Does ageism exist in Hollywood? Absolutely.
It’s terrible, but hopefully one day, this issue will be taken as seriously as other injustices like not hiring people of because of their color or sexuality.
But things are changing. I am the director of the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program, which has launched the writing careers of more than 50 diverse writers. Right now, 30 of our alumni are working – from staff writers to co-executive producers to show creators. It’s slow, but things are changing.
So, can you “break in” to television writing if you’re not a millennial? I’m not going to kid you: it’s difficult, but not impossible.
First, you should know why decision makers are afraid to hire anyone who isn’t young.
- They think older writers’ work can’t speak to the 18-35 year-old demographic coveted by advertisers.
- They fear mature writers won’t take criticism well.
- It’s uncomfortable to treat a mature adult like a newbie. For example, entry-level writers are often expected to be quiet unless they have a stellar pitch. No one wants to tell a 40 year-old to shut up and listen.
Yes, this is plenty to overcome, but it’s possible. What are the workarounds? Most important is your material. It has to be blazing hot. A 22-year old can get away with a “very promising” but uneven script, but you have to nail it with a fascinating story, solid structure, and sharp dialogue. Sadly, as any member of a minority group will attest, you have to be twice as good to be considered an equal.
To have a shot at being a staff writer when you’re over 30, it helps to have a unique background specific to a show. For example, a cop, an ER doctor, a lawyer, political advisor, or CIA agent. If this isn’t you, the most likely way “in” is to sell a stellar original pilot. As the creator, you will probably earn a seat at the writers’ table.
But even if you get to the table, you might still be battling a bias against older writers. So prove them wrong. Here’s how:
- Befriend someone younger (outside the room) and pick their brain about current trends in popular culture and terminology.
- Read entertainment news and watch movies and TV shows that target younger audiences so you can discuss them intelligently and know which actors are hot.
- Stay active on social media, especially the newest platforms. Know what a platform is. ☺
- Write and produce your own web series and/or blog. This is what most Millennials are doing.
- Stay in shape. Having energy is vital.
- Be enthusiastic and open to new ideas. DO NOT act like you know more than everyone else. This is a showrunner’s worst fear. On the flip side, your life experience means you have amazing stories to tell. This is a showrunner’s dream.
- Refrain from discussing TV shows the youngest staff member wouldn’t know. No Everybody Loves Raymond references, please.
If the only thing you want is be a television writer, don’t let age stop you. Smart decision makers will open the door for someone with awesome talent, great stories, and enthusiasm.
Director of WGA's Showrunner Training Program, creator & Director of the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program, international speaker and a leading expert on entertainment career strategies, Carole Kirschner teaches creative professionals how to navigate the often mystifying landscape of show business. Her book, Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment is a primer on how to break in and move up in the entertainment industry. Through her popular workshops, Carole teaches writers, producers, directors and executives the real world strategies that will help them not just succeed, but thrive.