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Ageism in Hollywood and How to Break In As a Writer Over 40.

5 hands-on steps every mature writer should take to get past age discrimination in Hollywood.

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Become a Screenwriter
February 28, 2020 33 comments
Ageism in Hollywood

Ageism in Hollywood and how to break in as a writer over 40. 

Unfortunately, ageism in Hollywood is definitely real. The many lawsuits and payouts over the years are proof of the fact that the industry views more mature writers a little differently from those in their 20s and 30s.

For some reason, the general theory goes that if a writer hasn’t produced anything of quality by the time they reach, say, 45, they’re unlikely to… ever.

Yes, this thinking is as silly as it sounds, but it’s all part of the uphill struggle many aspiring writers face when trying to break in, and so deserves to be addressed.

But here’s the good news: age discrimination in Hollywood is often not the determining factor in whether a writer over 40 breaks in or not…

The determining factor is much more likely to be the writer themselves.

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In this post, we’re going to show you the top five actions you can take right now to combat ageism in Hollywood. So let’s jump on in.

1. Focus on your strengths as an “older” writer.

If you’ve been writing for a number of years, ask yourself if you’re a better writer now than you were ten years ago. Chances are, you’re a much better writer now than you were then and therefore much better positioned to break in.

Could a 25-year-old have written Marriage Story or The Irishman? Possibly, but it’s highly unlikely. Write down what you bring to the table as a more mature writer: your experience, life skills, writing craft, personal confidence, and so on.

Yes, a writer in his or her 20s may be better positioned to write a sitcom starring a bunch of millennials or a high school coming-of-age movie. But so what? You’re probably better positioned to write practically everything else.

What’s your life story? What makes you unique among all the thousands of writers out there trying to break in? Write it down and turn a negative—your lack of youth—into a positive—your experience.

2. Ask yourself if you’re using age as an excuse.

Have you ever written a script and feared that if you sent it out you would be told, “Sorry, it’s a fantastic script but you’re too old”?

Just like the protagonist in 90 percent of movies, your biggest enemy might be yourself. Make sure you are not using the “Hollywood is ageist” line as an excuse to not give it a proper shot.

Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back. If you’re over 40 and think that you’re too old to become a writer, then that could well turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Take the exact same steps to break in now as if you were still in your 20s (within reason, of course). Stick to a strict writing schedule, move to Los Angeles if possible, network, etc.

If you have the drive, the means, the writing chops, put in the work and remove an even bigger obstacle than ageism in Hollywood itself: fear.

3. Write feature scripts instead of TV scripts.

Yes, ageism in Hollywood exist in both movies and TV. But it’s probably worse in the television market than the feature market. There are some practical reasons for this, however, that you should be aware of.

TV writers’ rooms work long anti-social hours. If you have a husband/wife and kids, you may find it harder to convince an executive that you’ll be able to put in the hours and cope with the pressures.

The shows have a quicker turnaround than movies, as do the TV creative executives themselves. Consequently, the television industry tends to go for younger writers who, the theory goes, can keep up with the pace and demands of the work.

Now, we’re not saying you should simply give up if your goal is to break into TV market. Older writers do it all the time. But they all have one thing in common: a crazy work ethic that matches or even exceeds their younger peers.

Ageism in Hollywood

4. Remain “young at heart.”

If you’re still holding on to the idea that you can crank out scripts at home, send them out and not really have to interact with anyone in person, you can eject it from your mind right now.

While it’s true an exec or producer often can’t tell how old a writer is just from reading their script, the problem of ageism in Hollywood can arise once they meet said writer in person.

So if you’re an “older writer” and go into a meeting complaining about having climbed a few stairs, you’re more likely to be perceived as an “older writer. If you keep steering the conversation back to the 1980s and struggle to get out of your seat at the end of the meeting, you’re more likely to be perceived as an “older writer.”

