“Office Space” celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and those TPS reports are still missing. To mark the occasion, Richard Linklater moderated a Q&A session with Mike Judge, Ron Livingston, Gary Cole, David Herman, and Ajay Naidu hosted by the Austin Film Society. The full transcript of their talk has been shared exclusively with IndieWire, and if you could read it by the end of the day, that’d be great:
Richard Linklater: How awesome was this, people, to watch this beautiful 35mm print with these guys here?
Richard: I just wanted to ask each of you, I’m just curious, when was the last time you saw the film with an audience in its entirety like this? And what do you make of it? You have an interesting perspective having done it, how is it aging in your perception? When did you realize what it was becoming?
Mike Judge: I didn’t watch the whole thing tonight (laughter from the audience).
Richard: You get a pass.
Mike: Still stresses me out sometimes. The last time I watched it all the way through was the color timing in 1999, that’s the last thing you do as a director. But I always loved, it was great hearing you guys react to it tonight. And the 10-year anniversary was the last time that I watched 20 minutes of it.
Ron Livingston: I haven’t seen it with an audience since two days before it opened. I snuck into an audience advance screening.
Mike: You know, that was the last time I saw it, an audience screening.
Ron: But I’ve seen it a couple of times, every time I had to go back and update my reel. There’s got to be a better scene in there somewhere.
Gary Cole: The last time I saw it was also in this theater, for the 10th anniversary. But I would say even though there were several collective responses in the 10th anniversary, there were more, I’ll call them mob responses this time around. Which I found encouraging.
David Herman: Gary, I think what you’re say is (toward the audience), you’re a great crowd. The last time I saw it all the way through was the 10th anniversary. I got to tell you, this time seeing it all the way through, the star of the movie, by far, are those braided suspenders that John McGinley is wearing. The braided suspenders, boy, man, they tell a story. They tell a dark, dark, you go ahead.
Ajay Naidu: The last time I saw it was at a funny time, at a 16.5-year reunion? There was one. I remember and it was great, whenever this comes on, wherever I am, I kind of scoot out, because every time I get to watch it with people, it’s a real treat. So I had a lot of fun tonight. I try not watch it, it really holds up.
David: You’re a really great crowd.
Ajay: You’re a great crowd.
Richard: My question was, when did you realize this film was on its path to becoming what it is? The cult that people have seen it so many times, know every beat, appreciate, that’s what’s fun to watch it, people are anticipating the joke, just the cut in the opening.
Ron: You know how they say if you put a frog in a cold pot of water and it’s slowly heated up, the frog boils to death before it ever realized to jump out? It was kind of like that.
Richard: Are you boiling now?
Ron: I don’t know, but there was never a moment where we were like, that’s the moment that it happened. It was very gradual.
Mike: It was a slow burn. I think a friend of mine from high school ran into Gary in Pasadena right when this was starting to happen and he recognized you and said, and his brother I put in the movie, will think he’s me, he’s like the other bald white guy with blue eyes, he’s like nodding and kissing ass, through the speech his brother saw you…
Gary: The office smart-ass.
Mike: Yeah, but he says you were starting to get recognized a lot for this around that time.
Gary: I remember it was about a year later. It was released in February 1999, right? It was about a year later — I was in Chicago doing a play and I was walking around a lot because I was living right next to the theater so I was on the street a lot. And people at first weren’t stopping me, but they were shouting the dialogue at me. They were shouting across the street, “Did you get the TPS report?” I was kind of surprised, I thought, didn’t this movie go away in four weeks?
Richard: I hate to interrupt proceedings, but we have a special award to give Mike from one of the Milton dancers. (Laughter, man dressed as Milton from the film presents award to Mike.) It’s a glitter/bedazzled red stapler.
Mike: Oh my god, thank you, sir. It’s the most pimped-out stapler. Oh my god, it’s motorized. That’s amazing, thank you, good work. It’s got diamonds on it. Wow.
Richard: Have you ever, did you ever run into Michael Bolton? Did you ever get a little note?
Mike: Well, I had lunch with Mike in 2013.
Richard: You did?
Mike: Yes. He came around, well, Dave and I were talking about this, you sort of want him to hate it, because that would make a better narrative to the whole thing, but he’s actually a pretty nice guy and had a good sense of humor. Oh, Dave’s got something special.
