What are some ways older writers can find help trying to break in? If you’re older and can write a really great spec script for a TV show that’s on the air, and a really great TV pilot, there are workshops that might help you, regardless of your age.
For example, there is the Warner Brothers Writers Workshop, the CBS Diversity Institute (which has a Diversity Mentoring Program for older writers. There’s a Disney/ABC Writing Program, a program called the Fox Diversity Program and the NBC Diversity Initiative for Writers.
Diversity is defined by the Writers Guild of America as minority writers, writers with disabilities, women, gay and lesbian writers, and writers over 55. The industry is aware of the ageism going on in Hollywood and has taken some small steps to correct it.
Older writers should also take advantage of writing contests. When you submit your script you don’t have to list your age. The playing field is more even. Same with the The Page and Austin Film Festival screenwriting contests.
You’ll have a better chance breaking in if you’ve been writing plays or novels. Even if you’re not famous, a track record of writing will help you. If you’re famous, your chances of selling scripts go up.
An example of a novelist who wrote his first screenplay at 56 is Raymond Chandler. He’s an example of a famous novelist who broke in to Hollywood late in life. His first big novel, The Big Sleep was published at 51. He co-wrote Double Indemnity with Billy Wilder at the age of 56.
Another example is Julian Fellowes. He sold his first screenplay, Gosford Park at age 52. He was not a famous novelist or playwright. However, he was an actor and had some high level contacts. He has since created Downton Abbey and other shows.
Older writers in television.
Normally networks like to buy TV pilots from showrunners, or writers who’ve been on tv writing staffs for years. They want a showrunnner with a proven track record. Usually this doesn’t bode well for the writer who’s looking for his first job over 50.
There is a possible scenario in which an older writer, with no TV writing credits can get his pilot on the air. If the executives at the studios and networks are so blown away by the quality of your pilot script, they may pair you up with a showrunner with a great track record, like Vince Gilligan. They trust him because of the success of his show, Breaking Bad.
You might look at it this way; your odds of making it in screenwriting are astronomical. How much worse can it be for an older writer? Don’t give up. Especially if this is something you are driven to do with your life. Some older people do break in.
Another factor that can work to your advantage is the older showrunner. For example, when David Chase was running The Sopranos, he was in his 60’s. If he absolutely loved a great TV spec script written by a 57 year old writer, it wouldn’t be that awkward for him to hire you. There’s very little age difference.
Older writers in feature films.
In many ways, if you’re over 50, you have a better chance of breaking in by writing feature film scripts, than by trying to write for television. TV is more geared for younger writers. However, there are exceptions to every rule.
Additionally, in the world of low-budget filmmakers, hiring an older screenwriter might not make a difference. These people are just looking for the best script they can find to produce a low-budget feature that can break through and jump start their careers. Remember, these are non-union jobs, and pay less than union pay. However those credits can eventually get you into WGA union writing jobs.
However, you may find that you can succeed at that level, where there’s less ageism, and less money.
If you’re very lucky, you’ll be one of those older people who still looks, acts, talks and dresses younger. If you can “pass” for younger you have a big advantage. If you’re grey, or balding, or walk with a cane, then it can be harder. I know many older writers, working today who dye their hair. i know older writers who write with a younger partner.
A lot of writers are mainly interested in expressing themselves. in sharing a great story. Making a statement. You might consider writing a novel or mounting a play.
People in the theater appear to be less ageist. Novels can be self-published. You might find a local theater interested in your play. Another thing; if you write plays or novels you’re more likely to see your work produced. And that’s really one of the best reasons to write.
You never know, a producer might just read your novel or see your play and decide to make it into a movie.