An Actress's Thoughts

On Actresses and Other Working Women

On Actresses and Other Working Women

As I already mentioned on this blog, there are more parts for actors than for actresses (not only) in German TV and film productions to be found, roughly we are talking of a 2 to 1 ratio. If we can agree on it not being representative for the ratio of men and women in our society, then maybe it is comparable to the ratio of men and women among employed people or people looking for work? Does the current distribution of roles influence the length of people’s professional acting career? What about the age pattern?

These are the questions for today.

Let’s have a look first at the population in Germany, the employment and unemployment statistics. In the first chart there are three figures with data form Dec. 31, 2011 – more recent data was not available for all categories.


As you can see the three figures are differently scaled. The population (Fig. A) is listed from 0 to 95+ years of age (source: Statistisches Bundesamt), and the numbers go up to 4,5 Mio. on the y-axis. The ages are combined in 5-year-categories, i.e. „25“ will include people between 21 and 25 years of age. Figures B and C are similarly scaled horizontally, but (fortunately!) the y-axis differs by 10, i.e. for the employed the maximum will be 2,5 Mio, and for the unemployd it is 250.000 individuals. (source: Bundesagentur für Arbeit).

The population in Germany is round about 82 Mio., with 1,5 Mio more women than men. But this prevalance of women does not exist for all generations. Figure A shows that all age groups below 60 have a slight dominance of men. Also quite visible are the ,boom age groups’ in the early 1960s, and the (in Germany at least) so called „pill-bend“ in the late 1960s, resulting from a wider spread use of birth control pills. That would be the step from the 41-45-year olds to the 36 to 40-year olds. The age-group 60 marks the beginning of a slight majority of women. The people who are 71 to 75 today were born in the late 1930s.

The employment (Figure B) and unemployment statistics (Figure C) are also classified in 5-year-age groups. Unemployed by definition of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Office of Germany) are actively registered people that are available for immediate employment. Women who stay at home to look after children and want to return to paid working life or enter it for the first time are not included, very often they don’t go to the Office to get registered as they would not be eligible for unemployment pay, but that is another matter.

It does not come as a big surprise that there are more men than women in each age group of the employed and unemployed. The graph of employed people, considered from young to old – – with the dent for the 36 to 40 year-olds – appears to be analogous to the population graph. We also find the peak for the 50-year-olds with following descent of the graph. (I hope this is reasonably comprehensible, it’s been years since I did mathematical curve sketching). In the age groups 31 to 40 there is a greater decline for the female over the male employees, the reason for this may be found in motherhood, but this is only an assumption. The number of male employees is also declining a little bit, and looking at the population (Figure A) we find these to be generations born after the „pill-bend“.

These general findings are the setting on which we will have a look at some statistics on actresses and actors in the German television and film industry. For this I have prepared and compared the data of three sources.

A big thank you to Frau Heike Matlage of crew united for discussions and support and to Frau Gabriele Becker of Filmmakers for enabling a temporary access to their database for a more detailed evaluation.

Figure A „Crew United playing age“

The database of crew united (LINK) contains information on more than 30.000 companies, 125.000 film- and tv projects and 130.000 “Filmschaffende”, i.e. people involved in the making of films in production, pre- and post-production, in front of and behind the camera. This includes – in collaboration with Schauspielervideos – actresses and actors working for film and television. Stating one’s age or date of birth has been compulsory since 2010, but it is not necessary to make this information visible to everybody, so a lot of actresses and actors just show their chosen from-to-playing age instead. The data base for this graph are samples, in this case „25“ stands for acting people whose playing age touches 25. This means that an actor who states 20 – 30 as his playing age will be included in age groups 20, 25 and 30, and an actress with playing age 21 – 29 will only be in age group 25. The crew united data base includes an overall of 4.686 actresses and 4.501 actors, whereas the basis of Figure A are 8.482 and 8.729 playing age entries.

Figure B „ZAV Year of birth“

This is done with the 5-year-categories from the first chart (population etc.). 1980 sums up actresses and actors born between 1976 and 1980. ZAV is a federal agency, at present representing 3.809 professional actresses and actors working in film / tv. In addition to that probably the same number of acting people are being represented by private agencies.

Filmmakers (LINK) is a data base containing a total of 19.380 professional actresses and actors at the moment, as far as I know it is the first of its kind, as a service for casting directors. Here all acting people have to state their date of birth and are allowed to optionally add a playing age span as well. Comparing these two declarations led to three groups: acting people whose playing age complies with their real age, acting people whose playing age is a few years below and above their real age and acting people whose playing age reaches a few years down from their actual age. These phenomena go well with the playing age entries in the crew united data base. Comparing Fig. A and Fig. B a shift of the graph to the left (younger age groups) is clearly visible, both for actresses and actors (thus doing away with the prejudice that it’s only actresses stating younger playing ages).


