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Art&Seek Q&A: Mike Judge

by Stephen Becker 3 Sep 2009 8:05 AM

All that fans of Office Space probably need to hear is that Mike Judge returns to the workplace for his new film, Extract. He discusses the similarities between the two films, as well as where he gets his ideas, as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A.


Mike Judge on the set of Extract. (Photo credit: Miramax)

Mike Judge on the set of Extract. (Photo credit: Miramax)

  • Listen to Mike Judge on Fresh Air
  • KERA radio story on Judge
  • Watch Beavis and Butt-head review Extract.

Mike Judge may be the most versatile man working in Hollywood. He’s the creator of an animated series for teens (Beavis and Butt-head), an animated series for adults (King of the Hill) and possibly the most spot on workplace comedy in history (Office Space). If you’ve watched any of those, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that he found some of the source material for them while living in Dallas and Richardson after college. Take the town in King of the Hill.

“I guess I was thinking of a name, and I thought, ‘OK, Garland, I’ll take the G and the D off.’ And then I just looked on a map real quickly to make sure there wasn’t really an Arlan. It was pretty quick.”

For his new film, Extract, Judge returns to the office. The movie centers on a factory owner (Jason Bateman), who finally sees an opportunity to cash in by selling the business. Unfortunately for him, the mindless workers he manages get in the way of his plans.

Judge recently met with a group of reporters to discuss his place in the cult cannon, how he comes up with his stories and, of course, his new film, which opens Friday:

Art&Seek So you started writing the script for Extract right after Office Space?

Mike Judge: “Yeah, not too long after … Oddly enough, right after Office Space, all my reps and everybody said, when I talked about different ideas, I said, ‘How about a work place comedy?’ and everyone was like, ‘Eew.’ That was poisoned after Office Space came out [and didn’t do well] initially. .. Then I remember the first focus group at the test screening of Idiocracy, the group of 20 people in the mall or whatever, they said, ‘Well, it was pretty funny, but we wanted it to be like Office Space.’”

A&S: How did you get the idea to set the story in an extract factory?

M.J.: I was with my Realtor driving around looking at houses – this was way back in ’94. And he pointed to this really nice house in the Pemberton area of Austin, and he said, “You know, that’s where the Adams Extract people live.” And I thought, “Wow – vanilla extract, and you get this big ol’ house.” It’s also this odd kinda item that’s in every grocery story, but you don’t think about it too much. People take it for granted. I also like watching bottling mechanisms. I just like watching that machinery go. I thought it would be a nice backdrop. … When I would say the main character is a guy who owns a factory that makes vanilla extract, people would start laughing. So I figured I was one step ahead right there.

A&S: Now that you’ve made another work place comedy, what is it about the office setting that makes it so ripe for comedy?

M.J.: I feel like there’s just a lot of material out there that is in everyone’s life that people don’t use that much. I remember even as a kid, but especially in the 80s – I’m 46 – I remember thinking that people in movies and TV shows seemed to have endless cash, but they don’t have to work that much. I remember my sister had these Nancy Drew novels, and she’s telling me about them, and Nancy Drew is always just hopping on a plane, and I’m thinking, ‘Who pays for the plane ticket?’ … Harvey Pekar, the comic book guy who did American Splendor, has a quote that I really like where he said, “Everyday life has a huge effect on people.” It sounds obvious, but I think that’s why I like this stuff.

A&S: Do you think Office Space’s success adds to the expectations for Extract?

M.J.: I think if there is that expectation, this will fulfill it a lot better than Idiocracy would have. I actually do think this is almost a companion movie to [Office Space]. That one was sympathetic to the employees, and the employees’ point of view. The manager and the bosses are the annoying jerks. This time I wanted it to be sympathetic to the boss and to have the employees be the annoying people. So it’s kind of a bookend.

A&S: In Extract, there are certainly some character types that will be recognizable to people who live in this area, much as there are in King of the Hill. When you are coming up with characters like that, do you feel that you have to strike a balance between poking fun at them without poking too hard?

M.J.: Oh yeah. It’s not always a conscious thing. It’s just kind of a feel thing. … I’d like to feel like it’s making fun of people from a place of someone who’s been there – which I have. I’ve worked in these places, and it’s kind how you’d make fun of your friends. It’s more kinda like as one of those people.

A&S: At what point in the writing process did you decide you’d play a part in the film?

M.J.: I was also hoping that no one would recognize me. …  At some point when Miramax was asking me if I was going to play anything, I said, “I don’t know, I may play that guy with the big mustache or something, but probably not.” So I think my casting director just kinda got a little lazy assuming I was going do it. But then I started looking at these [audition] tapes, and I thought, “Ah, god.” There was this guy with a Boston accent that seems like he should be on Cheers. None of it seemed right, so I was like, “Alright, I’ll put the wig on.”

The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.