No doubt they're an oddball trio: Richard Linklater, the cult director of ''Dazed and Confused'' and ''Waking Life;'' Mike White, the star and screenwriter of subversive morsels like ''Chuck & Buck'' and ''The Good Girl;'' and Jack Black, the scruffy folk-metal satirist. Who would have thought they'd pool their eccentricities to create a good-natured comedy starring a batch of schoolkids? ''After weird indie stuff, people are really quick to say, 'Ahh, what are you doing a studio comedy for?''' says Linklater. White agrees: ''When I told friends, they were like, 'You’re kidding, right?' But I've always believed that you need to mix it up because it's harder to kill a moving target.''
In ''School of Rock,'' Black plays Dewey Finn, a ''classic-rock'' renegade who, hard up for cash, poses as a substitute teacher in a tony private school. Desperate to win the local Battle of the Bands, he forms a ragtag group with his fifth-grade students. Eschewing the Hollywood child-actor circuit, Linklater sought out pint-size musical prodigies instead. ''I wanted to make a real rock & roll movie, like you'd look at it and it'd make you want to start a band.''
Cynics can rest assured that nobody was interested in making what Linklater dismisses as ''one of those nauseating cute-kid movies.'' Preciousness doesn't sit well with Black, either. ''I've never even seen this movie,'' he says, ''but you don't want it to be like 'Kindergarten Cop.' I wanted it to be my 'Bad News Bears' or my f---ing 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'!''
To that end, Black tried to prevent Paramount from mucking up his movie's poster. ''They were toying around with a reference to 'We Built This City (on Rock & Roll),' the Starship song, and I was like, 'Dudes, come on, let's steer clear of the worst song ever written!'''
The Killer Moment Black, as Dewey Finn, performs his latest tune (''You think you can kick me out of the band...''), a cappella, for his fifth-grade class.