The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ageism in Hollywood

This is for Suzanne.  When my family moved back to Southern California from Washington, the idea was that I would write for television again--even animation if necessary--while we got out roots in place, scoped the scene, and made plans for our career moves.  The move was somewhat harrowing (physically, emotionally, and financially) but we arrived here on Halloween night, 2004, and immediately began to make our plans.  One of the first things I did was set up an appointment with my agent, figuring that we'd lay out a dozen different shows I should watch and generate ideas for, then go to pitch.
My agent, Jonathan Westover, sat me down and told me that in the nine years since I'd been gone, the structure of Hollywood had changed.  Once upon a time, most of the writing was done by freelancers, with a story editor, and maybe a small staff.  Now, that's reversed.  Most of the writing is done by in-house staff, with virtually no freelancing.  And here's the bad news: they don't hire anyone for staff who is over 40!  I'm sure that's not an official policy, just the unofficial truth. 
That hit me like a bomb.  My complete strategy for supporting my family while we made our plans went out the window.  I can't even tell you how much stress I was under, fighting to keep from panicking as our war chest dwindled to nothing.  Arrrrgh.  I'm telling you, if it wasn't for the Five Minute Miracle, and Heartbeat Meditation, and the love of my very very good lady wife, I would have been a basket case.  But we came through it.
Why is Hollywood like this?  Not certain.  My guess is that under 40 is cheaper, and perceived as being more 'in touch" with the target demographic.  What I learned is that, while I can't write for TV anymore, what I CAN do is
1) write movies
2) CREATE a television series.

So those are the two roads I'm traveling right now, in addition to the novels.  Time will tell, but I'm clear on my goals and working hard.  Keep you all posted!



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