Mike White produced and appears in Gentlemen Broncos, the new film from Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess. He’s also worked on a large roster of beloved comedies, from Freaks & Geeks to School of Rock.
What can screenwriting teach you about dating?
I tend to write in the arena of awkward scenarios and awkward conversations. Dating is often the perfect inspiration. As a writer, you just have to find the absurdity in the awkwardness of dating, enjoy the absurdity, and not think of it in the humiliating ways that you could.
I’m a screenwriter and I’ve started dating another screenwriter — how can we avoid competition in our relationship?
It’s tricky. All relationships in the business, even when people aren’t doing the exact same thing… there’s so much rejection in Hollywood, and there are so many ups and downs, that it’s a lot more of a rollercoaster than a lot of careers. It’s hard not to see yourself comparatively to the success or failure of others, and in relationships, obviously it’s best when you have good self-esteem, like you aren’t so buffeted by the vicissitudes of fortune. But you know, people who aren’t affected by that are few and far between. I guess my advice is to find someone to have a relationship with outside of the business.
A lot of your projects focus on teenagers. Everybody says teenagers know nothing about dating, but is there anything about relationships that people could actually learn from teenagers?
Maybe teenagers are more savvy then we were back in the day. A lot of it has to do with the internet and the ways you can find like-minded people. Before, you were much more isolated, and I think that’s something adults can learn from teenagers. Adults can get unimaginative about their approach to meeting people.
Another common subject of yours is outsiders. Do outsiders have an advantage in relationships when they grow up?
I think the earlier you realize that the conventions of relationships, the conventions of life, don’t pertain to you, the freer you are to make decisions based on your own happiness and your own criteria. That’s a real gift of being an outsider. If you grow up a little bit outside of the norm, you’re just free of normative thinking. The most unhappy people I know are people who made choices based on some kind of conventional wisdom as opposed what was right for them specifically.
I’m thinking about going on a reality TV show with my boyfriend. You were on The Amazing Race with your dad. From seeing the other couple on the race, what do you think we should be aware of before we go in?
Just approaching a reality show in general, if it’s a competition predominantly, you can “win” the race and still lose. If you’re living your life like it’s going to televised for the world, what choices would you? Treating your partner well, trying to work patiently together, not being a little bitch. Ultimately, those things serve you in life, they serve you in competition, they serve you in reality television.
Will the depiction of us on TV reflect the things we might not see about ourselves, or is it all editing?
In my experience, The Amazing Race is one of the less-exploitative reality shows. But by nature, it’s a bit reductionist. I was watching an episode the other day where they have to go down a water-slide, and they showed a trailer from it the week before where this girl is scared and doesn’t want to go down, and her boyfriend was literally about to throw her down. It looked scary and I was like, “God, that guy seems like such a dick.” And then I saw the episode and decided I would have thrown her down face first.
I’m acting in a movie, and I think the cute director’s interested in me. Could the relationship ever work?
Sometimes having a power dynamic in a relationship makes it spicier, but in general, it’s probably a bad idea. You know, it’s hard to completely extricate the way you feel based on the power dynamic from how you feel about the person. People in power see all these people looking up to them, who want approval and guidance, and a lot of times the people in power, especially narcissists, mistake it for, “They’re in love with me, they want me to seduce them.” That’s actually not the case and they’re exploiting the power.
What has directing taught you about dating?
Directing brought something out in me. When you’re managing a lot of people, you tend to see the good in people in general, because you’re trying to find the qualities that will help them serve the project. When you’re not in charge, you have a more critical way of looking at people. As a director I tend to be more protective of people. That’s probably a better way to approach dating: try to look at the positives in different people and focus less on their shortcomings.