I've noticed that when I talk about writer-director Mike Judge with various non-film-geek friends and acquaintances, I usually have to explain who he is -- even here in Austin, his hometown. And depending on the type of person, different types of projects trigger recognition. The high-tech crowd gets excited over Office Space, of course, but it's surprising how many of them can quote Idiocracy lines at me too. ("It's what plants crave!") Nearly everyone nods in recognition if I bring up Beavis and Butt-Head, although I do believe my mom winced a bit until I mentioned King of the Hill as well. And now that Judge has made what may be his most traditionally commercial comedy to date, Extract, I wonder if I'll have to explain who he is to fewer people. I hope so.
Certainly more people are aware of Extract than Judge's previous film, Idiocracy, which Fox slipped into a handful of theaters with virtually no publicity of any kind. Miramax is giving Extract plenty of publicity for its September 4 wide release, and Judge agreed to do some interviews. I was fortunate enough to get to sit down with him for a little while and chat about past and future projects as well as Extract. (The above photo is from the Austin red-carpet event later that evening.)
Cinematical: I heard you had written the Extract script on spec. Is that usual for you?
Judge: Well, it is from now on. When I originally mentioned the idea to my people out there -- agents and what-have-you -- it was right after Office Space had come out and Office Space was poison at the time, it had not done that well at the box office. So I got a pretty flat response to the idea of setting something in a factory. That's partly why I started trying to write it by myself, just for fun.
Of all the ideas I had, Idiocracy was the one that everyone thought was really commercial. The wisdom at the time was, "Well, Mike's a talented director, but he needs to listen to us more, do a big commercial movie," and that's how Idiocracy came about. That was going to be the big commercial movie. And then, at the first test screening of Idiocracy, the focus group was saying, "Well, that's pretty funny but we were hoping it was going to be like Office Space."
So this script [Extract], I let a couple of people read it -- John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, my producing partners who ran King of the Hill -- and they liked it. We all thought it could be something more like Office Space, we could make it low-budget, do it independently with independent financing ... which we did. Miramax came in when we were already kind of set to go, bought domestic distribution, and that completed the budget.
Cinematical: Are you planning to work on future film projects in the same way as Extract?
Judge: Probably, especially if it's something I wrote. If you want to make movies, you're picking the most expensive art form there is, so that's just the way the world is -- people are paying a lot of money to get something made, they're going to be nervous about it, understandably. But I would like to do it this way -- keeping the budget down, setting it up so there's very little downside. My producing partners have a couple of other scripts they've written that are ready to go.
There's one called Brigadier Gerard that I don't think I'll direct, but I'll produce -- that I think is great, and we'll probably do it that way. It's based on these stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- they're called The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, set during the Napoleonic Wars. He's a really funny character. I think he was probably an inspiration for Clouseau and stuff like that, later ... only he actually kills people.
Cinematical: Extract starts in an almost sitcom-y way -- the scene with the sweatpants -- but then it gets darker and stranger as you go along.
Judge: I never thought of it that way.
Cinematical: See, now I was going to ask if that was your original plan with the film, to start in a conventional way and then go into dark places.
Judge: I didn't plan it out that way. I kind of combined two things I was writing. I can see it though, now that you mention it -- it starts out seeming kind of normal and then -- yeah.
It started out as a conversation a friend of mine was having a long time ago, about hiring a gigolo so that'd be the only way he wouldn't feel guilty -- if she did it first -- and what if she did do that. Then I had this other thing I was trying to think about, about a super-hot girl who was a sociopath. I think those kind of people -- supermodels -- live by a different set of rules than I do. I used to TA physics and I remember this one really hot girl. You had to have a 16 out of 20 or better to pass a quiz, and if she got a 14 she'd be pissed off at me. She ended up cooking up this whole lie to the professor about how I told her the wrong place for the final, and tried to get out of the final that way, and it just scared me. I'm taking more of a lighter look at it in this movie. But I tried combining those two things.
Cinematical: Office Space and Idiocracy didn't do so well when they came out, but they've developed this cult following -- people are always quoting the movies to me.
Judge: Yeah, especially Office Space, although I guess with Idiocracy it's starting to happen too, that's kind of cool. It's not like that's what I'm trying to do when I start out. I was trying to figure that out, how it happens. I mean, there are movies I've watched a hundred times and quote, like Badlands and Big Lebowski.
I think a lot of it is about the casting and performance. And I end up trying to find things in editing -- I try to take out anything that doesn't seem completely believable and real. I think maybe I notice fake stuff more than some people do, and I get rid of all that so there's not a moment of the film that hopefully isn't believable. And because I'm very hands-on in editing, I watch the thing over and over again, so I tend to find things that I want to watch over and over again. I hope that happens with this movie.
Cinematical: I watched an interview with you on Spike TV where you said, "I don't think there's ever been anything as satisfying to me as making a short animated film."
Judge: I have a nostalgic thing for that -- just animating something, shooting it, seeing it come alive, getting the lip sync going and seeing the thing talk. When I was doing it all myself, it was very satisfying. But once Beavis and Butt-Head became a series, it became more of a managerial thing because you've got 40 people drawing it, someone's going to put some stupid smile that doesn't make any sense on Butt-Head, or someone'll give them some effeminate walk. It was all about making model sheets and trying to control it and just controlling a factory ... which is how I got some of the inspiration for this movie. Trying to get everybody to do everything right, it became more of an administrative job. So I do kind of miss that, but I also like doing a show.
Cinematical: Can you see yourself trying that again, or do you think you'll focus on longer projects?
Judge: A few years ago, I was messing around, and I animated a couple of little things just for fun, just to look at. And I was also experimenting, like maybe I would do something more with them, and I still might. But to me, that's more of a hobby that I do, not something I would put out there. Although ... I might put some of it out there.
Cinematical: Are there any characters you've developed that we've seen that you'd enjoy revisiting?
Judge: I still feel like it might be fun to do something with Beavis and Butt-Head someday. And then sometimes I'll be watching TV and I'll think, it's too bad Idiocracy wasn't a TV show because I'll come up with ideas that would have been fun to do if it was an ongoing thing. Same thing with Beavis and Butt-Head -- awhile back, a writer I was working with, we were talking about the agony of buying a new car and all the tactics car salesmen do, and thinking, man, that would be fun, to have Beavis and Butt-Head buying a car and see all of those tactics, how none of them would work on those guys.
Cinematical: I watched an interview with Terry Crews [President Camacho, Idiocracy] where he was joking with an interviewer that he'd love to do The Chronicles of Camacho -- the rise of the President, he says.
Judge: [Laughing] Yeah, it would be fun to make that a TV show with him, he was great.