The 'Extract' Interview: Filmmaker Mike Judge After 'Office Space'
MIKE JUDGE's newest film almost didn't survive the bombing.
From "Beavis & Butt-Head" to a still-new "King of the Hill," Judge had been an animator for the better of a decade when, in 1999, he made the transition to a live-action feature film. When that movie, the satirical "Office Space," initially bombed at the box office, Judge scrapped his prospective follow-up workplace film, the factory-set satire "Extract."
This coming Friday, "Extract" -- starring Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck and Mila Kunis -- will finally see the projector light of day. After sitting in on the "Extract" panel session at San Diego Comic-Con last month, Comic Riffs followed up this week with Judge and Kunis.
In the new film, Bateman plays the owner of a flavor-extract company who is led astray by both his "spiritualist"/-pusher/-bartender buddy Dean (played with shaggy dude-ism by Affleck) and the new hire who puts the "temp" in temptress, Cindy (Kunis). The businessman may know from flower extracts, but he wanders all but blindly down the primrose path.
So why did Kunis sign up in a heartbeat to work with Judge? Just look at "Office Space," she replies. "It gets better every time you watch it."
As for Judge, he views "Extract" as a bookend satire to "Office Space" -- a sentiment that will certainly help raises expectations for the new film. Comic Riffs caught up with Judge to talk casting, comic timing -- and why he donned a wig and mustache yet again for a cameo.
FOR THE FULL Q&A, CLICK TO CONTINUE READING...
MICHAEL CAVNA: So Mike, you recently gave the commencement address at our alma mater [the University of California at San Diego]. How'd it go?
MIKE JUDGE: I felt pretty good about it. But now there's YouTube, so if you slip up, it adds kind of a new level of stress and nervousness. I'm just glad I didn't make a mistake worth [posting].
MC: Speaking of public appearances, your "Extract" session at Comic-Con went over real well -- the fanboys sure liked the footage. What'd you think?
MJ: It was fun. But I was thrown off by one clip. It butchered this punchline -- it was cut -- and that affected the point of the scene.
MC: Since "Extract" is a workplace satire, is it fair to draw comparisons between it and "Office Space"?
MJ: Yeah, I would definitely draw a comparison. I think of "Extract" almost as a companion piece to "Office Space," But this is a workplace comedy from the boss's point of view. After "Beavis and Butt-Head" took off and I suddenly was running a show, I could relate more to what a boss goes through.
MC: Did you enjoy doing another work satire?
MJ: Definitely. I felt comfortable making it. I don't plan it that way, but things become funner as they go along. I'm getting back to what I was doing with 'Office Space.' I just could keep going with this -- when everything is working. I'm pretty meticulous in the editing stage -- I tend to like [that footage] that gets funnier in the editing room.
MC: You're satirizing a blue-collar setting this time instead of a white one -- are there similarities to spoofing those two workplaces?
MJ: I feel like in the blue-collar factory setting, there's the same kind of recognizable but unique characters in that world as in cubicles. A friend of mine was working in a parts warehouse and [described the floor employees]. He said there was a woman, 65 years old, sitting on a stool wearing a Tweety Bird T-shirt and a fanny pack. And I said: "'I've seen that exact same type of worker." I worked for a while in a factory that made guitar amps, in Northern California [in Campbell].
MC: So after the eventual mainstream success of "Office Space," were you encouraged to do another workplace satire -- or reluctant to?
MJ: While making "Office Space," I thought: "I was born to do this." But when it came out and didn't do so well [initally], I thought: "I was born to do something that no one wants to see." I was already writing "Extract" when "Office Space" came out, but I [shelved it].
MC: You made "Office Space" [the film] about a decade about your first "Office Space" short animations. Now, "Extract" sat about a decade before becoming a film. Plus, you've said you were thinking about [2006's] "Idiocracy" during [1996's] "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America." So: Maybe your movie ideas just need a good 10 years to ferment.
MJ (laughing): Yeah. Maybe they need that time to age.
MC: So much of the "Extract" cast is accomplished comedically -- not only Jason but Kristen Wiig and Mila Kunis, David Koechner and J.K. Simmons. Casting seemed a vital part of "Office Space," too. Can you speak to casting your workplace satires?
