Being 40 and writing younger

That stuff is depressing, and trying to lie your way through a script with false optimism, doesn’t make the script good. Not to mention the fact that it makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning, and even harder to sit at your desk and write.

These are the things a mid-life crisis is built around, and generally you emerge from that either solidly cynical or with a new found peace with your insignificance.

It might make sense that these inner quarrels would make great material for your films, but you’d be wrong. Or maybe not, but the truth is that, just like no one really wants to hang out with someone having their mid-life crisis, no one wants to see their movies either. Cynicism in films makes for bad films. A little perspective on that might help.

The other sad reality for a filmmaker is that , while you get older, your audience doesn’t. I don’t know if it’s always been like this, but right now, it’s people under 35 who go see movies. I have a theory that in the 1950’s, when the pin up girls were all kind of wide and chunky, that the audience was older, because that shape is, honestly more appealing to someone in their 40’s than it is to someone in their 20’s, who prefers the skinny types we get now.

Making films about 40 year olds is generally not that interesting, and part of the reason is something I already mentioned. When you turn 40, you know how the world works. The other side of that is that your character is now fully formed. You buy the same stuff at the supermarket. You know what you like, and don’t like. You know what you believe in. Etc. If you make films about 40 year olds, it’s not going to have a lot of character growth. (Of course, there are exceptions. This is generally.) One of the things we love about American movies is watching things happen to the hero, and seeing how they affect the hero. People over 40 aren’t really that affected by what happens to them because they’ve seen it all before.

What 40 year olds, and above, have to offer is perspective. As I’ve said twice already, we know how the world works. Twenty year olds making films have the enthusiasm, the drive, the energy, they’re full of revolutionary spirit and they’re cute, but they really have no idea what’s going on. Look at those relationship movies where the characters go on and on about what love is supposed to be. One of my pet peeves. since I’ve had kids, is the father/son movie when the father has this big catharsis at the end about what a lousy father he’s been. It’s such a kid’s idea about what it’s like to be a parent.

So these are my thoughts: keep your characters young and look at them with the perspective of being 40. Knowing how the world works means that you can create a truer world, with truer characters, and fill it with the things that you think are important. Because even though when we’re 40 our character are fixed, they’re still different.  A grown up film doesn’t have to be full of grown ups.

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3 thoughts on “Being 40 and writing younger

  1. Good point about a filmmaker’s experience vs. the growing age gap with his audience. Some thoughts: Maybe great dialogue and character depth is lacking in films by younger folk but one thing that is not is a sense of the unknown, of “anything can happen”, of still figuring out the world, of wonder. And these qualities can be captivating. I’d say that younger folk, though, don’t stand a chance against the more experienced filmmaker in the understanding of human suffering, and I think putting your character through the emotional & physical ringer is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. I’d say keep your characters young and “young at heart” but drag them through hell. That’s fun to watch.

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