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Kim Kardashian

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"At first, I didn't see any reason why we should do it again." By: EC Gladstone September ...

Mike Judge

Mike Judge

“Unions are driving animation out of the country. It can be done. It just takes time.”

MIKE JUDGE interview
By E.C. Gladstone

Eric Gladstone: I have to start by telling you that I enjoyed the film much more than I thought I would.

Mike Judge: One of the things that are funny about Beavis & Butthead on the big screen is the same thing that’s funny about them I think on TV. They’re these people that just don’t belong on TV, and there they are, reckless. And on the big screen, when they’re 20 feet tall and in surround sound, that makes it even funnier. It’s a hard thing to explain well.

EG: What was the process from doing five minute bits on TV to an 80 minute full length big screen piece? It seems like a monumental leap.

MJ: Yeah, yeah it is. For one thing, the writing was a real challenge. Movies are what I really want to do, but writing the B&B movie, it’s kind of difficult. The thing about B&B, for them to work, is that they have to stay in character, these characters that are very one-note. So the idea was to build a big story around them where they were just oblivious to the whole thing. It was a little hard to pull off. That was a little tricky. I was always a big fan of the Clouseau/Pink Panther movies. Peter Sellers never became smart or anything but he was what he was, and the story just happened around him. Same in other movies of his like Being There.

And also, just the look of it, we had to do it on bigger field sizes. I can’t believe we pulled this off. The movie is all hand-inked and painted cel animation. It has a really nice look that I’m really happy with. Real cels shot on film hasn’t been shown in theatres to regular audiences in a long time, and I think it’s a look that’s really cool.

EG: Even the rough cut looks much smoother than the TV stuff.

MJ: Well, yeah, it’s all really about time and budget. You’ll hear people say there’s a difference between the good cartoons and the bad ones. I think those people are just lazy. It’s all budget, unions are driving animation out of the country. It can be done. It just takes time.

EG: On the scale of animation films, how high was the budget for this.

MJ: It was pretty low. The way we were able to pull this off is like a Disney movie. They have to start from scratch, design all the characters and design all the rotations [movement positions]. We had a system up and running with this, it was just a matter of beefing it up some.

EG: This might seem like an old question, but where did these characters come from in the first place?

MJ: The way they first started, I had a sketchbook and I was trying to draw this guy I went to high school with. I tried like five, six times. And one of them ended up being Butthead and another ended up being Beavis, neither of which looked like the guy I went to high school with. But it was kind of a thing where I started drawing and say, “that’s funny,” and I give up on drawing the guy I went to high school with, I’m just drawing something else. Then they just sat there for a while and I made a short cartoon of them like a year later, Frog Baseball.

EG: This is from your own adolescence?

MJ: Yeah. Just kids I grew up with.

EG: How many other things came from your adolescence?

MJ: Oh, yeah, you know, there are tons of things. When I was in college, I went to UC San Diego and lived out in Miramesa, in this very cheap suburban tract home. And this kid called himself “Ironbutt”–these kids were a little younger than B&B, like 11 or 12–his whole claim to fame was that you could kick him in the butt as hard as you wanted and it wouldn’t hurt. Ironbutt had a friend that my roommate started calling Butthead. These guys, you’d have a girl over and they’d be like at the window going “huh huh.” And Ironbutt set the tree in our front yard on fire.

EG: Speaking of fire, was there anything in your original screenplay that the studio made you tone down or take out?

MJ: There wasn’t anything that anyone said, “You should take this out,” other than for the MPAA rating. We’re going for a PG-13. You know, there’s things, if Beavis and Butthead said “fuck” or “shit” at this point–they don’t say “shit”–there’s something funnier about just really dumb vulgar sixth grader type stuff. At one point, there were some people saying “what about the ‘fire’ stuff?” And I said, “Look, you guys asked me to do the movie, if you want me to do the movie we’re not going to go through this again.”

EG: How did the original “Fire” incident (in which the mother of children who set fire to their trailer home blamed the influence of a certain B&B episode) affect you and your work?

MJ: Well, obviously it’s this horrible, awful thing that happened. But it had nothing to do with B&B in any real way. I mean, in this media frenzy, this never got reported until weeks later: But the woman left a five year old and a two year old alone in a trailer and went out to another guy’s house on a date. They didn’t get cable TV there. What had happened a couple weeks before, B&B were in the news because a little incident happened where a girl did something with an aerosol can and said “Beavis and Butthead.” So it was in the local paper. The mom was about to be arrested–well, she was–for child abandonment, and she said, “B&B” because I think she’d heard about it in the papers. So then it just blew up. And no one mentioned, because I know people who work for NBC, I know for a fact that they knew that the kid had started another fire when he was three, before B&B was on the air, and that they didn’t get cable. They just didn’t report it because it wasn’t as juicy a story. It’s something that I’m going to be answering the rest of my life, but I know that I didn’t do anything wrong, and I don’t think we were irresponsible. Beavis is mostly fixated on saying “fire” and watching it on TV. I could go on and on. I think there was this new show that the media knew was pushing a button and making parents scared.

EG: Was there any fear in the transition to film that you’d lose the essence of the show?