MJ: With those two, I think casting is 80 pecent of the batltle, and we got [actors] who understand the purpose of each scene, and we let that dictate the emotions of each scene. ... That's usually when you get the best performances.
MC: It's great to see Ben Affleck playing a comic supporting role again. Did you talk with [fellow Austin filmmaker] Richard Linklater about him, since Richard had cast him in [1993's] "Dazed and Confused"?
MJ: Yeah, I just really loved that movie -- Ben was great. I remember Rick telling me about him back in '93. Rick said he's really smart and funny. Later, in "Good Will Hunting," I didn't even recognize him. I think Ben gets cast because he looks like a strapping leading man, but I think he's a really good character actor He's just really funny -- he does a killer impression of Miramax executives.
MC: So how did Ben become involved with "Extract"?
MJ: He had read the script and he liked the character [of Dean]. I was kind of surprised.
MC: I As Dean, he appears looser as an actor than he has in quite some time.
MJ: I guess he was sort of channeling this guy he went to high school with. But it didn't feel like a [stock] comedic character. ... He did a read-through with Jason and it just killed. It was so funny, and he started to warm up to it. We just kind of had fun with it -- it was a real good vibe the whole time. ... I was so happy with the way it came out. To me, Ben delivered on every line -- and a lot of that stuff was tricky.
MC: Ben seemed to really relish certain lines -- like at the end of one scene, when Dean says of the gigolo: "What do you expect? He's a whore!"
MJ (laughing): I like the way he did that line. To me, it's funny because here [Dean] is -- he led [Bateman's factory owner] down this wrong path and represented Brad [the gigolo] like this great guy. And now he's [deriding him and] saying: "He's a whore!"
MC: Amid all the comic performances, Jason -- who seems to be in every scene -- really has to deliver. His sense of comic understatement seems crucial. Can you speak to why you cast him?
MJ I didn't want somebody to be overreacting and making it too silly and stupid. It needed to be someone who can hold all that stuff together -- he's good at that. I'd seen him do it in "Arrested Development." ... We'd be shooting and then he's so inspired. Like the scene when the gigolo is recounting [the affair]. Jason slams the phone on the desk -- that wasn't in the script. There were also the scenes with the neighbor, Nathan [played by David Koechner]. They just laid if out perfectly. We talked early on about [Bateman's] character, who's kind of constrained by his own politeness. ... That's hard to do -- listening and not wanting to be rude. Jason's fingering the remote on the garage as Nathan stands at the door. I loved all these little things they were doing.
MC: And then there's the counterpoint moment where Jason throws the cellphone on the bed -- but this time, he doesn't get the satisfaction of slamming a phone down.
MJ Yeah, when I started writing this [in 1999], we were still getting used to cellphones, and the most you could do is slam down the part that flips up. It's not the same.
MC: So in "Extract," that IS you playing Jim [the factory floor worker], right?
MJ That's me. I had to give myself another thankless role. I couldn't find somebody to do what I was looking for. ... I wrote that [character] late in the game, in rewrite. ... I think my casting director deliberately got lazy so I would have to put myself in.
MC: So in "Office Space," when you played Stan [the restaurant manager], you wore a wig and a mustache; now you wear a wig and a 'stache again to play Jim. So whom would you rather have a beer with -- Jim or Stan?
MJ Oh, definitely Jim. I probably wouldn't DISLIKE Jim.
MC: And which workplace would you rather work in?
MJ I think when it's something like a [factory] company of that size -- I think 75 people or so, and the boss is right there -- you can go complain to that boss. Of course, the bad thing is that you can go complain to the boss. But it's a more healthy workplace than a bunch of shareholders and corporate owners in a different town. That's a more soul-sucking environment.
MC: At Comic-Con, Jason said he'd love to see you form a Christopher Guest-like troupe and crank out of these satires every 18 months. Whaddya think -- are you up to that?
MJ (laughing at the prospect): I don't know about every 18 months. I'd love to do it, but maybe every 2 1/2 years.
THE RELATED READ:
THE PRINT PIECE: It Took a Decade, but the Boss of 'Office Space' Is Back in Business.
THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: Mike Judge talks art, animation and his creative influences.
| August 29, 2009; 3:15 AM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists
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