Having emerged from the television world to find success in feature comedies, screenwriter-actor Mike White quickly became in-demand for his scripts that often featured central characters as alienated outsiders, weirdoes and general malcontents who were nonetheless engaging, human and above all hilarious. White broke into the business as a staff writer on the hit teen drama, "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003) before entering the feature game as the writer of the mediocre black comedy, "Dead Man on Campus" (1998) and serving as a writer-producer on the cult television series, "Freaks and Geeks" (NBC/Fox Family, 1999-2000). White had his first major breakthrough with the oddball black comedy "Chuck & Buck" (2000), which also featured the writer in the latter title role. Realizing features were his chosen medium, he penned the lighthearted teen comedy, "Orange County" (2002), while reuniting with longtime collaborator, director Miguel Arteta, for the acclaimed indie dramedy, "The Good Girl" (2002), starring Jennifer Aniston. But perhaps his biggest feature success came with "School of Rock" (2003), a Jack Black comedy about a musician moonlighting as a grade school teacher. White, who also co-starred in the film, had written the project specifically for his larger-than-life friend and the results were remarkable, both critically and at the box office. While enjoying the occasional appearance onscreen in small, but memorable roles, and making his directorial debut with "Year of the Dog" (2007), there was no doubt that White was one of the most diverse and prolific talents working in Hollywood.
Born June 28, 1970 in Pasadena, CA, Michael Christopher White was the son of the Reverend Dr. Mel White, a pastor who became a gay rights activist and documentarian after coming out in 1994. A movie devotee from an early age, White developed a fascination for dark-themed material like the films of Ingmar Bergman or Terrence Malick's "Badlands" (1974), which helped to form his unique cinematic vision. Scriptwriting soon became a goal, thanks to a teacher whose son happened to be playwright Sam Shepard. After graduating from the Polytechnic School, an exclusive college preparatory institution, White completed his education at Wesleyan University, where he met and befriended future collaborators Miguel Arteta, Matthew Greenfield and Paul Weitz. His goal was to become a playwright in New York, but an alum offered him a job in Hollywood. There, he began a fruitless two-year collaboration with fellow future screenwriter Zak Penn - who would go on to write "The Avengers" (2012) - before landing a job as a writer and producer on the teen-oriented drama, "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003) in 1998. That same year, White shared co-writing credit on the morbid college comedy, "Dead Man on Campus" (1998), about a pair of self-serving collegians who exploit an obscure rule that grants the roommates of dead students perfect grades.
White departed "Dawson's Creek" in 1999 to join the writing staff of the well-loved cult TV series, "Freaks and Geeks" (NBC, 1999-2000). As producer and staff writer, he brought his unique perspective on adolescent trauma to three episodes; most notably "Kim Kelly is My Friend," which addressed female-on-male bullying as well as the back story of Busy Phillips' Kim Kelly, the resident tough girl of the show's outsider "freaks." Kim's attitude was shown as a defense against a harrowing home life, which included White as her alcoholic brother, Chip. While working on "Freaks," White also wrote and starred in "Chuck & Buck" (2000), an offbeat and challenging indie drama about two former high school friends (White and Chris Weitz) who reunite after the death of White's mother. As children, they had a sexual encounter, which essentially cemented White's Buck in permanent adolescence, while Weitz's Chuck had matured and moved on. The film followed Buck's growing obsession with Chuck while exploring heterosexual attitudes towards homosexual encounters. White was appropriately creepy and sympathetic in the role, which earned him the top acting honor at the Deauville Film Festival, Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Debut Performance and Best Screenplay, the ISA trophy for Best Feature Under $500,000, and the New American Cinema Award for Best Writer at the Seattle International Film Festival. It was also deemed the "Best Film of 2000" by Entertainment Weekly.
The attention generated by "Chuck" earned White numerous suitors in the entertainment industry; he soon returned to television with "Pasadena" (Fox, 2001), a mystery-cum-primetime soap opera about the young daughter of a wealthy Southern California family who uncovered disturbing truths about her relatives while investigating a stranger's suicide. Though lauded by critics, the show, co-produced by Diane Keaton, vanished after only a few episodes. He rebounded slightly with the feature "Orange County" (2002), a second generation-themed comedy starring Jack Black, Colin Hanks (son of Tom), Schyler Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence). While the film had the trappings of a National Lampoon-style comedy, it operated on a more introspective level, with Hanks as an aspiring young writer looking to escape his upscale but dysfunctional Southern California trappings by gaining entrance into Stanford, only to have his inept guidance counselor submit the wrong transcripts. The film performed modestly and was championed by several critics.
