out there.

7:21 PM  

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