Remember when you couldn’t WAIT to get older? When a birthday was a bonified milestone on your path towards greater independence and adulthood? When getting older was something to BRAG about?
Hell—I still do. Getting older IS a milestone, and every year that passes I learn more, and become more capable as a writer.
The problem is that OTHER people in Hollywood aren’t as excited about my advancing age as I am.
In Los Angeles, people go through some pretty spectacular steps to fight the aging process—plastic surgery is often a LAST foray, proceeded by years of exercise, diet, makeup, hair dye, balding remedies and good old fashioned LYING. But why all the hoopla? Really—what is so terrible about GROWING OLDER?
To diagnose the youth obsession, you have to follow the money. When movies first hit the scene in the 1920s, all ages of people went to see to them, and hence, movies were designed to appeal to a varied demographic. After the 1940s, two things changed all this: First, America had made it through the depression and World War II, and for the first time in a long while, OLDER CHILDREN did not need to work to help support their families. ADOLESCENCE was born, and a thriving new market of teenagers with nothing to do and money to spend created a financial incentive for studios to begin catering films toward this audience. Second, TELEVISION found its way into the American living room, and despite the best attempts of the Hollywood moguls, they did lose a portion of their audience to this newfangled technology: the OLD portion. What resulted was a film industry preoccupied with the under-25 audience, and like it or not, it’s a trend that has grown stronger over time.
Today, any marketing guru will tell you that it’s the KIDS who are spending the money, and it’s therefore the KIDS whom movie studios must attract if they want to keep their balance sheets in the black. So, you may ask—what’s that have to do with screenwriters?
Well—in the twisted minds of most Hollywood executives, there’s an idea that young people are best marketed to by, well… Young people. And since most movies (and even TV shows, these days) are designed for the youth audience, it follows that being YOUNGER makes a writer more relevant and more marketable to the studios. This, in turn, is a point of view that has fueled an already beauty-obsessed culture, and created the problems with AGING that we all deal with in the film industry today.
So what does this mean for you—the up-and-coming writer?
Luckily for writers, looking young matters more when you are at the beginning of your career, when you still need to impress people and prove that your screenplays are right for the market. If you are able to establish yourself in the under-40 phase of your life, no one down the road will give a shit about your wrinkles so long as your past films have made money. You do, however, need to be AWARE of the youth-obsession in Hollywood and to DRESS THE PART. And if you can swing it, writing screenplays that cater to the under-25 market will advance your career a hell of a lot faster than that great idea you thought up for Cocoon 3.
Getting older is a part of life, and for me, keeping perspective on the fabricated drama of aging has allowed me to once again enjoy my birthdays rather than dread them. Getting older does not make you less capable, less intelligent, or less relevant; in fact, the opposite is usually true (excluding for Neil Young, of course). And while it’s natural to have some fears about aging, always remember the words of a young philosopher named Aaliyah when she spoke that wisened phrase:
AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER