Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Q&A with Extract director Mike Judge

Posted by on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 11:15 AM

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Mike Judge has a great ear for dialogue, something that’s apparent in both the boneheaded Beavis and Butthead ’toon he scripted for MTV and in the redneck-themed animated series King of the Hill. While his latest film Extract, didn’t exactly go head-to-head with the latest Judd Apatow project when it came out over the summer, it was a very funny parody that starred Jason Bateman as a vanilla-extract factory owner with some serious problems at home and at the workplace. In advance of the DVD’s December 22 release, Judge phoned in from his Los Angeles home yesterday to talk about the movie and his career as both an animator and filmmaker.

I know that you’ve worked in factory settings before. But at what point did you decide you’d want to make a movie about a factory?
I’m trying to remember which came first. I had the idea about a female character who’s a bit of a sociopath. Then, I had the idea about the guy in a marriage and the gigolo. I liked watching bottling mechanisms run and hadn’t seen that in anything for a while, probably since Laverne and Shirley. I wanted to do something from the boss’s point of view. There used to be this great factory, the Adams Extract factory — when you drive from Austin to San Antonio. It was a cool ’50s looking building. I even took a tour of it. So I wanted to do that for a while. I had toured the Miller brewery in Milwaukee when I was a musician and they sponsored this guy I was playing with.

You ended up filming in City of Commerce, right?
Yeah, it was at this factory that makes different kinds of bottled water.

I’ve been to City of Commerce. I think it’s aptly named because it really is all commerce.
There’s some crazy statistic where there’s like 75 actual residences and some crazy tax thing where they have reverse property tax where they actually get money back because all their tax is paid. It’s a really odd place. I don’t know if there’s another city like it in the country.

I think the film is good at capturing what it’s like in a factory where if one cog gets stuck, everything goes to hell.
The ones I worked at were very slow-moving. Whoever is in charge, it’s their charge to make things run smoothly. It’s also a lot like an animated TV show. There’s a pipeline. Everyone has to meet deadlines. You have your air date and somebody will look really stupid if there is no show. It’s a similar thing.

You put together such a great cast for the film. Talk about what it was like working with them.
I had really great people on the set. When I had done casting on Office Space, it made me want to write a lot of parts who were so great even if they weren’t right for the part. I was really happy with this cast. The three live action movies I’ve made live or die on the performances because they’re not really story driven. I wasn’t going to make it if I couldn’t get the right cast. I was really happy with everybody. This was a very smooth, pleasant experience.

Was Jason Bateman cast first?
Yeah. I had the script lying about for a while and just out of having so many people say you should make another movie like Office Space, I wanted to film it. He was the first actor I showed it to and said he wanted to do it. We went to investors with Jason and I in the package.

I like that clip in “Mike Judge’s Secret Recipe,” part of the bonus features on the DVD, where you direct yourself.
It’s the same thing in Office Space. I had added both those parts for myself late in script, read a bunch of people and thought, “I ought to do this myself and give myself the thankless role.” I actually do put myself on tape. I didn’t think people would know it was me. I didn’t think I’d get recognized because I barely get recognized on the set by people I work with every day when I put a wig on. A lot of people recognized me.

I think it was the voice more than anything.
Yeah, that’s true. That probably gives me away.

In the DVD extras, you quote Harvey Pekar as an inspiration. Talk about how your developed your comedic sensibilities when you were young?
I’ve never met Harvey Pekar and been a fan for years. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on. He was definitely an influence. There was a friend of mine in high school and we fantasized about doing sketch comedy and doing imitations. One out of 200 people can do really good imitations. I used to be able to do them and I would gravitate toward other people who could. I could never get anybody on board with what I thought could go somewhere. When I decided to do animation, I figured I could do this by myself. I don’t need to ask anybody for money. I can just go do it. Before I started that, I had seen Do the Right Thing and in the ’80s characters in movies fall into these clichés and it was so fresh and real. I had never been to Brooklyn, and it was another world but you could tell it was based on something real. I thought, “Why not do that about my suburban neighborhood here outside of Dallas. There’s interesting stuff going on even though it looks bland to most Hollywood people.” That’s where I approached it from. I was looking for an angle to do something different. Harvey Pekar has this comedy timing to the way he do this. I thought you could do the same thing in film or animation and it would be just as fresh as it was in his comic books or in Do the Right Thing.

You’ve had great success with animated shows like King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead. Your films haven’t been as successful. Why do you think that is?
Office Space has made a lot of money and was in the top ten at one point and has done great in DVD sales. Well, they haven’t cost a lot to make. Idiocracy was the most expensive and I think it will at least break even and may make a profit because we didn’t spend anything on marketing. I don’t feel like I’ve failed too badly. That’s why we were careful to keep the budget low on this. I recognize it’s not super-commercial. I have thought about directing big, commercial movies. I love playing around with special effects. Coming from animation, I would think about doing that. I guess that’s just not the stuff I write.

You must have had offers to direct big-budget films.
I turned them all down so they’ve given up. My taste is pretty broad. I like big-ass comedies. I’m not a big super hero guy, though I like Spider Man. I didn’t read the comic books. I’m not one of those types. I liked the Star Trek movie and would like to do some kind of effects movie.

What’s next?
I might do some more stuff in TV. I’m thinking about doing some animation stuff but I haven’t figured it out. This is the first time since I started in 1992 that I haven’t had a TV show on the air. It’s made me want to go back to the drawing board, literally, and mess around with that again. I have a few ideas but nothing I want to announce or anything.

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