Words of wisdom – and encouragement – from a Hollywood writer who himself is, erm, over forty: The one and only William Martell:
WRITING OVER 40
by William Martell
There was a fellow on a screenwriting board I frequent who was lamenting ageism in Hollywood. He was past 40, and believed that was the reason for his lack of success in the biz. As a guy who is also on the wrong side of 40, I asked him a couple of questions about where he had encountered the age problems.
He thought he wasn’t getting a fair read because his scripts featured protagonists dealing with adult issues like mid-life crises and male pattern baldness and divorce and being laid off from the job you’ve been working at for 25 years.
Though stats say the over-35s are the fastest growing segment of the movie audience, movies are still the place where kids go on dates. So that 15-25 year-old high school and young adult audience is usually the target for films. They are the regular film goers – look at the people in the ticket line with you on Friday night.
You’ll see a lot of high school kids on dates or in groups. Hey, they may get their money from their parents, but who buys the tickets and makes the choice? Those 15-25 year olds! They pick the film. If you just look at the numbers, you’ll find that 15-25 year olds are the core cinema audience. They go every weekend. There are reasons for this – they are dating age, they don’t have kids keeping them at home, they have more disposable income.
Older folks go to the cinema infrequently – usually for some event film like MAN OF STEEL or AVENGERS or the fall and Holiday films that tend to skew older. They are not there every single weekend like a 15-25 year old – that age group is where the money is.
Even the most popular holiday Oscar buzz films that attract adult viewers don’t make much money – THERE WILL BE BLOOD, a brilliant movie, only made $40 million. Total. Last year TRANSFORMERS 3 made over $64 million in its first week.
Yes, every once in a while a film aimed at adults, like this weekend’s #13 movie BEFORE MIDNIGHT, , but most films are aimed at those 15-25 yerar olds who went to see MAN OF STEEL… and go to the cinema almost every weekend. They are the regular audience for the movies we write.
But wait, you cry! You don’t go to the cinema – too many of those damned noisy kids – you watch movies on DVD on your massive plasma screen TV! Though I am always first to note that DVD makes more money than cinema, it is still largely an *after market* for films that debut in the cinema.
Hollywood doesn’t know how to gauge what films will do well on DVD and did poorly at cinemas – and that’s partially because most movies that do well in the cinema also do well on DVD. So the ones that are DVD hits and cinema flops are the exceptions.
Even if we just look at movies aimed at older adults (as Hollywood sees us) we still have a problem – some are hits, others complete flops on DVD. Hollywood is all about *investment* in movies – and they want to invest in a sure thing. Movies that did well in the cinema are a sure thing on DVD. Making a movie that will probably flop in cinemas but *might* make money from older folks watching them in their home cinemas?
How do we know they aren’t just going to watch LOST or 24 or some TV movie? TV movies are usually aimed at an older audience… you know, our age. Hollywood tends to make films for the cinema aimed at people who regularly go to the cinema. If most men wear size 10 shoes, you can make all of the size 5 shoes you want but you aren’t going to sell as many. You can make all of the size 15 shoes you want, and you aren’t going to sell as many. So Hollywood focuses most of their production on the people who buy tickets every single week.
THE 15-25 YEAR OLD IN ALL OF US
I told this writer that I though we had the advantage over those punk kid writers. See, we’ve been kids! They have never been over 40. We can write about kid characters AND their parents! And mine our own experiences. We can write about Jim in AMERICAN PIE (I was once just like him) *and* Jim’s dad (I’m fighting desperately not to become him now). You’re as young as your characters feel. There’s no reason you have to think like a 40 year old in this business… in fact, it helps if you don’t.
I go to the cinema every Friday night with a group of friends and I’m, um, twice the age of most people in that target audience. But I don’t *think old*. The stories I write are for the 15-25 year old in all of us. You don’t need to write about high school kids – most films are about adults. But not adults dealing with male pattern baldness and how to take care of their aging parents and that second mortgage you took out just before housing prices took a nose dive. Harrison Ford is an old man, the last INDIANA JONES movie was *still* made for 15-25 year olds… and the 15-25 year old in all of us. The last INDIANA JONES movie was written by a guy closing in on 50….