In other words, you want to work on your image and make sure you come across as “young at heart” as you can. Both in appearance and outlook. Many older aspiring writers like to adopt a “take me or leave me” attitude, but they do so at their peril.

5. Get inspired by other creatives who broke in “late.”

We tend to think that everything vital and enduring is (and has been) created by the young. After all, Orson Welles was only 26 when he directed, co-wrote and acted in Citizen Kane. Brian Wilson was only 24 when he recorded Pet Sounds. And Steve Jobs was only 22 when he achieved wealth and fame with Apple.

But in reality, these are the exceptions to the rule. The majority of people who “make it” in their chosen pursuits (apart from in sports or other physically demanding activities) usually do so at a much more leisurely pace.

Here are just a few of the many writers, actors and creatives who did just that and hearing about their story may just help ease some of your angst about ageism in Hollywood:

• David Seidler was 51 before he got his first movie script produced, and 73 before he hit the big time with his screenplay for The King’s Speech.

• Annie Proulx of Brokeback Mountain fame was 57 before she published her first novel.

• David Webb Peoples toiled away for many years as a film editor while writing scripts on the side, before, aged 42, he was hired to co-write Bladerunner.

• Ron Bass was a lawyer for 17 years before having his first movie made from an adaptation of his novel aged 43.

• Raymond Chandler was 51 before his first novel, The Big Sleep was published having only turned to writing after his career as an oil executive hit the skids during the Great Depression.

To read more about other high achievers who broke in later in life, check out the book Late Bloomers by Brendan Gill.

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Ageism in Hollywood: conclusion. 

Yes, screenwriting is maybe slightly harder to break in to when you’re over 40. But it’s hard for people under 40 too. Ultimately, what’s more important than anything is your talent, determination and marketing strategy.

What’s the point of being a 25-year-old screenwriter if your writing sucks or you’re impossible to work with? If you’re over 40 but talented, hard-working and easy to get along with, your age won’t matter as much as you might think.

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Are you concerned about ageism in Hollywood hampering your chances of becoming a writer? Have you had direct experience of age discrimination in Hollywood? What do you think of our strategies to combat it? We’d love to hear your comments in the section below!

Ageism in Hollywood

Enjoyed this post? Read more about how to break into Hollywood…

How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Guide to Unlocking Your Career

5 Proven Paths to a Screenwriter Career That Will Motivate You Today

How to Pitch a Movie Idea and Sell Your Script With Style

[Photo credits: Unsplash, Wikimedia]

33 Comments
  1. Ms P says:

    Just wow. I am still encouraged as an way over 40 writer. Its not over till both the fat and skinny ladies sing! These days they are sitting around at home drinking herb tea

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Go for it, Ms. P! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  2. Jeff says:

    It’s all about the story and the script and how well its pulled together. I’m over 40 but inspired by all of this new information to get this happening. Thanks

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Fantastic – thanks, Jeff!

  3. Karen Powell-Riggs says:

    The best piece of advice I’ve found, is to use the same rules on your writer’s resume, as you would a job resume and GET RID OF ALL THE DATES. If they need to know, they can ask. The only thing I put a date on, is when I place or win a contest.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great advice – thanks, Karen!

  4. DL Stickler says:

    Living in a world that more than not looks for reasons to exclude people rather than include them is a flimsy excuse at best for not pursuing a dream by any (appropriate) means necessary.
    Is screenwriting a vocation for everyone? No. Anymore than trapeze artist or firefighter. One thing that (hopefully) any older writer has found is their own voice.
    Is it always a voice that people want to read? Or see? Or hear? Not necessarily
    Sometimes, we have to seek the path to our own dreams. And, that is one thing that I can bring to the table.
    I have been on that path long enough to know that hard work, adaptability and skills will always bring me closer.
    Keep up the good work folks.
    You are still among the most helpful and informative group of people working in the “break in” Industry when it comes to screenwriting.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks so much for the feedback and comments, DL. It’s definitely true that screenwriting’s not for everyone, but there’s nothing to stop you giving it a shot it is.

