On Jason Bateman, bickering over marketing and whether he’ll ever make another animated series.
It’s been 16 years since Mike Judge first burst onto the scene with “Beavis and Butt-Head” which debuted on MTV back in 1993.
The writer, actor, producer, director, composer, animator and musician, whose credits also include the cult hit “Office Space,” Idiocracy” and “King of The Hill,” has returned to the fertile territory of the American workplace with "Extract," starring Jason Bateman and Ben Affleck.
The Austin-based filmmaker chats with TheWrap about his home state’s film prowess, independence and whether he’ll ever make another animated series.
You’ve always valued your independence. How tough was it raising financing for “Extract”?
We went to these guys who have an investment fund — I don’t know all the details — and they were fans of my other stuff. We said, ‘We want to keep this low budget,’ and all we had was Jason Bateman attached.
They were interested, and we were all set to go when one of them lost a ton of money in the mortgage crisis, and then Jason was doing “Hancock,” so finally Miramax took on the rest of the budget in exchange for domestic distribution. So it all worked out.
You got a great cast. Do you write specifically with an actor in mind?
Sometimes I do. I began writing this a long time ago, then put it on the shelf, and then later when I saw Jason in “Arrested Development” I thought he’d be perfect, so I did a rewrite imagining him in the role. But everyone else, no. People came and read.
And you got a big star, Ben Affleck.
People forget that he started off in Texas with “Dazed and Confused” and (Richard) Linklater. The long hair really appealed to him.
You also have Gene Simmons, who’s so good as the sleazy lawyer. Any surprises?
I’d actually written in the script, “Joe looks like Gene Simmons, with a ponytail and a suit and tie.” And we read a bunch of people and then thought, why not go with the real thing. I hadn’t realized he was such a big reality star, but he was like “I’ll do anything you want.”
He was a total pro. He’s definitely a bit of a character, but he’s not out of control like some people I’ve met. We had 200 extras from a reform school on “Idiocracy” who were at a screening, and they were stealing stuff from each other.
You had well-publicized differences of opinion with the studio on how to market that film. Do you think studio executives are clueless for the most part?
It’s a weird thing. A lot of them are smart and went to Harvard and so on, but when there’s a lot of money on the line they get very nervous that they’ll get fired, and it just clouds their judgment. I’d probably be the same way.
It’s not an easy job, but hey — it pays pretty good. I think that if you choose to make movies, you’re doing the most expensive art form there is, so you have to spend other people’s money, and the way studios operate can be very frustrating. It’s hard to predict if anything will work and be a hit. Especially when you don’t have Tom Cruise in it.
What are the advantages of being based in Austin?
For a start, it’s where my ex-wife and I wanted to raise our kids. I’ve lived in Texas for a long time. I was in Dallas before “Beavis and Butt-head” happened, and all my friends had moved down there and I just really like Austin. And there’s a great film scene — people are actually making movies there! So it doesn’t seem to be such a strange thing to be doing there.
You acted in Robert Rodriguez’ “Spy Kids” series. Are you good pals?
Yeah, I know him really well and he’s got this amazing set up there and it just keeps getting better.
Would you like to have a similar studio operation of your own?
Yeah, but I’m not as prolific and I don’t think I’d crank out enough material to run that place. Plus, a lot of what I’ve done is animated. And I don’t feel like I really need my own studio, because his is already there, so I could just rent it.
I’ve actually thought about that, and every time I go over there, it seems to keep growing. Last time I was there, I thought, ‘Man, you could just do two TV shows while he’s doing his movies there.’ It’s like his own back lot.
Are you going to do more animated projects?
I don’t think I’d do another animated series. It’s something I just like to play around with on my own, just for fun, and if something grows out of that, then maybe I’d do it.
But as of now, I can’t see me trying to launch a whole new animated series anytime soon. I like the stuff that’s homegrown like Adult Swim. Doing stuff like that’d be fun, and that’s the only way I see myself doing that now.
There’s this project called “Brigadier Gerard” that my producing partners wrote. It’s based on these stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes, and they’re just so funny.
When I started reading them, I didn’t think something that’s over 100 years old would make me laugh so much. The character’s kind of like Clouseau, and they wrote a screenplay that’s great, so I’ll probably produce it, but not direct it. That might happen next year.