Accomplished screenwriter and debuting novelist Mike Rich, who spent his undergraduate years in the College of Business and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the College of Liberal Arts in 2007, shares wisdom on mentorship and show business. Pixar’s “Cars 3” is thrilling summer viewers around the globe, and Rich waits for “Skavenger’s Hunt” to publish this fall.

How did your business background help you out as a writer?
Many people ask me why I studied at the College of Business, and my answer is always ‘to diversify.’ I knew that the love I had for reading and writing and storytelling was not going to go away. Plus, anybody that goes into this business strictly from a background of creative writing is taking a bit of a risk. If you don’t know how the business works from standpoint of production companies, and management and the individual writers, you’re walking on thin ice. It’s in your interest to be savvy about the business world at large. Especially in show business.

 

How do you handle the industry changes? What scares you; what thrills you?

My most recent experience, of course, was at Pixar with “Cars 3.” And, you know — it’s no longer sufficient to just roll out on your list of qualifications. The onus nowadays is for graduates to diversify their skillset as much as possible. And just be keeping an eye for that next wave that’s rolling in because you’ll need to know that as well. Stay on the cutting edge as sharply and as quickly as you can. I see that with every project. Getting myself into animation, which I had never done before, brought thrill and fear. At Pixar, they have the greatest technology in the industry, but there’s a reason why they put so much emphasis on story and characters. Even the greatest technology can’t carry the day, if story and characters are not in your favor.


Do you have any favorite characters from over the years?
There’re so many of them, starting with Forrester. When I started almost 20 years ago, I related much more to Jimmy Morris in “The Rookie.” I guess I’ve always kind of focused on characters who were contemporaries. Lightning McQueen is a favorite character of mine in this film, because he was wrestling with a universal truth that we’ll wrestle with at some point in our life: how much longer can I do this to my satisfaction? I am not close to that position yet … but I can relate.

 

Your first novel for the teen, young adult audience releases this fall, are you moving to a younger audience?
It’s interesting how the career evolves, and the stories that you want to tell change. I have kids; I’ve got grandkids. … My novel is called “Skavenger’s Hunt,” and it journeys back to the stories that I grew up with, stories like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or “The Wizard of Oz.” I just love characters that show ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As proud and as strongly as I feel about the screenplays, there’s just something uniquely different about a novel. I am so glad I wrote it, and so proud there’s a novel on the list of accomplishments.

 

You are a very engaged College of Business alumnus; what keeps you involved?
It’s a very natural desire to want to be involved; Oregon State means a great deal to us. I, for one, know the impact OSU had on me. I know the impact it had on my wife, who I met down there, and on our kids that went to Oregon State as well. I remember the first time I went into the finished Austin Hall, and you walk through the doors, before you get into any conference room or any other resource, which is all terrific, you see this center buzzing core of activity. For me, as a backer of the project to see that it was working, that at any hour of the day you could see students gathering — that was an immense satisfaction.

 

How else are you making an impact on students?
My profession in the movie industry is fairly unique, and I’ve been to Corvallis a couple of times to speak. It is so valuable for the students in the College of Business to hear the many versions of success, both professionally and personally. When the baton is passed to them, I hope they’ll do the same for another generation.

 

How important is mentorship?
You can look at many movies, not just mine, and a centerpiece theme is the power of mentoring. I grew up in Enterprise, Oregon, small town, 2,000 folks. People are familiar with the fact that “Finding Forrester” was a tribute to my high school English teacher. It’s not exactly a renaissance – but as a society, we’ve grown over the last handful of years to have much more appreciation of the value of mentoring. The university has gotten better with mentorship over the years; I see that with my own children.

 

Will you be offering advice to your grandchildren to be a writer, or to go to Hollywood?
I hope that what I have done serves as an inspiration for them from a standpoint of – don’t fear transition or change. I hope what they absorb is something like, ‘My grandfather made a big change and was willing to risk the stability of the radio news business and try and jump into the deepest end of the pool.’ I did it when I was 38. It’s one thing to say ‘follow your heart’ but it’s almost like that’s not quite strong enough. It’s more like, ‘pursue what your heart is telling you with a passion and fervor.’

Mike Rich's works include:

Skavenger’s Hunt | 2017

Cars 3 | 2017

Secretariat | 2010 (pictured with actress Diane Lane)

The Nativity Story | 2006

Radio | 2003

The Rookie | 2002

Finding Forrester | 2000