Is 38 Too Old?Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I am working on a TV spec right now and I have some ideas for other specs that I plan on putting together in the future (most have some basis in law/crime since I've been a lawyer for a number of years). However, I am 38 years old - is that too old to try to break in to the business?
I get these questions a lot.

It's true, there is some prejudice in favor of young writers. But the big issue isn't age. Age gives you a depth of experience that younger baby writers don't have. In particular, actual experience with law and crime is a big plus on law and crime shows.

The question is whether you're willing to make the sacrifices that the good baby writers are willing to make. Are you willing to work the hours? To write a lot of probably uncompensated specs before you get hired? If you're not, then you have to ask why should someone give you a break?

Another question: is this the first time you've written creatively? Why? It's not that hard to turn a good fiction writer into a TV writer, but it's hard to turn a non-writer into a screenwriter.

Why did it take you this long to get into showbiz? Are you seriously committed? If you're so committed now, why did it take 18 years for you to get there?

Talent will make its way in, but it takes time. You have to be willing to give yourself the time and effort to work your way in. That's a combination of craft, talent, perserverence and being ready for your break. So long as you're willing to be treated the same as a 23-year-old baby writer, there shouldn't be a problem. I think most of Hollywood's so-called "ageism" is really inside the writers who claim to be discriminated against -- they don't want to suck up the disrespect Ho'wood dishes out, or they don't want to write what 18-year-olds want to watch.

In Canada, there's less prejudice against age. There's also more free lancing, and less insane hours. And there's an environment that is more encouraging to baby writers generally.

The real questions for anyone thinking of breaking in are: do I love it so much I'm willing to risk a big chunk of my life against possible failure? And is there something else I could be happy doing? You know what the right answers are.



David E. Kelly was a lawyer for a long time before he created some gazillion or so hit shows.

By Blogger Monsterbeard, at 12:12 AM  

That’s what I wanted to hear – talent and desire can overcome age. Thanks for taking the time!

By Blogger Cliff James, at 11:15 AM  

I heartily echo the previous comment, as a 38 year-old now-ad-copywriter with substantial prior experience in international affairs. Just what I wanted to hear as well.

Naturally, my earlier experience and interests have informed my screenwriting, but I've wondered, looking at the business end of my forties, whether I'm too late to the party. (Unlike one notable scribe who turned his foreign policy background into a instant but mediocre screenwriting career, I'm not the brother of a famous action movie director.)

Alex, you raise an important question that I've struggled to answer/justify: what the hell took me so long? The short of it is, I was very much into what I was doing before, and never thought I'd leave that field. Certainly not for advertising. Part of it was the self-doubt and fear of fully committing to a creative life.

Advertising was the middle, non-committal way. The safer path. Not that it's helped me tell the kinds of stories I want to see. (Frankly, it's hampered my self-discipline to sit and write long form; everything is blurbs and headlines and catch phrases infused with artificial meaning.) But it has certainly thickened my skin and helped me on the business end of my career -- the ability to pitch a story, come up with catchy titles, improve my ear for dialogue, and so forth.

By Blogger daveed, at 4:36 PM  

As someone who grew up in a rural town in the South in the 70's and 80's, making a film seemed about as realistic as making a rocketship to go to the moon. Writing literary fiction, an established tradition in the South, seemed much more plausible, so that's what I pursued. It took two years' investment in an MFA writing program to realize just how irrelevant the literary world is and how much I had always preferred film. That is why, after several detours, I wrote my first script at 38.

When he describes being a baby writer, Alex is describing the most likely route to a career in the biz. But I think there's another route--just make your movie. Write the best script you can that tells a story without special effects in practical locations, assemble a capable cast, and a crew of friends, and make that baby. I know there's no guarantee it will see the light of day but interning for a screamer guarantees nothing, too. My thoughts.

By Blogger David, at 7:32 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:20 PM  

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