Mike Judge on the set of Extract

Mike Judge moves from the cubicle to the factory

By Andrea Miller on September 2, 2009
Interviews


After you've created an iconic pair of nit-wit teenage metal heads, a cult comedy about cubicle life and a long-running animated series about a propane salesman, what's next? If you're writer-director-animator Mike Judge, you take it to the factory floor.

Shelved in the early '00s after Office Space performed poorly at the box office and his managers dissuaded him from doing another career-centric comedy, Extract was borne out of Judge's desire to show a different perspective on the ravages of working life and the oft-overlooked food flavouring industry seemed like an ideal backdrop.

"You know Office Space was sort of the employees' point of view and I'd had dozens of jobs," Judge says in his honeyed "King of the Hill" drawl while in Toronto to promote the film. "I didn't get into doing this kind of thing until I was already pushing 30. So I had a bunch of jobs and never had anybody working for me and suddenly, I had 30 to 90 people working for me. And suddenly I'm going, 'These people don't appreciate anything, they try to take advantage of me when I'm being nice, they fight with each other.' And so I wanted to do something from a boss's point of view. I don't get off on telling people what to do but I do like steering the ship."

In Extract, his cinematic stand-in is everyone's favourite put-upon straightman Jason Bateman, to whom Judge later tailored the part after seeing his hysterical work in a certain critically acclaimed, though unfairly cancelled, Fox TV show.

"He's a great character actor in these roles that he's done but when I saw [“Arrested Development”] I thought, wow this guy just holds it together. He's a fun guy to watch react to stuff, he's a fun guy to watch get frustrated. It's kind of like...Bob Newhart, when I was a kid, had this show with crazy people around him and he'd get flustered and I think Jason makes a great everyman. He was the first actor I gave it to and he said he wanted to do it."

Ben Affleck and Jason Bateman star in Extract
Ben Affleck and Jason Bateman star in Extract. Courtesy of Maple Pictures.

And audiences are given plenty of opportunities to see Bateman slowly simmer as Joel, the overworked owner of a vanilla extract plant who races home to his lovely but sexually unavailable wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) after spending the day tending to his bickering employees. Enter a tempting new temp (Mila Kunis), a brainless gigolo, a stoner best friend (played to the hilt by Ben Affleck) and an, ahem, unfortunate workplace accident and you've got the hallmarks of classic Judge blue collar comedy.

But while Beavis and Butt-head went for crass yuks and Office Space was unflinching in its investigation of middle management hell, Extract aligns itself more with “King of the Hill”- style kind-hearted humour. Does this mean the man who brought us Cornholio is going soft? Not exactly.

"I don't think [what I consider funny] has changed. Like to me, I always reference classic TV..."The Beverly Hillbillies” - I love that show and I also love shows like “Andy Griffith” and “Leave it to Beaver”. On “The Beverly Hillbillies”, everyone's ridiculous, there's no one person who's like the sane, rational one and they don't hug each other at the end, but on “Andy Griffith” they do. To me, Beavis and Butt-head is more “The Beverly Hillbillies” mold and stuff like Office Space is more like the other."

Besides introducing the term "flair" to the masses and providing a cathartic release for anyone who's ever been outsmarted by a copy machine, Judge is known for pointing a spotlight on the often infuriating minutiae of working for a living and continues to offer an unflinching look at the life of a 9-to-5er, albeit this time one who’s married and burdened by responsibility.

"I think because I've had so many jobs, maybe I feel like there's not that much [workplace comedy] out there and it's such a huge part of everyone's life. Growing up, especially in the '80s, I remember thinking people on TV and movies had endless cash and they didn't seem to have work very hard for it. And then you become an adult and you're like, 'God, I gotta pay that much for car insurance and that's how much the heating bill is?',” he says with a laugh. “I also think there is a lot of comedy material in the workplace."

Extract, of course, follows his well-documented 2005 flop Idiocracy – a messy experience that’s lead Judge to re-evaluate how closely he works with studios – and seems poised to redeem the man who was doing office humour before Ricky Gervais had the masses in stitches. That level of expectation could prove crippling to some, but the laid-back Texan is taking it all in stride.

"I kinda feel less pressure, actually,” he chuckles. “I feel like, ok, if this one fails, I've had a fairly good track record so far. I've actually become more relaxed about it all."

Over to you…

We asked Mike Judge some of YOUR questions:

@justinbohemier4: Is there any chance of a King of the Hill movie being made after the show is finished?

A:I don’t see it happening. No one at the Fox has brought it up. It was mentioned a long time ago – not lately. I don’t think so.

@lead_farmer: Did your experience with Idiocracy change the way you make, market or otherwise approach movies?

A: Yeah. I mean, that’s why this one, I’ve written it on spec, I didn’t take any money for it. I wanted to own it. It made me want to not ever go into development with a studio again. I wrote this on my own and we started with private financing.

Andrea: Do you think that’s what you’ll stick with then?

A: I think so, it depends, though. I think that the next thing I would write, I would write on spec. I don’t think I’m ever going to development. In other words, say pitch an idea and then they pay me to write it cause then they’re in the mix, full-on. I definitely swore to myself that’s the last time I would do it that way.

@headlessdog: Is there any chance of you ever making another Beavis and Butt-head movie or TV season?

A: I get asked that a lot. That’s probably still the favourite thing of mine that I’ve done, that I actually still like to watch. I like to leave the door open to that, like I don’t have any specific plans. I go through phases…I had always wanted to have them somehow randomly end up working tech support. I started writing that down and it just writes itself. I kinda miss those characters but a movie would realistically take two years out of my life and I haven’t had two years to spare lately. But you never know.

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