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The value of experience

Why longevity can be a good thing in the film industry.

When I was in my early twenties, I was a journalist covering the music industry, interviewing musicians even younger than me who were touted as the next big things. It was easy to feel washed up by about age 28.

The film world, thankfully, feels a lot smarter when it comes to age. Of course hot young talents are important, but so is experience and recognising lengthy bodies of work.

Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest best actress Oscar nominee ever at 85, for Michael Haneke’s Amour. Maggie Smith is the toast of the town thanks to her witticisms in Downton Abbey. Schwarzenegger (65) and Stallone (66) are toplining films instead of some 20-year-old hunk.

Directors often never retire, just ask Manoel de Oliveira, who is now aged 104 and at work on his next film. Bernardo Bertolucci (72) was in Rotterdam last week and said he plans to direct again.

As John Hazelton writes in our recent feature on older audiences, working on films that appeal to the so-called grey audience makes good business sense.

Older-skewing titles can be cheaper to make and market, and targeting audiences with more free time and more disposable income is lucrative.

The huge success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could be the beginning of a new wave of titles targeting the underserved over-50 market.

Yet in the same way cynical teenagers can feel they are being crassly marketed to, so can older audiences. You can’t just slap together a cast of sixtysomethings with any old rubbish script and expect big box office.

These are discerning consumers who need quality films (of all genres).

Word of mouth is absolutely crucial to grow audiences for older-skewing films, so if you throw a stinker at them, word will be out after the first weekend.

It is also important to embrace VoD models when talking about older audiences. We may think of them as people who have been going to the cinema for decades and only want the theatrical experience, but just like any other film lovers, much of what they want to watch might not be available at their nearest cinema. This generation is only becoming more and more internet savvy and as VoD offerings become richer, they are sure to click and view just as much as 16-year-olds, only they might be more likely to pay for the pleasure.

That’s just another reason to remember that not all target movie-goers are 16-year-old boys.

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