You've really got to hand it to a filmmaker like Mike Judge, who manages success despite sometimes overwhelming odds. While he has succeeded on the small screen, with animated hits like Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, his big-screen ventures haven't gone as smoothly as a filmmaker would hope for. Both of his films Office Space and Idiocracy received small platform releases, with the studios unsure of both films' prospects, only to see both films flourish on the DVD market and become undeniable cult classics.
Judge came back to the cineplexes this summer with his new film Extract, which is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on December 22 and to celebrate this new home video release, Judge himself took part in a virtual online junket where he took questions from members of the press. Here's what he had to say about his new film.
Even with all of the pressures Joel faces at home and at work what is it that makes him a successful boss?
Mike Judge: I think what ultimately makes Joel a successful boss is that he genuinely likes making extract. For me, I enjoy directing movies, making animated TV shows, and in order to do that, you sometimes have to tell people to do things they don't want to do, or make choices that people don't agree with. And I really don't enjoy telling people to do things they don't want to do, but it goes with the territory. I think there are some bosses out there -- and these would be bad bosses in my opinion -- that are in it because they actually get off on telling people to do things they don't want to do; they get some kind of weird pleasure out of making people do things for the sake of making them do things. They get off on the power of it all or something. I think Joel really likes making extract and seeing it get out there in stores and restaurants, and that informs all the decisions he makes, so it's always coming from the right place. I think that's how to be a good boss.
Why vanilla extract? Any symbolism or subtext there?
Mike Judge: No symbolism or subtext. I try to avoid that sort of thing.
I noticed in Extract that you were mostly able to stay away from pop culture references (outside of Dancing with the Stars), how difficult is it to write a story that doesn't entail some of that dated material?
Mike Judge: Well, when I first wrote the script, that reference was Will and Grace. That shows you how long ago I wrote it. I'm not big on pop culture references in general -- probably because I'm pretty out of it lately, and I'm not great at doing that kind of comedy anyway. I also wrote it back when only a small percentage of the population had cell phones. That's why there's all this stuff in there with landlines, pay phones, busy signals, call waiting, etc. I was a little worried about that, but no one seems to have been bothered by it.
Would you ever consider doing a sequel to Office Space?
Mike Judge: I kind of feel like this movie is sort of a follow up to Office Space. I based Office Space on my own experiences working in the cubicle world, and I based a lot of this on my experience being a boss and running what was basically an animation factory on Beavis and Butt-head. I think when you go from complaining about the man keeping you down, to becoming the man, you realize that being the man is no picnic either. At one point a while back I considered doing a sequel to Office Space, but I wouldn't do one now. Since that movie came out there have been two great TV shows -- the British Office and the American one -- and dozens of commercials set in cubicles, so I kind of feel like I wouldn't want to go back to it at this point.
What were the challenges of filming in a fully functional working factory?
Mike Judge: Because we were on a tight budget, we had to shoot a lot of stuff while they were still working -- they were really bottling. A lot of the background that you see in the movie is actually real people working -- not extras. It was loud enough in there that they couldn't hear us yelling "action" and "cut" and they just kind of got used to us being there, so I got some pretty natural acting in the background because they weren't acting like they were working; they were really working.
How different in approach is your storytelling when it comes to animation and live action? Do you bank ideas that were too cinematic when you were working on King of the Hill and The Goode Family and save them for your feature work?
Mike Judge: Actually they are pretty similar approaches. And you can actually get pretty cinematic in TV animation I think, as The Simpsons has done. I think I never got too cinematic with King of the Hill just because of the nature of the show and the characters, not really because it was animated.
Did you always have Jason Bateman in mind for the lead role?
Mike Judge: I started writing this a long time ago -- I think it was shortly after Office Space came out. I originally wasn't thinking of any actor in particular, just writing it. Jason had done King of the Hill and I always liked him, but when I saw him in Arrested Development, I thought he would be perfect for this, and when I rewrote it and finished it, I was imagining him as the lead. It's a similar character to what he did in AD, but I think Joel is a little less slick or something. Jason was the first actor I gave the script to and he said he liked it and wanted to do it, so it was him from the get go.
Animation or live action - which do you prefer, and why?
Mike Judge: I think they're more similar than you might think from the point of a writer/director. I liked animation when I was just doing short films myself -- doing everything myself. That was really satisfying work -- making a film one frame at a time, getting it back from the lab and watching it for the first time. That was about as good as it gets I think.
Did you shoot the film digitally? If so, how did you like/dislike the process of working in digital?
Mike Judge: I shot it on all on film. In fact, we didn't even do what's called a "D.I." which is how most films are finished nowadays. So if you saw it in the theater, you saw a print that was struck right off a negative. I actually like what happens to the look of film when you put it through that process.
The bong scene with Bateman was hilarious. What type of Blu-ray extras will we see on that?
Mike Judge: There is a deleted scene that comes right after that where Ben's character does a really lame apology to Jason's character. It's a scene I loved, but somehow didn't fit where it was in the movie.
Have you enjoyed the resurgence of rated-R comedies, and has that opened up any other doors for you given that your material has a bit of an edge to it, or has it inspired you to go even edgier than what you've done previously?
Mike Judge: I think there have been some great R comedies in the past couple years -- The Hangover, Superbad, etc., but for me it's not ever about edgy or not edgy. Something is either funny or interesting or it's not, and sometimes something funny falls into the R rated territory, but not always. Some people are surprised to hear that Office Space is R rated, because it doesn't seem that edgy I guess. I think anytime anyone has ever tried to be deliberately edgy, or to "push the envelope," it's usually sucked and lost money. I think there are a lot of movies that are hard-R rated that are really good and made money, but it's because they are good, inspired movies.
Since you keep the budgets low, are you pretty much afforded full creative control on your directorial projects? Is this the "director's cut?"
Mike Judge: Yes, pretty much. I take full responsibility.
Would you ever do a live action TV series or another feature-length animated film?
Mike Judge: I would definitely like to do a live action TV series. I don't know that I would do another feature-length animated film any time soon. Unless maybe it was a CG project.
There's a dignity to the characters - and the work itself - in your film. Talk about establishing that element while at the same time finding the humor in the colorful characters.
Mike Judge: That's pretty important to me because I've worked these kinds of jobs, and I remember feeling like Hollywood was sometimes out of touch with us, and always appreciating it when it felt like a movie or TV show got something right -- like there was someone out there in Hollywood who understood what most of us go through. I also used to feel like a lot of characters in movies and TV seemed to have endless cash and free time and you either didn't know much about their job or they didn't seem to have one. Finding the humor while still having some dignity to the characters is something that is also important to me. I don't think about it that much; I'd like to think it comes naturally. To me it's just like when I would sit around with my friends telling stories about people I work with and doing imitations of them and that sort of thing.
In your previous films you've had a hand in directing, writing and producing. Which is your so-called labor of love out of the three?
Mike Judge: I mostly like the writing and the editing, and I like when it's over.
Has the gradual embracing of your first two live-action movies made it easier to be patient for a film like Extract to find its audience and a fan following?
Mike Judge: Yes. Also keeping the budget low on this has helped.
In the bonus material, Jason and Ben talk about their long dialogue. How much did you let them improv or is it all from the page?
Mike Judge: I like to let the actors feel like they can be loose with the script up to a point because I want them to feel comfortable and when they really get the character and what's happening in the scene, then the improv wouldn't drift too far anyway. I'm not really precious about my writing, but I usually find that in the editing room we end up pretty close to what was on the page. I think if you write good dialogue, it sounds like people spontaneously talking, so audiences think it's improvised, which is a good thing I think. I would say in this movie, the most improv that would up in the movie came from Ben Affleck. He threw some stuff in there that I just loved and it wasn't in the script.
