Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Choosing The Age of Your Protagonist To Win An Oscar

Last week, the Oscar rules were changed by the Academy that awards them. Now 10 nominees for BEST PICTURE compete for the Oscar, the most since 1943. Maybe this is not a good thing?

Here's the link.


Quoting from that article:

In fact, one studio executive compared the Academy bombshell to getting doused with a bucket of cold water. He confided that he has enough trouble every awards season figuring out whom they have to satisfy with an Oscar campaign and which talent they can safely neglect or do less for.

Read that article for the attitude and values of the decision-makers who decide what will (and will not) be allowed to attract your attention. People who go to few movies, generally favor the award-winners because they've heard of them and know people who've seen them.

TV advertising budgets go to award contenders and winners, not to the others.

If you don't follow an industry (any industry) you may only choose from what "they" decide you may.

With the proliferation of E-books and small publishers to the point where Publisher's Weekly routinely covers the field, the roll of "gatekeeper" has disintegrated. But it is quickly being re-invented.


The Academy is expanding its finalists list from 5 to 10, and that may be because of the disintegration of the "gatekeeper" role.

The Academy has been, with the Oscars, a major gatekeeper. Now there are many other gatekeepers in the film industry with Festivals awarding winners and other Awards like the BET awards. There are many more films you've heard of so you get to choose whether to see them or not. So the Academy has responded to changes in the world by trying to compete for its top gatekeeper spot.

I did not find anything in this article on the Oscar rules the least bit surprising and I doubt most of you will either. The book business now works exactly the same way (though it didn't in the early 20th Century or before.)

In this new media-dominated world, we need to understand how (and why) our choices are deliberately limited by people who don't know us and couldn't care less about us.

This gatekeeper thinking is the thinking that rejects Romance, especially SF Romance, while at the same time panders to teens. That's a relatively new development.

Don't ever forget the 1951 film DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL Talk about hot Alien Romance!


Quoting on increasing the number of nominees to 10 from that article on the Oscar rules:
The only problem with widening the net is that this is no longer the 1930s or '40s, when the Academy last fielded 10 or so best picture noms each year. Back then, it had an overabundance of what were grown-up yet popular titles -- ranging from "It Happened One Night" and "Mutiny on the Bounty" early on to "You Can't Take It with You" and "Casablanca," the last movie, in 1943, to wrest the Oscar from nine other contenders. Nowadays, most Hollywood movies aren't really made for grown-ups.

My boldface on that very telling comment, tossed in off-handedly. "Nowadays, most Hollywood movies aren't really made for grown-ups."

On 6/16/09 I posted here a commentary on the award winning film Mr. And Mrs. Smith

Would you say that film was for grownups? No children characters and it's ostensibly about marriage counseling and professional assassination.

On 6/23/09 I posted here a commentary on the Disney film Snow Dogs:

Children were not the featured characters in Snow Dogs, but the adults were working through issues having to do with their parents just as if they were still children, and the comedy venue made it accessible to children, so it's billed as a "family movie" -- which basically means it's not really for grownups but grownups wouldn't mind watching it. (I enjoyed it!)

Both Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Snow Dogs are stories focused on Relationships, with the Romance part in the B-story, hidden but thematic.

With the loss of so many middle-aged celebrities these last couple of weeks, ( David Caradine, Ed McMahon (who was 70's but too young to die), Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Gale Storm ( http://www.popeater.com/television/article/gale-storm-dies/547078?icid=main%7Chtmlws-main%7Cdl2%7Clink4%7Chttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.popeater.com%2Ftelevision%2Farticle%2Fgale-storm-dies%2F547078 ) and Billy Mays.

Here's a website that tries to keep an up to date listing of deceased celebrities:

We are clearly in a turning-of-the-generations cycle.

McMahon had risen to the level of decision maker, as has Leonard Nimoy (who's still with us, and did a splendid job in the new Star Trek movie). David Caradine did much more than acting, as did Farrah Fawcett. Michael Jackson was mostly known for being wild and irresponsible (ending up in half a billion in debt), but likewise he was an influence whose success made others want to copy or pick up one or another of his attributes.

Our deceased icons of American culture knew very well how the movers and shakers behind the Academy and the Oscars think. That's how they got to be icons.

Do we have to go back to the 1940's to find a ROMANCE ICON? If so, do you think maybe it's been long enough and it's time for a new Romance Icon to arise?

If so, who? And with what sort of public image profile? How are they going to impress the gatekeepers? The decision makers?

What sells? And why?


Hollywood studios (and even book publishers) have spent big bucks commissioning statistical studies and analyses of the demographics of movie ticket buyers. They know that what held true in novels holds true in the movies -- the age-group that will want to read or see a story will be close or related to the age of the protagonist.

The film Cocoon was a hit with older people, not so much with the youngest demographic.

If you're writing a children's book for 7 year olds, the protagonist has to be 7 or maybe 9 years old, not 15 or 25.

For pre-teens, your protagonist has to be a teen (because that's what pre-teens identify with and aspire to).

Middle Aged people don't really yearn to become OLD, so stories about older people who "can still shoot straight" abound.

But film producers discovered that today's audiences are composed mostly of teens and college age people, often dating. And on a date like that, even TODAY, the male's taste in entertainment prevails.

