Finding Mike Rich
In the late 1990’s, Portland Oregon DJ Mike Rich decided to try his hand at writing. His first attempt, a screenplay titled Finding Forrester, won a Nicholl Fellowship (a competition sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and was picked up by Sony/Columbia studios for production, starring Sean Connery and Anna Paquin, with Gus Van Sant as director.
In 1999 I caught up with Mike, at the Portland radio studio, where he was still working. Because the interview was scheduled to appear in a fashion-themed issue of a weekly newspaper (OurTown) I needed to include some fashion-related questions.
Q: Is the story true about deciding you wanted to write a screenplay, then going to the library, checking out a book on screenplay writing and then ... ?
A: Almost. I actually bought the book from Powell's [Portland’s famed bookstore].
Q: Why a screenplay?
A: I think there's been a change from wanting to write the Great American Novel. Now it's a screenplay. I was too intimidated to write a novel; I still would be.
Q: What's the status of Finding Forrester?
A: I'm on the fourth re-write. My contract only called for the original script and two rewrites but so far they haven't brought in anyone else.
Q: Isn't that unusual?
Q: Do you get much say in the movie, like casting or music?
A: No. It's their screenplay; I'm a writer for hire.
Q: What are they wearing in Hollywood these days?
A: Black. Actually I'm detecting a little change, I've noticed a little shift towards brown, but it's gotta be dark brown. There's no color.
Q: So what do you wear on your trips to L.A.?
A: Often something as simple as a pair of jeans, Nike golf cap and Nike sneakers; you have to maintain the Oregonian image.
Q: And for your most recent trip, which involved a meeting with the executive producer and Sean Connery?
A: I bought a Joseph Abboud shirt. It's the first time I've ever spent $100 on a shirt.
Q: What color?
A: Hmm, yes.
Q: How did it make you feel?
A: I had a case of buyer's remorse. But how many times do you spend a day with Sean Connery?
Q: Where do you shop?
A: Nordstrom, Meier and Frank; I guess I'm a mall guy.
Q: Shopping tactics?
A: I find the assistant and ask for advice.
Q: Shopping motto?
A: Keep the receipt.
Q: What do you wear on air?
A: Usually Dockers, with something like a regular Oregon-flannel pattern shirt. In the summer, shorts and a Tommy Bahama shirt. And I have been known in the wintertime to come in sweats – it's radio. Obviously I dress for the occasion, if a big guy comes in, then I adjust.
Q: A big guy-like who?
A: Jackson Browne.
Q: What do you listen to when you aren't on the air?
A: The type of things we play here (KINK), Sting, Clapton. Also I like the old standards like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Cole Porter. And what filters down from my daughters.
Q: What was your first album?
A: Grand Funk Railroad, “We're an American Band”. I still have it.
Hollywood and fame:
Q: So, when are you moving to Hollywood?
A: If my aspirations are just to write, I can stay here in Portland. It’s easy to fly down for two or three-day meetings. The change comes if you want to direct or produce, then you gotta go there. For now, I just want to write. The reality is that if you write three or four screenplays you can retire. I'm smart enough to know it's been a great ride but it could dry up tomorrow. In L.A. you are either hot or cold. And when you're cold, it’s difficult to get hot again.
Q: Do you find life in Hollywood really that different from Portland?
A: They put me up at the Four Seasons. I looked at the kids’ menu and saw that a brownie cost $7.50. $7.50! The other day we had lunch in the Rita Hayworth Building at Sony Studios; three Caesars and three iced teas cost $79. It's a different economy.
Q: How was your day with Connery?
A: He's very Sean Connery; he speaks very softly, which surprised me.
Q: Did you imagine Sean Connery for your character Widham Forrester?
A: No. I'd envisioned more of a Robert Duvall-type; the character was American. But we've changed the story so Forrester is now a Scottish-born author. I changed some of the lines as well, there were just some things I couldn't picture Sean Connery saying.
Q: If there was a movie about your life, who would you choose to play you?
A: Jeff Daniels. I'm an unassuming guy, just a guy who still values time with his family.
Q: At what point do you stop thinking of Hollywood as a different world and become part of it? At what point do you stop blinking at the $7.50 brownies?
A: I don't know. I'm still blinking.