I have more than a few actor friends over the age of 50 and the common complaint seems to be the lack of roles in many film projects. Not lack of good roles. Lack of roles period. The most recent comments I read about he subject prompted me to think about ways to change this situation.
I’m not using this space to take on the ageism in Hollywood. That’s a battle for other people. Instead, I want to talk to the people making independent films. Short films and feature films that get private screenings for cast and crew, end up on YouTube and Vimeo, or get submitted to festivals. I have some ideas for you newer filmmakers to rethink how you see people over the age of 50.
There will be scripts where aging characters (or character age range) can’t be done. For example, I don’t want to see a 53 year-old read for the role of a high school student or a 67 year-old booked in the role of a Olympic figure skater. That’s just absurd. But, often a writer sets an age based on how he or she envisions the character and that perspective can be limited by many variables, including the perception of how old that character SHOULD BE. That’s why we’ll get a gray-haired doctor or clergyman, for instance.
So let’s set the SHOULD BE aside for a moment. Leave the SHOULD BE for now to the films with $200M budgets with name talent and distribution. I want you to focus on what COULD BE and not just for the sake of being nice to older actors. I want you to see the list I created as solid business decisions you can justify even if your collaborators argue against them.
10 REASONS TO AGE CHARACTERS IN CASTING
- Older actors are experienced workers. They have been in the workforce for decades and have dealt with all kinds of personalities and pressures. They have developed strategies for handling all kinds of work-related adversity, including having to deal with an inexperienced director.
- Older actors possess more life experience. Every film is built on universals of love, loss, overcoming obstacles, family and more. Tap into a generation that has experienced it all for real and can give your characters (or one pivotal character) more depth than what’s provided by the young screenwriter of your project.
- Older actors tend to be more financially stable. Your project is not a paycheck gig for them. They want the work. If you can’t pay them right away or at all, they may be more willing to work with you all the same and not bail last minute when a paying gig pops up.
- Older actors can open doors, big ones. Due to their experience at their day jobs or likelihood they are far past entry-level positions, they can arrange or facilitate getting you access to locations, such as offices and much more.
- Older actors can broaden your film’s reach. To build a career, you want to be known outside of your own social circle. Older actors often have a large established personal and professional network who can become part of your film’s marketing plan and audience.
- Older actors tend to invest more in chosen activities. They’re the ones who show up and stay as long as necessary or longer. They give more than the bare minimum. Heck, if they own their own business, they might even want to sponsor your film.
- Older actors want a relationship, not just a role. This one is tied to investing mentioned above. They are more likely to treat their time auditioning and on set as essential parts of growing a relationship with fellow cast and crew, bringing a sense of respect for everyone attached to the project.
- Older actors are natural mentors. Sure, they can give a lot of advice, even when you didn’t ask for it, but it’s not intended for you take it without question. It’s merely to give you a perspective you hadn’t considered yet.
- Older actors can wear many hats. Many of them have production experience, stage or screen, serving as crew members. Also, they may have a variety of hidden talents and skills you can put to good use for you.
- Older actors are thorough. They will look at more than the basic details. They will read everything you send to them and follow up. They will ask questions when something doesn’t make sense rather than just winging it. You need that kind of actor to help you grow as a filmmaker, bring more clarity to your communication, and be better prepared for every step of production now and in the future.
What do you think now? Is there a character in your current script, one in development or pre-production, you can easily age? Is there a way to retain the essence of what that character serves in the story without being limited by the age range in the writer’s imagination?
On a related note, if you’re an actor over 50, have you made a case for yourself recently where the role was scripted younger but you felt you could play it? Or have you simply ignored every casting that didn’t mention your age range specifically? I would challenge you to reach out to filmmakers when you see a role you want and consider what you offer the production in terms of talent, interest, assets, and resources.
Perhaps if filmmakers discover the benefits of casting older actors while older actors are simultaneously reaching out to communicate, the two groups will meet somewhere in the middle. That middle ground is where everyone is best served ultimately, in my opinion. Of course, I’m sure it’s more likely to happen on this level of filmmaking far before we see the studios doing it.