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Ageism in Media Screenplay Contest


Winning the Age Inclusion in Media Screenplay Contest for People 40+

Dana Coen, 74, and the group behind the award are shining a spotlight on ageism in Hollywood

By Sheila Weller

| July 1, 2021 | Work & Purpose

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Dana Coen has had, by all measures, a splendid career as a TV co-executive producer for Fox's "Bones" and CBS' "JAG." He's been a story editor and a staff writer for hit shows from "General Hospital" to "The Wonder Years," a playwright, stage director and stage actor. And he currently administers the undergraduate dramatic writing program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dana Coen, winner of the Best Screenplay contest for people over 40 | Credit: courtesy of Juliet CoenBut at 74, Coen has never had a screenplay of his own produced. And until just months ago, that seemed extremely unlikely due to the ageism he felt in Hollywood. Coen recalls that about 20 years ago, "I had gotten a pilot deal at Fox, and this agent from a major agency comes skipping up to me with enthusiasm, saying: 'I read your script — it's fantastic!" Next, Coen entered a room and seven agents walked in. "We all sit down, and there's an odd silence," he says. "Then the agent who approached me said, 'Dana, we didn't realize that you weren't new in town.'" Looking for 'Someone Fresh' Explains Coen: "'Weren't new in town.' 'Aren't current.' 'We're looking for something fresh.' These are three of the messages that mean: 'You're old.' I'd had four careers in the industry by then. But that's what people who are aging in Hollywood face." "Then the agent who approached me said, 'Dana, we didn't realize that you weren't new in town.'" Then, last February, an email in Coen's laptop browser caught his eye. An eight-year-old nonprofit called Age Inclusion in Media (AIM), was presenting the inaugural Silver Bullet Screenplay Contest, designed to "discover and promote the work of writers over 40 and create a more accurate representation of characters over 40." Sponsored by writing software and script consultancy companies, the contest would award talent-agency support for the winner's script. Because of the opportunity AIM gave him as an older writer, Coen decided to enter. (Most screenplay and play contests, he's found, are limited to "new and emerging writers.")

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