White's dramedy "The Good Girl" (2002), which reunited him with "Chuck & Buck" director Miguel Arteta, earned an even stronger response from viewers and critics, thanks to its winning lead performance by Jennifer Aniston. Opening to notable acclaim at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, the film garnered White the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and earned a fresh round of critical acclaim for the acting skills of Aniston, who - after a long and fruitless search for the right actress - had been suggested by White for the lead role of Justine Last, a dissatisfied, married discount store clerk in the Bible Belt who embarks on an ill-advised affair with a decade-younger co-worker (Gyllenhaal) who fancies himself a tortured, misunderstood soul. White also had an entertaining onscreen turn as Corny, the disapproving, church-obsessed security guard who tries to spark Aniston's interest in the Bible.
While White's films had been primarily admired in indie circles and best known for quirky (rather than laugh-out-loud) humor, his next screenwriting venture would prove to be both his most accessible and funniest effort yet. The writer tailored the script for "School of Rock" (2003) specifically to suit the skills and persona of his good friend Jack Black, crafting a tale of proto-slacker and rock wannabe Dewey Finn who, in desperate need of cash, takes a substitute teaching job posing as his roommate and recruits a musically gifted class of private school kids into a rock group that enters a Battle of the Bands competition. Working with director Richard Linklater, White delivered a story and screenplay that dodged obvious cuteness, ditched the usual mawkish sentimentality of such a set-up, and was long on laughs. The script also capitalized on Black's strengths, creating the best star vehicle for the comedian-musician to date. As an actor, White was also spot-on as ex-rocker-turned-milquetoast substitute teacher Ned Schneebly, Black's beleaguered roomie and doormat for his castrating girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman). The film was a massive hit in the summer of 2003, and established White as the "It" writer in Hollywood.
unfortunately, his follow-ups were somewhat underwhelming. "Nacho Libre" (2006), a juvenile spoof of Mexican wrestling culture with Black as a naïve priest who dons the mask and tights to save orphans, received a huge advertising campaign, but failed to match "School" in box office returns. "Cracking Up" (Fox, 2004), his second stint as creator of a television series, drew major names like old buddy Jack Black, Zooey Deschanel and John C. Reilly to its story of an eccentric family and the student (Jason Schwartzman) who observed them, but lasted just six episodes before its cancellation. In 2007, he made his directorial debut with "Year of the Dog" (2007), a very personal indie drama about a woman (Molly Shannon) whose life is thrown into chaos by the death of her dog. Shannon's character was a typical White role, straddling the line between eccentricity and independent thought, which was blurred by a series of unfortunate encounters with dogs and people throughout the running time. Though little seen by moviegoers, the film received glowing praise during its limited run.
In the years following the release of "Dog," White's acting career blossomed with offbeat turns on series like "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 2007-09) and the films "Smother" (2008) and "Zombieland" (2009). One of his most unusual television appearances was as a real-life contestant on the 14th edition of "The Amazing Race" (CBS, 2001- ), which paired him with his father, Reverend Mel White. The pair showed exceptional good cheer throughout their tenure on the show, which saw their team eliminated during the seventh leg of the journey. In 2009, White returned to features as producer on "Gentleman Broncos," a broad comedy from Jared Hess, director of "Nacho Libre," and his brother Jerusha. Its convoluted story, about a young fantasy writer whose novel in progress was plagiarized by a successful adult writer (Jemaine Clement), failed to connect with reviewers, which resulted in the cancellation of its theatrical release. The following year, White began work on a long-gestating film adaptation of British journalist Jon Ronson's "Them: Adventures with Extremists" (2001), which detailed his experiences with radicals and activists across the globe. Production was announced in 2005, with Edgar Wright in the director's chair, but dragged on for several years until its announced 2011 release date.
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Feature debut in Miguel Arteta's indie comedy "Star Maps"
Hired as a writer and producer for The WB's teen drama series "Dawson's Creek"
Received first screenplay credit for the offbeat teen comedy "Dead Man on Campus"
Served as both producer and occasional writer for the critically lauded "Freaks and Geeks" (NBC)
Breakthrough feature as both actor and screenwriter with the edgy independent comedy-drama "Chuck & Buck," directed by Miguel Arteta
Wrote and produced the edgy but short-lived prime-time soap "Pasadena" (Fox)
Penned the screenplay for the lighthearted teen comedy "Orange County"
Wrote the indie drama "The Good Girl," which once aging teamed him with director Miguel Arteta; also featured as a security guard
Penned the Jack Black comedy "School of Rock"; also co-starred as Black¿s roommate
Created the short-lived Fox comedy "Cracking Up" starring Molly Shannon
Co-wrote with director Jared Hess, the comedy "Nacho Libre" starring Jack Black as a monk who moonlights as a Mexican wrestler
Made directorial debut with the dramedy "Year of the Dog," starring Molly Shannon as a dog lover whose world is rocked when her beloved pet/best friend meets with an early demise; also penned, which earned him an Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Best Screenplay
Competed with his 70-year-old father Mel White on the reality series "The Amazing Race" (CBS)
Wrote, produced, directed and acted on the HBO series "Enlightened"