Commentary

How Working With Seniors Has Made Me A Better Creative

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, August 20, 2017

Senior citizens and millennials aren’t two groups you’d think have a ton in common, but when it comes to being pigeonholed by society, they do. 

As a creative and commercial director at Partners + Napier for clients including Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time casting seniors for various Medicare commercials. What I’ve learned from working with these amazing people is that they don’t deserve the flack they often catch. Being able to look back doesn’t mean you can’t see forward. Having accomplished so much in life doesn’t mean you’re done. 

But more than that realization, the 65+ crowd has taught me how to be better at my job in ways I never expected. 

As Aug. 21 is National Senior Citizens Day, I thought I’d use it as a springboard to share what this special group of people has taught me in the hopes it might inspire some of you. 

Stereotypes are easy, but rarely right. Did you know people over 65 typically feel 12 years younger than they are? That’s a stat we found while researching a campaign for Excellus, and one that I encountered up close and personally when looking for a cast of 13 in a pool of over 200. I went to five local YMCAs and attended classes in everything from aerobics to Zumba looking for bubbly, charismatic 65-and-uppers and found more than I ever expected. 

Instead of spying not-so-speedy walkers, I saw folks attacking exercise machines. When I met our oldest soon-to-be star, a 92-year-old woman, she was on a rowing machine going as fast as the 20-somethings around her. 

On the day of the shoot, she showed up to our location more than an hour early, lapping the block in a five-speed car. It should come as no surprise that when we asked her how old she felt, she simply replied, “not a day over 63.” Talking to her and others on our shoot, I realized that while seniors have decades of life experience, they’re not stuck in the past. Instead, they’re living in the moment like more of us should be. Live and learn, right? In advertising, stereotypes seep into casting. But when we open our minds, we discover what’s really under a person’s hood. Consumers want to see themselves on screen, whether they’re 18, 50, or 95. Delivering honest depictions makes us better creatives. 

Don’t be surprised when your concept evolves. As creatives, our ideas are our babies. But, like babies, they change as they grow. Every time I get into a casting session or on set with my 65+ cast, I learn something new and the creative evolves. It has to. You go into these casting calls with your concepts expecting mirrors to reflect them back at you. Instead, you find people with incredible personalities and their own stories to tell — stories that can make your ideas stronger if you’re willing to listen. 

Have pride in your work, but lose the ego. On set with seniors, you don’t really find divas or braggarts. What you do find is a group of people who place serious importance on doing good work. During a shoot for a Highmark, I was filming a woman who is a time trial cyclist. She had a panic attack because she wasn’t sure she was doing what we wanted. I jumped out of the camera car and told her to just do what she does as it’s amazing and people want to see it. Her humility was astounding and made me realize how I’m rarely privy to that type of person —someone who wants to produce great work but who is humble throughout the process. 

Be open. Expect the unexpected. And, embrace what perceived snafus have to offer. While creative directors and directors can get immersed in controlling a cast and crew, zigging and zagging with a group of engaged actors of all ages, races, and cultures can deliver creative gems. 

Working with the 65+ crowd taught me that there is always room to learn, even when you think you’re already an expert. 

Happy #SeniorCitizensDay. Celebrate well.

 

 

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