June 29, 2018

At What Age Do Directors Typically Make Their First Feature Film?

Age ain't nothing but a number, right? Then why is your creative clock ticking more ferociously the older you get?

Alright, gang. It's time to talk about something that almost all of us have or are or will go through as filmmakers. (And I only use "almost" as to not make sweeping generalizations, but, yeah—all of us). It's the obsession over how old we'll be when we make our first feature film. If you're like me, you wanted to be a friggin' wunderkind like Orson Welles and make a masterpiece and not even be able to go to the bar afterward to celebrate. If you're like me, you also blew right past that milestone, settled down, had a couple of kids, and looked at your sullen, aging face in the mirror and wondered if it's too late for you to become a feature filmmaker. "Am I too old to make a movie?"

Well, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society might have some pertinent insight for you. For this video, he culled through the biographies and histories of some of cinema's greatest directors, from Billy Wilder to Christopher Nolan, to calculate how old, on average, directors tend to be when they make their first film. Spoiler alert: there's more than one answer and it's older than you might think.

I'm 32—waaaaaaayyyyy past the age at which I could potentially be recognized as a tender Wellesian genius, and guess what, I've never made a feature film. Dun! Dun! Dun! I didn't get serious about filmmaking until I turned 21 and decided to 1.) write a feature-length screenplay, which I 100% believed I would make, and 2.) go to college to study film.

I finished the script in about a month, college in 5 years, as well as a handful short scripts and films and videos. I was gearing up for my final semester at the UofO when I got the call that I would be writing for No Film School, and the day before walking to receive my diploma, I was named Managing Editor. I was so excited to have a job that combined my two passion (writing and film) right out of the gate, but it really didn't leave me with much time to sleep, let alone make a movie.

Fast forward five years, I have a lot more time on my hands, a lot more freedom financially and professionally to pursue a creative project—but I'm older. And for some reason, I think that's bad. For some reason, I think that my time, my prime, has already passed. I'm not the budding filmmaker fresh out of college anymore, I'm—aging. Yeah, and for some weird, mysterious reason, I think that's bad.

But then I see that the median age for a director to make their first film, according to Saladino's research, is, what do you know, 32.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not waiting for permission from anyone to be a filmmaker. In other words, just because being a 32-year-old first-time filmmaker is "normal" doesn't make me feel more "allowed" to be one. What this statistic does say to me is that everyone's story is different. Filmmakers aren't made in a factory or bred on a ranch. They come from everywhere, from every background, at any age. Just because my story doesn't look like Darren Aronofsky's or Quentin Tarantino's or Sophia Coppola's or Martin Scorsese's doesn't mean that mine won't be told. I'm the teller, for god's sake, so I decide.

Filmmaking isn't an art form for the young or for the old, for women or for men, for the well-educated or for the unschooled. Filmmaking is for everyone. And that includes you, whoever, wherever, whatever you are.     

Your Comment

11 Comments

Dude just make your 16mm feature!

June 29, 2018 at 8:38PM

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Oliver Milne
Director/Cinematographer
115

That's right, not only the film industry but also other jobs, I think it does not have a certain age novel updates

June 30, 2018 at 5:02AM, Edited June 30, 5:02AM

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I am now 29, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was 6 basically, it has never changed over the years but when the time came to go to college I decided to study English language and literature before film school, and then I went to film school. I just wanted to get an good education in things not only related to film. I still haven't made my feature, because I still feel that I am not ready. I want to make sure it's a good one before I decide to do it, I don't want to just make anything in order to fulfil a statistic requirement. People say one can never be ready, and that's true, but I believe I will know when the time is right, when I have samething I can stand behind 100%.

June 30, 2018 at 8:40AM

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Vlastimir Stevanovic
Filmmaker
95

I'm 29 as well and have taken my time and just done my best to experience life. I know a feature is coming, maybe by the time I'm 32, but I feel completely fine with the track I've been taking!

June 30, 2018 at 2:39PM, Edited June 30, 2:39PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
714

I also looked at films in wide release a while back and found the average age of the director to be around 44 years old.

July 1, 2018 at 9:16AM, Edited July 1, 9:17AM

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Batutta
109

I’m 30 going on 31, still look young. Chris Nolan did Following at 29 so I’m on track having completed a short “An Hour Past Her Time” on Prime Video. I finished the first draft of my first feature script. Plus, I have a degree in Economics.

