George R. R, Martin is 67 years old. He’s the originator of the Emmy winning Best Drama, Game of Thrones. He seems to be doing quite well in television at his advanced age. It does happen. Of course he was a successful novelist first. And that makes all he difference.
However, that is most certainly not the case with most writers over 67, or 57.
The unfortunate truth is there is ageism in Hollywood. However, that doesn’t mean writers in their 50’s can’t get jobs or writing assignments. It just means your chances get harder, especially if you’re over 40. But it can be done.
First let’s examine why ageism happens.
To clarify, this blog should be titled How Old Is Too Old To Start Writing For Hollywood? As long as you start in your 20’s or 30’s, you can write as long as you can hold on to your career. However, a 20 year career doesn’t happen easily. It takes hard work, and insight.
How can you hold onto your career?
If you can keep writing for twenty years straight, you are, likely to keep working in Hollywood, as long as you’re still writing at a professional level. Actually, scratch that. As long as you’re writing is as good or better hat everyone else’s. This is partly a matter of luck.
For example, if you are writing for TV, if you keep getting jobs on shows that only last a year, your chances of having a short career go up.
If you get lucky, and your first job is on Game of Thrones, for example, you’re likely going to move up from staff writer to Story Editor, to Producer and eventually to Executive Producer. You could be on that show for many, many years. Of course you have to consistently write at the level of the show or better.
However, if your scripts are subpar and constantly being rewritten, if you don’t seem to be capturing the character’s voices, or the tone of the show, you most likely will not be asked back at the end of the season. But if you’re good, you’ll keep moving up.
If you work on a string of shows that are cancelled in their first year, you don’t get known for being writer on a hit show. This puts you in a lesser category. Producers and network people may start to think of you as a “B” show writer.
So, you don’t become the first choice on the next show. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You keep getting hired on “B” shows.
There is a way out of this. Sell a script to an “A” show. For example, the “A” shows today are Homeland, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, Silicon Valley, Master of None, and Better Call Saul. Any show with an Emmy nomination for writing is a safe bet.
Even selling one episode on those shows will help you move up to “A” show levels.
There’s another factor. In Hollywood, everyone’s asking “what have you done lately? If you go two years without selling a script, studios and networks start to forget about you.
That’s how careers end.
And in feature screenwriting, it’s much harder to sell consistently. So few feature film scripts are bought by studios these days, it hard to keep selling year after year.
Why is that? At least half the movies made today are superhero films, kid’s films, or prequels, sequels, or remakes. Those films are considered lower risk, because they have a built-in audience.
The studios are going to give those scripts to their tried and true best writers.
There’s another reason it’s harder to get hired in TV if you’re older. The average age of showrunners and the network executives are generally between 35 to 45 years old. There are some older showrunners of course, which helps. A 35 year old showrunner is going to feel awkward about giving notes a writer in his forties or fifties.
Most of the writers on a TV staff are going to be 25 t0 35. So, Executive Producers want a writer’s room that gets along together, that will socialize with each other. So, the 35 year old showrunner will try to keep the age range down to the room will get along. Studios and networks also favor younger writers.
There is also a perception that younger writers relate better to younger audiences and come up with “fresher” ideas. This may not be true, but that’s what people think. In TV, advertisers want to reach young adults. It’s a crucial age. They want their ads to reach young couples who haven’t developed “brand preferences” yet.
Advertisers want to influence young adults to start buying Volvos. Why? That’s when consumers develop brand loyalty. There’s a chance they’ll remain Volvo customers for life and their kids will pick up on it ultimately.
In features, there’s a preconceived notion, that may or may not be true, that says people who see movies are people who are dating, so, again young adults. Lots of movies come out each year, especially romantic comedies that are meant to draw in teens and young adults.
Think about date movies. They’re often “young adult” films like The Hunger Games, or Maze Runner, or any Bradley Cooper or Jennifer Lawrence romantic comedy.
There’s also a huge children’s market for films. Kids find out about these movies, like Cinderella, or other Disney, or Pixar movies and they don’t stop screaming until their parents take them to see the latest kid movie. Parents can’t fight it.
This explains the “need for new young writers” in Hollywood. It’s part of Hollywood thinking, but it’s BS. The truth is a sixty year old writer can write a great young adult feature or a romantic comedy. Unfortunately, the younger studio execs don’t think so.
Don’t give up. You can make it in this town if you’re starting out over 50. It’s just a bit harder. Maybe a lot harder. But he odds of making it at all are pretty long. For any aged writer. If you look at it that way, why not give it a try?