  5. Orji Joseph says:

    Delligence, Confident and double effort can break any limits

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Well said – thanks, Orji!

  6. Glen Phillips says:

    I don’t reveal my age or past work history, so I’m sure ‘ageism’ isn’t a factor with me. Not yet anyway… I have used SRP’s list of agents/managers-accepting-new-clients. I’ve used your suggestions for writing query letters as well as modifications of my own. I use a combination of calls and emails – sort of a one-two punch. To date, no one has returned a phone call or responded to an email. I’ve also talked to a human twice. Both said they only accepted submissions from other agents. Oddly, I’m not that disappointed. I knew going in this wouldn’t be easy. Last note… SRP might want to update the above list. There’s a few that have moved, changed phone numbers, or don’t really take unsolicited material.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Glen. It’s hard to keep on top of the changing worlds of managers but we’ll try and get to it soon. Cheers!

  7. Lee Bruce says:

    I am 77 years young, and don’t give a damn about this “ageism” crap. Moreover, I don’t, for one minute, think I have to move to California/Hollywood just to “network” to improve my chances. The Midwest, and East Coast, have outlets just as usable if not better. I have a huge background in life’s experiences for which I am applying the writing background techniques I have learned and use for writing a screen play. . I am writing a screenplay for the challenge and fun of writing one. For me it is terrific therapy to keep busy for something I can produce and see come to life. Makes me feel useful each day. -30-

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      THAT’S the attitude – best of luck with the script!

  8. Michael Faunce-Brown says:

    Being over forty is an advantage. Younger people haven’t lived. They have over half their life ahead of them. As you become older, you have so much more experience.
    More mature in thought. Readier to accept advice. See the point of view of others.
    I’ll still be writing when they incinerate me. Look for my message on the coffin lid: “Let me out. It’s too bloody hot in here.” And if you don’t agree, I’ll haunt you.

  9. Claudio says:

    Agree, Speaking from experience, ageism exists in many creative industries.
    For example, advertising in much worse. Creative Writers or Art Directors over 40, the agencies see them as old 4 football players. Experience is not a skill anymore. Also, if you’re younger companies can pay much less.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It’s a shame yes, but at least once you join the WGA the rates are the same.

  10. MAB says:

    * ageism….proofreading is key (but not to ageism)… lol

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It can be spelt both ways and we went with “ageism” as it’s more searched for on Google 🙂

  11. MAB says:

    I don’t find agism a negative. You have to have a young mind to keep up. Know the lingo, catchphrases, take gender off the page. When someone reads your script, do they ask how old you are before they read? No. Your age is on the page unless you are writing a period piece.

    1. MAB says:

      * ageism….proofreading is key (but not to ageism)… lol

      1. Script Reader Pro says:

        It can be spelt both ways and we went with “ageism” as it’s more searched for on Google 🙂

    2. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s good advice right there, thanks.

  12. Deborah Reece says:

    WHY DO YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM YOUR AGE IN THE FIRST PLACE?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re right, you don’t.

  13. Carrie Mason says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue. I often wondered about being an “older” writer and how it would affect me. I haven’t been a writer my whole life and got started at 50 now 57. I once asked Linda Seger if there is ageism and she promptly came back with yes. In fact, some hire a younger person to pitch for them. I can say I would never do that. My writing will speak for itself even if I am walking a bit slower than the 20-year-old with the hoodie. Tough to break in anywhere really especially starting a whole new career but I am going to consider it a big adventure! Thanks again and please write more encouraging us who have lots of experience in life and deserve a respectful break.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s the right attitude, Carrie – thanks for sharing!

  14. David Micus says:

    How bout “write a great.script”?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      True, thanks David.

  15. Kristeen says:

    Write a good story. That’s the answer to ageism.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yep, that’s the way forward.

  16. Emjay Ikner says:

    Ageism is rampant across industries. Welcome to the gig econ.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      True, thanks for the comment, Emjay.

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