Three statistics on age distribution among acting people

What do they show? In the younger age groups there is a partially substantial overweight of actresses up to the 1972 (Filmmakers) and 1971-1975 (ZAV) years of birth. The graphs tilt to an actor overweight at 1969 (Filmmakers) and 1966-1970 (ZAV) onwards, i.e. with the 43 to 48 year-olds. In many age groups after that there are nearly twice as many actors as actresses.

What is the reason for this? More young women than men starting with an acting career can probably be documented as well – in addition to the Figs. A to C – by the number of applications to acting schools. But what happens after a few years in the business?

The theory regarding the stronger decline in number of actresses might be related to women having babies or to the point where these children start going to school can probably be discarded because it is contradicted by the first chart (employed and unemployed). Why should it be more difficult for actresses with children than for female teachers, scientists, doctors, factory workers or cleaning ladies to combine work and family? Especially since an inclusion in the film databases – or being represented by the ZAV – does not mean full-time employment.

No, the actresses that don’t appear in the data bases any more most probably have quit their jobs.

Why? Probably because there are too few or no roles for them. Women are much less present in films and tv series than in real life as it is. But this imbalance gets worse with advancing age. An agent said to me the other day „Well I have this skript on my desk at the moment all women are either younger than 20 or older than 70.“ Of course not all films are as bad as this, but there is certainly a pattern.

  1. More parts for men
  2. Male parts with a bigger age range in total
  3. Female parts every now and again are cast with younger actresses.

I think the first two points are self-explanatory. The third point means that a 30-year-old actress may be cast for 40-year old character. Does that sound slightly exaggerated?

Let’s look at box-office success „Keinohrhasen“ (Rabbits Without Ears. 2007). Leading character Ludo Decker (Til Schweiger) meets his old class mate Anna Gotzlowski (Nora Tschirner) after many years. When you compare the real ages of the two acting people you find that in 1987 when Nora Tschirner stated going to school as a 6-year-old, Til Schweiger was already 23 ½ . (Official website of this movie – LINK – Warning! Music starts playing automatically)

Another example: The episode „Klassentreffen“ (Class ReunionLINK to the official ARD-webpage) of the Cologne Tatort from 2010. (Remember? Tatort, that is the weekly crime series I wrote about in this blog on Feb. 3) Superintendent Max Ballauf (Klaus J. Behrendt) goes to a reunion party, 30 years after finishing high school. At the time the film was shot, Behrendt was 50 years old, so that was ok, the actors playing two former male class mates were 53 years old (Oliver Stritzel and Rolf Berg). Two former female class mates were played by much younger actresses: Catrin Striebeck (44) and Karoline Eichhorn (45).

Third example: the tv soap opera „Hand aufs Herz“ (Hand on Heart LINK to the official website of SAT1). This was a series about school children at a grammar school, their teachers and parents. So it was to be expected that the majority of pupils would be played by older acting people. But did that automatically call for the grown-ups being played by younger acting people? When shooting started in 2010 Amelie Plaas-Link was 21 years old, she acted the part of Lara Vogel, a pupil. And 27-year-old Caroline Fried played her mother, Miriam Vogel. Also there was the head mistress of the grammar school., Helena Schmidt-Heisig. We know she went to University (that takes longer in Germany than in the UK), she did her two years of work as a training teacher (is that what you call it?), then she worked for some years as a full teacher, and after that some years at the ministry for education. From there she came to the grammar school. This character was played by 40-year-old Kim-Sarah Brandts. Oh, no, wrong. The actress was also only 27 in 2010.

This under-age-casting would be another reason for there being so few roles for actresses over 30, and of course they also project a somehow distorted view on men and women on TV (I have to repeat this a third time: this is in addition to the fact of there being less females roles and less stories of women being told).

Measures taken by the TV and film industry against the discrimination of half of a professional group are overdue, and these would at the same time be a service to the whole community, because why should the community of tv watchers only be told stories of some strange subgroup?
So script writers, editorial staff, production companies, producers and of course also casting directors are called for to do something about this unhappy situation. I know, there are always a lot of requirements beforehand, and not everybody is free to act as they want to, but is everybody really aware of the scope of this problem? Is it being discussed, when new stories are being discussed in the conference rooms?

OK, when it’s about two (heterosexual) lovers or a murderer, then the sex of the characters is important. But in so many other cases is it really neccessary to cast acting people for (smaller) characters with the sex stated in the script? How important is the scripted age for a character? Ever so often the logical age is ignored, so perhaps the age can be ignored for other parts as well, and maybe also in another (older) direction.

I am not only saying this because I am an actress myself and am over 30, but also because I think it is a big mistake to let go of so much talent and creativity. And also because I am not too keen on the way stories are so often being… (if I go on this would be the 4th time I am mentioning this in this text, and would be clearly be too much).

In any case: something needs to change. As soon as possible. Please.