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White (Make Some) Noise:

White (Make Some) Noise:

Screenwriting

Charlie Kaufman may get all the ink, but you could make a strong case for Mike White as Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic screenwriter. Like Kaufman, White started rather inauspiciously as a TV writer (Kaufman for “Get a Life,” White for “Dawson’s Creek”). Also like the Adaptation scribe, White isn’t afraid to throw himself into the thick of things, as evidenced by his leading role in Chuck & Buck. But whereas much of Kaufman’s post-Being John Malkovich work has been concerned with self-mythology, White has hidden his esoterica behind the star personas of Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black, in The Good Girl and Orange County, respectively.

Despite the star wattage of his recent pics, unlike most Hollywood writers, White tends to spurn the current
trend toward comic book movies and sequel-itis. “I like human movies,” White says. “I’m not really into superhero movies where people kick each other, or they turn into vampires  and go back in time.”

White has also continued to work in television, from creating the now-defunct Fox show “Pasadena,” to this year’s “Cracking Up.” He credits his early years in TV for toughening him up, and says that writing his own “weird little movies” during this period kept him sane.

On top of all this, there’s a rather curious acting career that has included turns in The Fast and the Furious and as Jack Black’s best friend in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, which White also penned. “I play a guy who goes ‘You did what?’ a lot,” he says.

But for most film fans, White is best known for his writing and acting turns in Chuck & Buck, the film that really jumpstarted his career. Says White, “Chuck & Buck was one of those weird career lessons. When I wrote the script, I was working on ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and I would tell other writers, ‘I want to make this movie’ and they’d just go, ‘Why?’ or tell me I shouldn’t.”

A low-budget film shot on DV (for a purported $250,000), Chuck & Buck divided audiences at Sundance and continued to do so upon its subsequent theatrical and video releases. Many of its detractors seem angered by its homoeroticism. Further, much of the film’s success (and discomfort) came from White’s decidedly offbeat performance as Buck. The film’s director, Miguel Arteta, also directed White’s The Good Girl, further cementing each of their reputations.

Instead of always trying to manipulate your own voice to satisfy someone else, sometimes the best career move is to stick to your guns and do something outside the system.

“Out of Chuck & Buck, even though it wasn’t a big hit,” White says, “I was able to get out of the journeyman TV writer thing. Instead of always trying to manipulate your own voice to satisfy someone else, sometimes the best career move is to stick to your guns and do something outside the system.”

In any event, White has certainly carved out an interesting niche for himself in Hollywood. Though, from a geographic standpoint, the self-proclaimed “little movie kid from Pasadena” hasn’t moved very far from home.

“My second grade teacher was Sam Shepard’s mother and she was my favorite teacher and that’s sort of how I got the idea of writing scripts or plays,” recalls White, who counted playwrights Harold Pinter and Edward Albee among his childhood heroes. “I wrote all this precocious shit about, like, adults at cocktail parties talking about adultery.”

White continued to toy with the playwright notion throughout college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “But then everybody I knew moved to LA to write screenplays and I just kind of followed the herd. And it’s warmer here.”

Since Chuck & Buck, White has been able to straddle the worlds of both Tinseltown and Indiewood.
School of Rock is a perfect example. It’s produced by Hollywood veteran Scott Rudin (Clueless, The Truman Show) and stars Jack Black as a down-on-his luck musician who masquerades as a substitute teacher at a tony private school. But the movie is also directed by indie stalwart Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed
and Confused
). And between Linklater and White, the movie has an underlying gleeful subversiveness to its PG-rated exterior. Says White, “Rick did a great job. And the movie is, in a weird way, almost more commercial because it’s not so blatantly commercial.”

That said, White’s days of being a backseat driver may be numbered. “I want to direct something soon, though because I like to write so much, I don’t think I’d ever direct everything I wrote.”

Many working writers never make the transition because they don’t want to take what is often a pay cut to sit in the director’s chair. But White shouldn’t fall victim to that thinking. “I don’t mean to sound coy, but I never wanted to write for the money. I just want to be free to do what interests me.” MM

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