MJ: Well, not really for me, because I knew that I had control of the writing. But I didn’t know how much interference from about I’d get. I know how to not let B&B get out of character, so I know when it’s getting out of character. And sometimes on the show, it does. Sometimes I get lazy and things slip by. But I wasn’t too worried.

EG: Besides Robert Stack, who were some of the other voices?

MJ: Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to say. I think one I can say is the old woman Martha on the plane and the bus is Cloris Leachman. There are three other very famous people in there. I’m told we could be in big trouble, which I think is ridiculous. I think it’s going to come out anyway.

EG: How about the songs, how did the soundtrack come together–and start with “Lesbian Seagull.”

“‘Lesbian Seagull’ was a song I heard like in ‘85, by Tom Wilson Weinberg, this obscure guy, and it stuck in my mind ever since. Usually in the show, whenever Van Driesen gets his guitar and sings he gets badly injured, and I wanted to do that in the movie. I was thinking of writing a song, but I got them to find the thing, so I thought I couldn’t possibly do better than that. And we wanted like a big “end of a date movie” type version for the closing credits. And we were able to get good old Englebert.

As for the rest of it, there was a lot of pressure on me to get music in the movie, and originally they wanted music videos, which I wasn’t too crazy about. The idea with the Chili Peppers, what I originally wanted was a Vegas lounge act playing, and that kind of evolved. I wanted to have a lounge band playing and have it be some famous band doing it, it wouldn’t look like them, but you’d find out later who it was. Then when they recorded the song, it sounded like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But I think it kind of works, you see these union musician type guys. The only thing is, now there’s the video that’s got the Chili Peppers animated in it. It’s a little confusing. Kevin Lofton at MTV animation did it.

EG: Speaking of other animators let me ask you about the “peyote sequence.”

MJ: That was another way of satisfying the pressure of people who wanted videos. A lot of people saying, “Music, music, get music in there, B&B’s got videos.” That was a way to do that. And also the idea with that was Rob Zombie of White Zombie does that artwork for their album covers. And I always thought that stuff would look cool animated. I’ve never seen–only a few cases–that kind of animation style where there’s a hundred things moving all at once, because it’s really hard work. That was the idea, to make it insane, psychotic looking. He drew a lot of the models for it and worked with me on it.

EG: Tell me about your other project, King Of The Hill.

MJ: Well it debuts January 15th on Fox. It’s very different from this. You know the old guy, Tom Anderson, which I do the voice for also, it’s kind of like he could be that guy’s nephew. He’s a guy in his 40s, what they call a “bubba” in Texas. It’s kind of a suburban Texas comedy about this guy and his family. It’s a little bit Foghorn Leghorn, a little bit Archie Bunker. He’s a conservative guy. Greg Daniels from The Simpsons, he was a writer there for a long time, is running the show, it’s kind of like a collaboration between the two of us. I started with the drawings and a pilot and he rewrote it.

EG: Are you still doing TV episodes of B&B?

MJ: Yeah. It’s been busy year.

EG: How much longer do you think the TV show will last?

MJ: Boy, I don’t know. To be honest, I would like to stop doing the show and I think I’m going to pretty soon. We’ve done over 200 episodes. If the movie does well, why keep grinding away at a show that’s on at 11:30 pm? There are already enough reruns. I think we’ve had a pretty good run, and it might be time to stop the show.

EG: More movies?

MJ: Yeah maybe, if it does well.

EG: You’re not sick of the characters?

MJ: I’m sick of doing them, because this year I’ve just been ridiculously busy [he does both of their voices]. I’d like to take a long break from it [laughs]. And then, it would be nice to do another movie if this one does well.

EG: I’ve heard a sort of rumor, from a friend of mine, Mark Borman, that you are looking to do a live action movie, too.

MJ: Yeah, that’s what I want to do next, a live action movie. I mean, when I was doing my short cartoons, the next thing I was planning on doing was taking the money I made off those and making a live action short. Then the TV show happened, and I thought, “OK, 35 episodes, I’ll move to New York and do it and then come back and do what I really want to do.” Then I thought, “OK, when the show gets cancelled, then I’ll move back and do what I really want to do.” Then, “When the Beavis & Butthead movie’s over, I’ll do what I really want to do.” But of course, now, this is what I also really want to do.

EG: I’ve heard about several Web sites where people discuss the subtexts in B&B. Including one theory that Beavis is a closeted gay. Care to comment.

MJ: [chuckles a bit like Butthead] I’ve read a couple. Oh yeah. It’s one of those things that I figure you just don’t know but you’ve gotta wonder. There are always guys like that in junior high, two guys together all the time, acting homophobic to the point of being suspicious. Sometimes I don’t know who I base a character on until years later. One of the people I think, there’s a guy that used to hang around the band I was in, who’d been friends with the lead singer since they were kids. One of those guys who never looked at you. He used to sit there while we were playing with headphones on. And one day we found him in the back seat with our keyboard player guy. So maybe, who knows? Nothing wrong with it if he is.

EG: Ending on that strange note… thanks!

-FF-
copyright 2000, ECG

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