In an era of big-screen cartoons and dopey bromances, one auteur is trying to make the film industry more sensitive to older people
By Suzanne Gerber
Originally Posted On July 15, 2013
Suzanne Gerber is the editor of the Living & Learning channel for Next Avenue. Follow Suzanne on Twitter @gerbersuzanne.
In a fascinating blend of high-minded public service and blatant self-promotion, author and filmmaker James Twyman has founded the Senior Cinema Circle, whose mission is to collect 1 million signatures and persuade Hollywood to create more movies that appeal to baby boomers and seniors.
“Seniors are usually ignored by the Hollywood system,” says Twyman, who has written 15 books, including Emissary of Light and The Moses Code, and wrote, directed and produced five movies (most notably Indigo). “An occasional film focused on older adults comes out of the U.K. now and then, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotelor Quartet, and even France with last year's Amour. But the American film industry hasn't caught up and doesn't seem to want to.”
Bravo, James Twyman! But this would be the time to mention that he isn’t exactly a disinterested party. He’s releasing a new film on Sept. 8 — Grandparents Day — called Redwood Highway, which he plans to preview the week before the opening in senior residences around the country.
Know Your Audience
It’s obvious that Twyman isn’t out to promote just his own work. Senior Cinema Circle, according to the website, “is dedicated to producing movies for an audience that is usually neglected by Hollywood. We are the only company completely focused on producing and distributing films that seniors will love, and reminding them how capable and valuable they are.”
In support of that mission, Twyman travels around the world “promoting films for what he believes to be the most important, and underserved film audience in history: elders.”
And now, timed to the release of his film, he’s created the petition aimed at movie studios. “The industry must hear directly from seniors who want to see more films being made that suit their interests,” he says. “With the focus on mega-films based on comic book characters and action movies that cost $100 million or more, there doesn't seem to be much room for story-driven movies based on mature themes.”
He’s hoping 1 million signatures will provide incontrovertible evidence to studios, producers and distributors that older people are, to quote a character in one of our era’s most iconic movies, “mad as hell” and “not going to take it anymore.”
Twyman isn’t naïve enough to think he can persuade Hollywood to change its moviemaking trajectory simply because it’s the “right” thing to do. He wants to drive home the point that by ignoring boomers and seniors, Hollywood is missing out on an enormous source of revenue.
The 'Silver Screen' Indeed
Fact: Approximately one-third of the U.S. population are boomers or seniors. Last year 7.9 million adults 50+ saw a film at least once a month — and probably inthe theater since, studies show, seniors are less likely to stream a movie or watch it on a mobile device.
Fact: People 50 and up have four times more disposable income than their younger counterparts and they put that money where their values are. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel made $46 million in the United States and twice that globally. Similarly, Hope Springs, The Bucket List and The Notebook were considered financial successes as well as artistic ones across multiple demographics.
Redwood Highway sounds interesting. Without having seen it, I can only quote the website blurb: “What would happen if a 75-year-old woman decided to walk the entire Redwood Highway, a distance of nearly 100 miles, to attend her granddaughter's wedding? This is where our story begins and the adventure Marie (Shirley Knight) encounters forces her to confront her past in a way she's been afraid to do until now. … This is her chance and though it's the most frightening thing she's ever done, Marie does not back down.”
But making movies targeted at older people isn’t a radically new concept. Some of my favorite films might be considered “older fare” — and I fell in love with them when I was considerably younger. Cocoon, Driving Miss Daisy, The Straight Story and About Schmidt charmed the country, earned critical praise and still hold up. Today, anything starring Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer, Glenn Close, Vanessa Redgrave, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Maggie Smith or Judi Dench is sure to be a winner.
Popular culture has always targeted the young, because they supposedly spend the most time and money engaging with it. But next year, when half the U.S. population is over 50, influencers are going to have to rethink their markets.
Sure, it would be nice to have more options than comic-book heroes writ large, dopey bromances (which I actually like) and lowest-common-denominator Hollywood schlock. So maybe we should sign Twyman’s petition and try to foment a movement. I even have a name for it: “Silver Spring.”