(Note from Screenwriting Staffing Founder, Jacob N. Stuart) With Oscar season just ending, the conversation about discrimination within Hollywood is still being argued and debated. MOST of the backlash focuses on the stigma that there is still discrimination against African American actors and women directors. But while that may or may not be true, I feel Hollywood overlooks one MAJOR victim of discrimination: SCREENWRITER’S OVER 40…50…& OLDER…
It’s a conversation that’s NOT talked about nearly enough. I’m often asked by “newer” middle-aged writers at Screenwriting Staffing what their chances are of breaking into the industry and what hurdles they will have to face. But since I still fall short of the 30-year-old mark, I feel that any advice I would give wouldn’t be all that useful.
So I caught up with Dougie Brimson. Dougie is a multi-published, best-selling author, and increasingly sought after screenwriter, best known for penning the highly popular, award-winning Green Street Hooligans (starring Elijah Wood). Dougie Brimson is one of the UK’s most prolific writers.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: OK – let’s get personal. How old were you when you first started writing? Then how old were you when you sold your first screenplay? Has age played a factor in your success as a screenwriter? Has it gotten in the way?
Dougie Brimson: Well first and foremost, I’m an author rather than a screenwriter, but in all honesty, I’m not sure how I’m getting away with either.
I say that because I never actually set out to be a writer, it was just something I fell into after an 18 year career in the Royal Air Force and so in many respects, I’m just blundering through. That said, I’ve sold over half a million books and had three features produced which have all won awards, so I must be doing something right.
My first feature, indeed the first screenplay I ever wrote, was Green Street which I started work on in about 2003. I was 44 then so I can’t really claim that age was any particular barrier to my breaking into the industry. Indeed, when it comes to the genre I’ve primarily written in, my age has actually been an asset because I’ve been able to call on life experience whilst writing.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: It’s common knowledge that Hollywood chooses youth rather than older age when it comes to on air talent. Can the same be said for screenwriters? Why or Why not?
Dougie Brimson I’m extremely fortunate in that thus far, I’ve only worked on projects that have been offered to me or are adaptations of my own novels.
However, it’s fair to say that there have been times when my age has clearly been a barrier, most notably when I’ve tried to get meetings with production companies or studio’s. Primarily I suspect this has much to do with the fact that most of the people you seem to meet within the industry are not far off the same age as my kids, and who would want to hire their dad?
I think this is much more true of television than film as I’ve never been ale to secure a single meeting at the BBC despite my track record of success. Then again, I’ve never been invited to Hollywood either!
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: I believe you can either tell a story or you can’t; it CAN’T be taught. But I do believe you can teach a storyteller to write a screenplay. With that being said, if someone in their 40’s or even 50’s wanted to learn to write a script, what initial advice would you give them?
Dougie Brimson: I absolutely agree with that and endorse it 100%. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that story creation and development are crafts in their own right and should be celebrated accordingly. I can certainly think of a few films which would have benefited immeasurably had there been someone in that particular role. I mean, Gravity… seriously?
This actually touches on something else that has always bemused me about the movie game, and that’s the obsession writers (and agents) have with tweaking draft scripts prior to pitching them to anyone.
It’s about the story, so tell the bloody story! Until a director comes on board a script, it is only a route map anyway, because what’ll end up on screen is almost certainly going to be closer to their version of your story than yours.
However, to return to the actual question, I actually learnt how to write scripts ’on the job’, so to speak, but I learnt a huge amount by simply reading produced scripts as I watched the movies.
That’s probably the best advice I’d give to anyone looking at having a go because you can learn a huge amount about issues such as pacing, structure and even character development in a relatively short space of time.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Should a writer only write characters that resemble their own age, or can a writer successfully write about characters younger or even older then them? Any examples?
Dougie Brimson: I think someone of my age writing a part for a 17-year-old and hoping to do it with any degree of accuracy is deluded. Indeed, I’d go further than that and say much the same thing applies to people of different nationalities, cultures and even sexes.
Maybe that’s the novelist in me talking, but I consider my job as a writer is to make sure everything is accurate and authentic, because like all things, the devil is in the detail. Let’s be honest, nothing destroys a films credibility with a viewer faster than something basic being wrong, so it makes absolute sense to me to check and double check everything.
It’s called research, something too many screenwriters seem to forget about.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What advantages does a middle-aged and older writer have that their younger counterparts do not?
Dougie Brimson: Oh that’s easy. It’s called experience. I’m sure people under 25 have no concept of the fact that nothing they do, try or even see is new. And I mean nothing.
In a sense, this impacts directly on the issue of story telling. Anyone can make up a story based on something they’ve read or seen second hand, but when you create a story based on something you’ve experienced first-hand, it brings with it an entirely new dimension, and that’s the greatest advantage age has over youth.
Band of Brothers is probably the best and most obvious example. The reason it was such a massive success was because the viewer knew, absolutely knew, that it was written by someone who was slap, bang in the middle of it. That truth aspect gave every single word and scene an additional resonance which was missing even from Saving Private Ryan.
That’s experience for you.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Is there specific markets within the entertainment industry that specifically NEED older writers?
Dougie Brimson: That’s a very interesting question because it infers that when it comes to markets, age is a genre, although to be fair, I think it already is.
After all, we readily admit where movies such as Fast and Furious or even 50 Shades of Grey are targeted, so why do we not say the same about movies such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Philomela? They’re not exactly targeted at teenagers are they?
To be fair, I think the British Film Industry is more aware of this than Hollywood, which is possibly why there is growing interest in screenplays written by people of a certain age. Something which brings me nicely back to my previous point about experience and authenticity.
Personally, I’d be more than happy to carry on writing within the ‘age’ genre for as long as someone would want to employ me.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: If a screenwriter is looking to find a writing partner, should they choose someone of the same age, or someone drastically different?
Dougie Brimson: It doesn’t matter as long as you’re both on the same wavelength. As a writer, the story is your baby and if you’re going to work with someone else to take that from concept to creation, you have to have the utmost trust in them and visa versa. If that trust isn’t there, you’re going to be butting heads, and who wants to work like that?
This relationship will become even more important when a director becomes involved because the script will immediately become their baby, not yours, and you, as writers, will have to relinquish a parentage of it. That’s never easy at the best.
For me, the ideal writing partner is the director. Indeed, the ideal process for me would be for me to take an idea to the second draft stage at which point a director will come on board and the two of us work together to get it to a shooting draft.
To be honest, I don’t really know why it isn’t always like that anyway.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: At the end of the day, age doesn’t SELL a script, it’s the story told in the script that sells. That being said, in your opinion, what types of stories sell best?
Dougie Brimson: If I knew that, I’d have millions in the bank, a house in Bel Air and have studio’s and producers desperate to read every single logline I throw out.
Sadly, I don’t have any of those things. Yet.
Learn More About Dougie Brimson:
Official Page: www.dougiebrimson.com