July 2, 2018 at 9:59AM

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Freddy Long
Writer-Director
161

I’m right there with you! Which is why I decided to document the journey on YouTube for #FirstTimeFilnnakers of any age to learn as I learn.... fuck the age, we Just need to tell our stories no matter how long it takes to tell them...

July 2, 2018 at 1:35PM

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Luis Garcia
Director/Editor
331

Everyone has these feelings when you're "young". When you get older you realize, hey, I still want to live and do stuff, but can I? WHY NOT?! We're the ones with the experience and money. Why is everything catered to young people? The older I get the less things I find that I can relate to.... Why? It should be the opposite. Anyway, I'm 40 and I shoot mostly music videos and I want to shoot a short film. I am constantly around 20 somethings and have even been told that I look like their dad, etc. It really makes you want to hang it up, curl up in a corner and die, but F THEM! They come to me for specific reasons, all of which come with maturity which typically comes with age. It amazes me that some of these younger filmmakers show up with RED cameras, all the hot gear and no real idea of what they're doing. Anyway.... There is always room for a good story, no one cares where it comes from. Now, if you were trying out for the Olympics that would be different.

July 2, 2018 at 1:54PM

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Interesting post. I used to be OBSESSED with the age of my heroes when they made their first film. Imagine my dismay when, at 21 with the grand dream of being a Welles' like wunderkind, saw a fellow Canadian -- Xavier Dolan -- breakout in Cannes with his debut, "I Killed My Mother." My wunderkind dream died a fabulous death right then and there.

Regardless, the pressure and urgency that 'age driven filmmaking' creates can be a great tool for getting one's ass in gear. I made my first feature at 23, second at 26 and third at 31 (present day). Here's a few lessons learned:
Film 1: BEST decision ever. I was on the verge of quitting when it dawned on me... I never took a kick at the can and I was already thinking of quitting? Wow. Talk about warped expectations. With 7,500 CAD to my name I went all in and shot the damn thing. It premiered at a massive genre film fest and sold! Hooray.
Film 2: BEST mistake ever. After the lengthy process of finishing my first film -- as well as meeting 'working directors' on the festival circuit -- I was anxious to make my follow-up... a little too anxious. Adding another "0" I made another film that fell short of my debut (at least on a creative / critical level). Better production value and pro crew / actors aside, the film sold well but it was a blow to my process and where I felt I was heading. The mistakes were plenty and it set me on course to readjust my approach, collaborators and ultimately storytelling direction. Altogether, it was the best mistake that could have happened.
Film 3: 100% different experience. I almost don't want to elaborate too much as I'm still in post and don't want to jinx anything. The lessons learnt on my 2nd film were crucial in how Film 3 would shake down.

What's the point of my post? "Use age to push you into action. Realize the sooner you make a film, the sooner you'll make mistakes and the sooner you'll improve." I really do think that waiting until 'everything is right' is a recipe for death. Sure, my 2nd film may have had an undercooked script and a hasty production, but it overhauled my perspective on how to correct what could have been a costlier mistake on my 3rd film (a much higher budget.)

Make mistakes early (even if early means you're in your 40's / 50's / 60's, etc.) You're never too old to make your film.

July 3, 2018 at 12:58PM

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The age of Sofia Coppola or anyone else able to make their first film through nepotism shouldn’t count in the data.

July 5, 2018 at 6:15PM, Edited July 5, 6:15PM

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Joshua Scott
Filmmaker
84

I am 51. I started screenwriting @ 45, won awards and have a major feature financing. Last year I wrote directed and produced a short film and I've just shot another one - all low budget, all hard work, all very flawed labors of love. I have not been to film school. As a sole parent/breadwinner that is not an option. I have stories to tell, and I am very aware that I may run out of time before I hit my stride, but I am trying to stay in the moment and enjoy the amazing things coming to me in mid-life. I don't think about my age until someone (usually a young guy, but not always, who also points out that I am 'female') reminds me, then I realise I'm being judged - I did the same thing when I was young, too, so I get it. I know there are opportunities I just won't get because of my age, so I have to make my own. I did filmmaking when I was young and it was much tougher than now and I gave it up for a great career in another area, which was exciting but never as satisfying as telling stories and working with actors. At that time, too, I saw many of my male contemporaries waltz into filmmaking careers, but those doors were closed to me. I can't tell you the number of men who have pointed out to me that I am a 'female director'. But there are enough who don't and fortunately, things are changing. As a good friend (and very successful producer) said to me after a recent setback: don't worry about it, just keep going.

July 29, 2018 at 7:56PM, Edited July 29, 7:56PM

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hedda
1