While so many other comedies tend to shoot for these big company stories, you tend to reside in settings with small town folks as the main characters (King of the Hill, Office Space and now Extract) what draws you to these small town stories?
Mike Judge: I would say my stuff resides in suburbs of big towns also, or small towns that are near big towns. I guess that's because I've mostly lived in places like that -- Albuquerque NM, Richardson TX, etc. I think that a lot of writers in film and TV in the past have tended to come from NY or big east-coast cities, and there have also been great stuff written about really small hick towns, and so I feel like I can maybe bring a different perspective on things with a suburban setting.
Where does your fascination with groin jokes come from?
Mike Judge: I do find it fascinating that a guy getting hit in the nuts always gets a laugh in movies -- even from me -- and I'm also not above using that for a cheap laugh, myself. At some point, an evolutionary biologist should try to figure out why we laugh at that. I think if they figure out why a sense of humor and laughing even evolved in the first place -- how that could possibly have contributed to survival of the species -- then one of the first things they should figure out is why getting hit in the nuts always gets a laugh in movies and cartoons. I could go on about this for hours, but I won't. I actually talked about this with Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond.
One of the performances we especially enjoyed was from Clifton Collins Jr. as Step. He's been incredibly diverse this year, can you talk a little about him as an actor and what he brought to the film?
Mike Judge: I love Clifton and have wanted to work with him for a while. I just never had a part that was right for him. I actually hadn't thought of him for this part either. He usually plays a Chicano gangster or a serial killer, so I hadn't thought of him, but then he walked into the room with a trucker hat on, and suddenly he went from looking like a Chicano gangster to Festus from Gunsmoke. I love him as a redneck. He also makes a great Romulan. He's a true chameleon. And now he's a big award-winning country music video director also, with Zack Brown Band.
Did Ben Afleck find it liberating to play a quirky supporting player for a change? He was great in the film.
Mike Judge: You would have to ask him if he found it liberating, but it sure seemed like he did. I think he had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a blast for me to work with him on it. I really liked what he did. I had never met him before this and when I heard he wanted to do it, I was surprised at first -- pleasantly so -- and then when I met with him, he started telling me about a guy he knew growing up in Boston and he started imitating him and I just thought it was great. We did a read through of the script early on and I just loved watching him and Jason do these scenes and play off each other.
In the bonus feature "Mike Judge's Secret Recipe," you talked about working in the factory on musical merchandise but was your personal factory experience and the people you dealt with similar to what we saw of the factory workers in Extract?
Mike Judge: There were some similarities from when I worked in a factory, but I probably got more inspiration from working on Beavis and Butt-head where I felt like I was running a factory and having to deal with all it's employees. It was a Butt-Head factory basically.
Watching the special features on Extract, Mila Kunis mentioned that she may have been based on an actual person you know but curious, were the characters based off people you actually knew. And if so, how would you personally deal with a person so intrusive like Nathan?
Mike Judge: No one is based specifically on one person, but I think most writers base characters on people they have known. The character of Nathan wasn't any one specific person, but I did have a neighbor -- a woman -- who was a nightmare. It was in a gated community, so there was only one way out, and she would flag you down and just park herself in your window and just start talking. She would basically make it so you had a choice of either listening to her forever, or being rude and interrupting her, or even worse, pulling away while her arms were rested on your window.
Was it your idea to cast rocker Gene Simmons as bench lawyer Joe Adler?
Mike Judge: Yeah, I had originally described the character as looking like Gene Simmons with a ponytail and a suit and tie. I was kind of naive though, in that I thought no one would recognize him without the Kiss makeup on. I didn't realize how huge the reality show was. The only time I had ever seen him without the makeup was on Politically Incorrect about 9 years ago and thought he would be great playing an agent or high-powered attorney.
Was there instant chemistry when the actors began working together or did it take some time for them to gel?
Mike Judge: For the most part it was instant. And most of them had already worked together or knew each other, so it all gelled nicely.
You can pick up Mike Judge's Extract on DVD and Blu-ray on December 22.