‘Extracting’ the truth from Mike Judge

By David Orlikoff

Writer/director Mike Judge has built a career on animation. He started out in the early ’90s making shorts leading to his creation of the iconic “Beavis and Butt-head” for MTV in ’93.  His next major project, “King of the Hill,” began in ’97 and prolific though his work in animation had been, Judge didn’t become a household name until after the release of his first live-action feature, Office Space in ’99. Opening to a lukewarm theatrical release, the film eventually garnered a cult following and hit pay dirt for the studio through at-home viewing.

His latest film Extract tells the story of food flavoring developer and manufacturer Joel (Jason Bateman), as he deals with insane employees, a marriage losing its spark, a lawsuit and a crazed temp Cindy (Mila Kunis).

The Chronicle sat down with Mike Judge to talk about his philosophies on work, on life and how he came to write the screenplay for his latest film.v

The Chronicle: Live action or animated, can you elaborate on what you think it means to have a Mike Judge film?

Mike Judge: I’ve been hearing that a lot lately with Extract and I really like it. Most of the time I’m asking, “what would make my friends laugh, and my brother and people that I know?” And it’s usually the kind of stuff where you’re sitting around telling stories like, “oh there’s this guy in my office and he does this and that,” or “you know my neighbor.” And you’re telling this story—you’re doing an imitation—and people laugh. I guess that’s where it starts with me. It just comes out seeming like my stuff, its not a deliberate thing.

Chronicle: In “King of the Hill” and Extract, there’s one really dominant character at the center of this moral framework. How do characters like Joel and Hank Hill represent your world view?

MJ: Those two are probably pretty close to my view. Hank’s probably a little different from me. I mean, I don’t follow football and stuff like that. [Joel] is probably pretty close to me. I worked so many jobs before I became successful in animation and filmmaking. I never had anybody working for me, I was always an employee, and suddenly I had 30 to 90 people working for me on “Beavis and Butt-head.” I felt like I was babysitting this huge group. Then I thought, “Wait a minute, now I’m the boss.” I kind of learned to be a better boss.

Chronicle: Is there joy in being the boss?

MJ: I actually don’t enjoy being a boss by itself; I enjoy making something. That feeling of steering a ship or making something, bringing it to the finish line is a really great satisfying feeling. That’s why I could never see myself purely as being a manager for the sake of being a manager. And I think there are people who just like being a boss because they like being above and in control of people purely for that. I don’t enjoy that; I enjoy the overall thing. I think what happened on “Beavis and Butt-head” was that no one knew what they were doing and I ended up having to be the manager.

The Chronicle: How long have you been carrying around the story for Extract?

MJ: I started writing this right after Office Space came out. Fox had an option on me for one more screenplay. But the theatrical release didn’t do that great, so when my managers and agents all got together, when I mentioned this idea everyone was like, “Okay, no-no, no more workplace comedies.” And oddly enough the one idea I had that everyone thought was big and commercial was what became Idiocracy. I actually started writing this without telling anybody, just for fun. I’m horrible at pitching things and I thought, maybe if I write this and it turns out well I can just say, “Here it is,” and I won’t have to describe it to anyone which I can’t do anyway. But then I didn’t show anyone for years.

The Chronicle: When did you finish it?

MJ: I wrote a draft all the way through back in, I want to say 2001, and then ended up doing what became Idiocracy. When we did the first test screening of Idiocracy, the basic feeling the focus group had was that it was pretty funny, but they wanted to see something like Office Space. In the meantime, Office Space had come out on DVD and had become very commercial. So I looked at Extract again and showed it to John Altschuler and David Krinsky, the guys who ran “King of the Hill.”  We already decided we were going to take the stuff that we liked, not sell it to anybody, just own it and try to make these things independently.  So that’s what we did with this—we went to independent investors. And I did a rewrite of it and I had seen Jason Bateman in “Arrested Development,” so I was kind of imagining him in the role [of Joel]. We got these private investors and just decided to make it.