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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 50 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…

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