The 16 and 17 year old crowd wants stories about early 20's. The 20 somethings will go for stories about 30-somethings who "have it made" but still get into the same pickles 20 somethings get into. Only they handle it better.

We want to identify with a Hero we can feel proud to become.

So when choosing the age of the protagonist of your story, consider how big an audience you want it to attract. Look at the demographics, note which age group has the most disposable income.

The Golden Rule of protagonist age choice is simply, the protagonist has to be the age of your typical reader/viewer.

If the golden rule holds, the key to creating a blockbuster Alien Romance will be primarily the age of the protagonists.

In all genre fiction, it is the audience's identification with the main characters that determines the sales volume, thus the prominence, and whether they are chosen as contenders for major awards. Or as the article I was quoting above pointed out, which actors the production company can safely ignore.

As the article points out, it doesn't matter how good a film is. When it comes to the Oscars, it only matters "who" the stars are and what it will take to mollify them.

Go back to my analysis of why and how a writer can use Astrology to plot a story (5 post series in 2008)
and see that "life" has a particular shape, an ebb and flow, a sequence in which we learn lessons.

Writers often learn or are born knowing that at certain ages, we reach certain plights, challenges, consequences, and choices all of which shape the plot of our real life, and our taste in fictional life.

Many of these most prominent and widely understood (without the aid of knowing astrology) life lessons are connected to Saturn's 29 year period.

Relationships are ruled by Venus which has a period of about a year, and "Romance" is induced by Neptune which has a period of about 164 years; more than a lifetime. Neptune is also famous for creating "strange" (i.e. alien) environments, coincidences, and miracles. Neptune is all about the exceptional moments in time when the rules blur.

You really do, literally, get a once-in-a-lifetime shot at real Romance.

But it comes at different ages in different lives. Sometimes it's in the teens, sometimes the 40's or even the 70's. So you can write a really hot Romance with some deeply significant lessons about the relationship between self-esteem and unconditional love, and use characters of almost any age.

Yes, sometimes the Romance transit of a lifetime comes before you're 10, but when that happens, you usually experience it through your parents (or parental figures), so it shapes your attitude toward life. And perhaps, those are the "marry the boy next door" stories.

So as far as creating that blockbuster Alien Romance that will change the way the entire field is regarded, as Star Trek changed the way Science Fiction was regarded, you can focus on any age demographic and still craft a plausible Alien Romance.

But certain ages will be preferred by certain producers or publishers.

A Silver Rule perhaps would be that the more expensive the fiction is to deliver to the consumer, the broader the target demographic must be.

A book costs less to produce than a movie, (though a book has a smaller potential profit margin) and so a book can appeal to a narrower audience and still make a profit. Authors know their book made a profit when the publisher sends them royalties beyond the advance.

A film on the other hand must appeal to a very diverse and broad and deep audience. The higher the budget for the film, the broader the apparent appeal must be. It's all about the numbers, and the Academy knows that -- and perhaps the Academy does not know much else!

This article on changes in the Academy of Motion Picture rules of the Oscars clearly informs us that the blockbuster film that becomes a TV show, with endless spinoffs, books, action figures etc, has to be "NOT FOR GROWNUPS."

The article also makes the point clearly that SEQUELS don't win awards because they are "warmed over popcorn." But it also indicates literary pedigree is acceptable. So we can pry open this field via novels.

The general rule though, in what producers are looking for is something "the same" but "different."

It occurs to me to wonder if the "different" part could be not the involvement of a human with an alien on a deep, intimate level (romance, but do we really need to tell them that up front?) but rather the revival of the 1940's "romance."

Just think, Casablanca - set on Epsilon Eridani in the midst of an interstellar war with invaders from another galaxy.

Or think The Boy Next Door and transform it to The Alien Next Door (it's been done, but not really well as a Romance.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. This is a toughie for me, because I tend to create characters in the transitional borders of genre lines. For example, I have 18 year olds still coping with some teen issues while learning to deal with 'new adult' issues too rather than 17 year olds still in the throes of adolescence or 20 year olds already in the middle of new adulthood. I think I do this because there's so few stories like that and, frankly, I get bored with all the stories having to fit in a nice age category. For me, it's much more exciting to read, and write, stories with protagonists in the middle of major life transitions. It's kind of like 'the fish out of water' story. The protagonist MUST make the leap or die.

    I read about the 'coming of age' story type, but it seems like all the protagonists involved are male. What's with that?

    Anyway, I keep trying to color in the lines, but, gosh, it's so much more fun to draw my own pictures. Not a speedy way to paying publication, unfortunately.

  2. Kimber An:

    The world is changing, true, but humans change rather more slowly.

    Novelists have more elbow room than screenwriters though.

    In a novel, you can have more characters -- it's not more expensive to have more characters!

    So you can create characters to appeal to each side of the target audience you're aiming for and it can work commercially (though luck is involved).

    TV does this with ensemble casts, having different characters of different ages with different problems all going on under the surface as the team tackles some external problem.

    But like working the 2 POV or "braided plot" this is much harder to execute from the writer's perspective. Readers aren't supposed to see you straining to blend the stories.

    The trick there is theme. It's the glue.

    Meanwhile, study what I've been presenting here with the commerciality angle, and let your subconscious soak it up.

    Eventually, your subconscious will present you with a story Idea you love just as much as what you're writing now, but which does hit the commercial groove at just the right angle.

    Writers do their best work while asleep!