Michelle sits down Geek Legend, Writer/Director – Mike White to talk about Year of the Dog!!

Mike White Discusses Year of The DogMike White may look and be young, but he’s been around Hollywood seemingly all his life and has a string of writing credits to his name including hits like School of Rock, The Good Girl and is best known in the geekisphere for his short lived but beloved cult classic Freaks And Geeks. The writer ‘s directorial debut is a small film about the impact the death of a pet can have on a person in The Year of a Dog. The Director recently sat down with us to talk about Year of the Dog, his next project Them, and life in general. The interview went a little something like this. 

EM

What was the inspiration for the story.

MW

I was in the middle of doing this hateful TV show with Molly [Shannon] for Fox that was an ill-fated disaster. In the middle of trying to catch up on scripts, my cat died on me. I didn’t realize I was that attached to the cat, but I was bumming. I ended up writing the most depressing 1/2 hour of the show and got even more behind. The show ended up being cancelled. I think if that cat hadn’t died things might have ended up differently. [Laughs]

Not necessarily a good ending, but a different one. I started to think that this would make a good movie.

EM

Why dogs for the movie then?

MW

I ended up replacing the cat with a dog. Even though I’m a cat person, there’s something about dogs on the screen, they are a more easier sale, cats are too aloof.

EM

Do you think people are more attached to dogs?

MW

No, I think there are cat people and dog people. [Laughs] Dogs are whores for love, while cats are like “take me as I am.”

 

Mike White

 

 

 

EM

The pacing of the film is very unconventional. Can you talk a little about your style?

MW

To me, I find that stuff has become so fast “cutty.” As someone who does comedy it’s always, cut to the joke. For this one, I wanted to do something that is on my tone and follows my own pacing. Because of the budget and the way it was made, I felt more leeway to do this the way I wanted. I like movies that play with tone.

EM

When you write do you think about the budget at all?

MW

When I was writing this, I was thinking this definitely wasn’t a $40 million movie because all of the things that made it interesting to me would have been lost if it went through a studio system it would have lost everything that I like about the story. But with a movie like School of Rock, I knew I had to stick to certain creative parameters.

EM

For School of Rock, the music played such an integral role in the film. What would have happened if you didn’t get the songs?

MW

Well, we didn’t get some tracks, we had to beg for others. You just have to pick your battles.

EM

How did Brad Pitt’s production company get involved.

MW

When I did The Good Girl with Jennifer Anniston, I met Brad and we had always talked about doing something together. He has some mojo and help us get this made. He came to the set a couple of times and was a real help.

EM

What did you learn by this experience that will help you with your next feature.

MW

The thing about directing for the first time is, what you don’t know, you don’t know. I learned how to be more flexible and that sometimes a scene just doesn’t work and you have to recognize that quicker. And roll with the punches.

EM

Can you talk about the movie Them?

MW

Well Edgar White and I met when he was in LA after he did Shaun of The Dead, a film I really liked. We talked about doing something together and we came up with this idea for Them. It’s a paranoid, conspiracy theory comedy. It’s funny that our ships have finally crossed on a press day. [In a twist of Irony, Edgar was having a junket day for his latest film
Hot Fuzz a floor below us]

 

EM

If it’s not a remake, then why use an existing title.

MW

It’s actually based on a non-fiction title called Them, but it’s not based on ants.

EM

Molly is fantastic in this. Even though you had the backing of Brad Pitt, did you run into any resistance?

MW

When I first read the script with Molly, it was clear that it could attract one of the top six leading ladies. Especially considering there are so few female driven movies. There was definitely a feeling of “Why, Molly?” If I didn’t make the movie, I would still survive, so when those discussions came up, I told them that if I couldn’t do it with Molly, I wouldn’t do it. When you are able to walk away you get to cut through it easier. As much as Molly hasn’t had this kind of part, she’s in the consciousness and people know she’s a talented comedian.

EM

You’ve worked with her for years, did she do anything during this production that really surprised you.

MW

Yeah, she blew me away with how she was able to turn on a dime and cry at the drop of a hat. She showed me that not only is she a talented comedian, but also is a very good dramatic actress.

EM

Besides the movie Them, can you tell us about other scripts you are working on.

MW

Truthfully, I’m not. I’m so busy with selling this movie that I haven’t looked at anything else. I have things that I’m circling. [Laughs] I’m a one trick pony.

EM

How long did it take you to write this film and how many shooting days did you have?

MW

It didn’t take me that long to actually write, but it was gestating in my head for several months. It took seven weeks to shoot.

EM

Does Jack Black have any ideas for you?

MW

Well he may be involved in Them and I definitely want to work on some more stuff with him.

EM

Who was the better crier, Peter [Sarsgaard] or Molly?

MW

Well Molly had to cry all the time. In her defense it was easier to summon it. Peter was amazing, he only had to cry in one scene, but we only had to do two takes. I was like wholly schmolly. Sometimes when you tell an actor to put on the water works, they just freeze up. When he was sitting there balling and holding that little doggie chair, I was like, this is why I made the movie.

EM

Can you talk about the DVD?

MW

We have quite a few little nuggets that aren’t in the movie and some behind the scenes stuff, gags, and other things. We haven’t done the commentaries yet.

EM

How was it working with the dogs?

MW

The hardest part was how well trained they were. There were times when I wanted the dogs to be a little freer and let the dogs be dogs. If you left them alone, they would just sit there looking at their trainer, which wouldn’t cut it.

EM

Can you talk a little about your writing process? Do you write in the morning, afternoon, or have a golden period?

MW

[Laughs] The golden hour? I’m not a morning or night person, so I write 9 – 5. But I don’t work 9 – 5 at all. My biggest mistake is if I try to sit down to write, because I feel like I have to. I have had some of the biggest disasters that way, because I don’t have any ideas fully formed in my head. A lot of my writing takes place when it looks like I’m doing nothing – sitting around, staring at the wall or out the window. Sometimes I wonder if I’m procrastinating, but then I realize that’s just part of the process to let the thing gestate.

EM

Do you ever feel writer’s guilt, when you are not writing?

MW

[Laughs] All the time. That’s the sex of being a writer. You always feel like I can be working. But then you are. It may look like I’m watching TV

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