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How to cure ageism in Hollywood

There’s a disease racing through the Hollywood community, and for its victims, the side effects can be ugly.

  • Your hair color changes suddenly.
  • Your lips look like somebody took a bicycle pump to them.
  • The skin on your face gets tighter than a bongo drum.

You’re probably way ahead of me.  The disease is called Ageism — a syndrome that runs rampant in Showbiz and seems to attack people in their mid-forties.

It works this way. Television networks make their revenue by selling advertising. Advertisers want young eyeballs on their commercials because they believe younger viewers are more impressionable than older viewers whose buying habits they believe are set in stone.  So the networks want to make programming that appeals to young viewers. How do they do this?  They hire young buyers who they believe can relate to and understand youth culture.  Those buyers believe youngish writers and have a better feel for how to create culturally relevant shows populated by lots of good-looking 20-something actors. Same thing happens at the movie studios. Want theater seats filled with teenage boys?  Hire a writer who is still using Clearasil.

The result is that yesterday’s stars can turn in today’s underemployed — whether they’re in front of the camera as actors or behind the camera as writers, producers and directors. And the impact of that equation is that Beverly Hills plastic surgeons get rich, the Just For Men flies off the shelves and $70 million class-action lawsuits get filed against agencies, studios and craft guilds.

Now I would never deny the existence of Ageism or that it hurts thousands of working professionals in Hollywood. But if you’re a tastemaker or a culture-shaper in that over-45 age group, as I am — or if you’re a creative on the outside looking in and your biological clock is ticking — I want to share a cure I found with you.

It’s called Vitamin BE YOURSELF.  It means…

  1. Not trying to change your appearance. You don’t have to join the Lipo-Botox-Grecian Formula Club, which (let’s be honest) only makes you look desperate and you’re not really fooling anybody with that jet black hair anyway. Instead, if you feel you need to look younger, do it with fitness and healthy living. Face the aging process honestly and gracefully. Don’t waste precious time you could be using to be productive on trying to turn back the physical clock.
  2. Shining, not whining. I’ve encountered too many once-successful Hollywood talents who shrivel up into little husks of bitterness because they’re not working as much as they used to. They say it’s unfair they’ve been passed over in favor of younger talent. In my humble opinion, the answer is not to kvetch about it. The answer is to start shining again. Go back to what made you successful in the first place. And that was the work. I have purposed to never, ever blame ageism for any lack of opportunity. I don’t deny it exists. I’m just not going to give it any power over me by spending one quark of energy on it.
  3. Being young at heart. It’s time to inject your attitude and work with the creative hormones of your youth. Instead of railing against the odds you feel are stacked against you, blow past them with the kind of work surprises people. The kind of work that says you’re relevant, current, hip, with it. The kind of work that makes the buyers believe the next Diablo Cody is going to come walking in the door.

82-year-old Alvin Sargent wrote Spiderman 2 & 3

If you’re a writer, it means returning to what made your scripts competitive back in the day — RESEARCH.  How does a teenager talk nowadays?  Go the mall, use your powers of observation. Forget about the dusty references that made you cool back in the day.  They don’t work anymore. You want to compete with younger talent?  Get a better grasp of their culture than they have themselves, then add the depth of your life experience and the power of your pen which has been honed over time. The hot, young wunderkind doesn’t hold a prayer against you if you pull out those weapons.

Yeah, I realize you have to get in the door, and the studios and networks all have their little black books of who’s hot and who’s not. But the last time I checked Alvin Sargent was 82-years-old, and if writing the screenplays for Spiderman 2 & 3 isn’t hot, nothing is.

So what’s the cure for Ageism?

Forget about the class-action lawsuits. Have some class… take some action. Kick some young butt.

About Brian Bird

9 Replies

  1. David Di Sabatino

    BB…

    Good thoughts. Being yourself is always the best way to go. Too much upkeep if you start playing the what-do-they-want-to-hear game.

    Too, if you stand pat, you are sure to come back in style a couple of times as the winds shift.

    My KISS boots are at the ready… (not really…).

    Onward…

    dd

  2. nice post. thanks. if I were tempted to respond to the class action – it’s in the round file now.

  3. Benjamin Campbell

    Brian,

    While I am not within the demographic you seem to be addressing in this post, I believe it emits a strong message for younger writers, too, and I appreciate that.

    You have encouraged me to not allow youth to be the flag-carrying beckon of my writing. Instead, research and hard work should be the epicenter and foundation of all writing. Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

    Thank you for this post!

    Ben

  4. Wow I am literally the only comment to this amazing writing!?

  5. Incredibly great post. Really!

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