Will Work for Laughs

Mike Judge clocks in with 'Extract'

Jason Bateman and Mike Judge at the Austin premiere of <i>Extract</i>
Jason Bateman and Mike Judge at the Austin premiere of Extract (Photo by John Anderson)

After 12 years, King of the Hill is nearing its final episode, but Mike Judge fans can find an easygoing and sublimely Hank Hill-esque denouement via the Austin filmmaker's new theatrical release, Extract. Judge initially wrote the script – which parallels and expands on many of the working-class themes of King of the Hill – in the wake of 1999's now-legendary Office Space, then set it aside to work on 2006's cultural crystal ball Idiocracy. As it turned out, Judge's public would have preferred more Office Space, but then that's par for the course when you're a pioneering, homegrown, blue-collar, semisubversive comic genius. We spoke to Judge on the eve of Extract's Austin premiere and discovered, among other things, that sometimes the mall-rat focus groups know best.

Mike Judge: I started writing the script [for Extract] after Office Space came out, just on my own. I didn't take a check to write so that I'd own it. At the time, Office Space hadn't done so well at the box office and I still owed Fox something. When I'd tell my manager and my agent the different ideas I had, this was the one no one wanted to hear about. Office Space was kind of poison in that way. They were saying, "Don't do another workplace comedy." Oddly enough, the one idea that everyone thought was hugely commercial was the one that became Idiocracy. They thought that was the type of commercial movie that I needed to do; that was the wisdom.

Austin Chronicle: Some wisdom. Idiocracy now seems bizarrely prescient, but at the time you had some serious releasing issues, right?

MJ: Well, yeah. The focus groups, the kids at the mall, were saying that Idiocracy was pretty funny but what they really wanted was something a little more like Office Space. Because by that time Office Space had started making money [on DVD] and actually became commercial and even made the Billboard [Top DVDs list], 10 years after it came out. But as far as Idiocracy's releasing, I'm not even sure I know the full story. Fox kept pushing it back, from May of 2005 to October and then to January 2006, May, and finally it opened in September 2006. I kind of lost touch with it all after finishing the movie, but I know [Fox] did some trailers and ads. I saw them, and even I didn't like them, so I was actually relieved when they never aired. I was okay with it. I think my job is just making the thing and getting the movie the way I want it to be. After that, it's out of my hands. If something's good, it'll find its audience one way or another. I was never too stressed out about it.

AC: So Extract was your response to the kids at the mall?

MJ: Well, I thought maybe I ought to take a stab at rewriting the script. I'd seen Jason Bateman in Arrested Development and thought he'd be really perfect for it, so I gave it to my partners, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky from King of the Hill, and they thought we should go for it. I didn't want to have an experience like the last two movies I'd done, so we got independent financing this time out.

AC: Extract is unmistakably a Mike Judge film, although what exactly makes it so "Mike Judge" can be kind of hard to define. Do you have a hidden, blue-collar-comedy agenda in your head when you're writing your scripts? Or is all this just coincidental?

MJ: I think it's because I've had a lot of different jobs over the years. I didn't start my filmmaking or animation career until I was pushing 30. Prior to that I'd been a musician, and I noticed that when you're on the road, traveling from place to place, you kind of see these archetypal characters that are just kind of everywhere you go. I mean, these characters really exist. In my head, though, I think I'm just trying to come up with stuff that would make my friends laugh.

Extract opens in theatres Friday, Sept. 4.

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Extract, Mike Judge, Extract, King of the Hill, Office Space, Idiocracy, Jason Bateman, John Altschuler, Dave Krinsky

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