David: I’ve been asked a bunch about why he was such a great target back then? Apparently, he’s taken the piss out of it, because now he thinks it’s funny. He’s done something where he’s played my parts in the movie, have you seen this thing? Where does this guy get off? I want you to know, okay, this is Michael Bolton, oh no this isn’t Michael, hold on.
Mike: David Herman is still angry.
David: Wait, so Michael Bolton made softball videos about playing smarter and harder. This is how full of himself he was.
(Plays Michael Bolton’s videos. Laughter while videos play. From video: I’m Michael Bolton and welcome to winning softball. Hit Harder. Play Smarter. Welcome to the best slow-pitch softball instructional tape you’ll ever see.)
David: Slow-pitch softball!
Video: Softball. The fact is, I love it. Just about as much as I love my music. That’s where the bomber is coming from.
David: He explains that his touring crew played softball and they went 67-3. Okay, so they’re pretty good. That’s who Michael Bolton was back then, I’ve kind of forgotten that guy. Let’s remember him!
Richard: Slow-pitch softball needs an instructional tape? Okay.
Mike: See, but this anger did so well for the movie.
Richard: Mike, I don’t know if this film gets enough credit believe it or not as a debut. The more I see it. This is your first fucking film. It’s amazing. (Whoops from the audience.) You had done, obviously, “Beavis and Butthead” and I believe weren’t you working on, “King of the Hill” was starting?
Mike: Yeah, “King of the Hill” had done two seasons, and that’s how David Herman did voices on “King of the Hill” and Ajay did also.
Richard: Talk briefly about, it’s so hard to pull off comedy, the tone, the perfect cast, what do you remember of that transition, that challenge?
Mike: Well, animation and live action are more similar than people think. When I moved back to Texas, I was renting in Rick’s building, we were roommates. I was doing “Beavis and Butthead” from there for several months. Rick, you were always encouraging me because I wanted to do live action. It’s more similar than you think. It’s the same way when you’re storyboarding to when you’re staging a shot, how you’re going to tell the story and all that. Working with actors is a little unnerving, note these ones (gesturing towards “Office Space” cast, laughs). Boy, it was stressful, every time I make something I think I’m making just the hugest piece of shit ever. I’m just like battling, I gotta save myself here. I was thinking, I don’t know, that’s why it’s so nice to have people like it 20 years later. (Applause.)
Richard: I’ll open it up to you guys, working with Mike, he’s obviously worked with a lot of voice talent, but I figure you brought the precision of what you did in that to this, did it feel very precise? Mike’s very, I’ve worked with him, he’s like, “Not to nitpick, but can you…” Did it feel very specific? Or was it loose, did you get to improvise?
Ron: I feel like we did 17 takes of just the insert shot of the answering machine, because Mike wanted it to vibrate in just this special way…so yeah, I think there was a meticulous attention to a lot of important detail. The car stunt, the way it times with the garage door was so precise, you know.
Mike: That car crash was actually Tim Suhrstedt is here…
Ron: I don’t know why he’s not up here…
Mike: Yeah, so just briefly about that, I had, at the time, anytime there’s a car crash in the 90s or the late-80s it’s like seven different angles and it’s like a Steven Seagal movie boom, boom, boom. And I just watched some Buster Keaton, I think it was “Seven Chances” where he’s on top of a car and the camera is moving along and a tree branch just knocks him out of the thing and it really happened and the camera keeps going. I was trying to simulate something like that where you’re not making a big deal out of it, really. But we really did smash the car. And the guy driving the truck, a little trivia here, the guy driving the truck that hit it is Chuck Norris’ son. (Laugher.) And he also said, I was talking to his uncle at the time, Chuck’s brother about something else, and he goes, “Yeah, don’t tell my dad I did this.” (Laugher.) He was like 22 at the time or something.
Richard: I’m always looking for the frame, you know there’s the frame when you do a shot, but I still can’t see the frame. You did a really good job, like where’s the little…
Mike: Right on the impact, but yeah, that was fun, and that was scary to do too. The backup plan after he cleared frame, we were in a neighborhood up in Georgetown or Round Rock? Right after he cleared the frame, I was talking to the guy, ’cause the street dead-ended into another street and the backup plan if the car kept going into the houses was for another guy in a truck to smash into him. (Laugher.) So there was a moment there where I was thinking, oh my god, this is where you become…one of those people who becomes responsible for something horrible happening? But they knew what they were doing in an incredibly precise way.
Gary: Well, and I don’t know that there was animations of the characters other than Milton and Lumbergh, so before I even went to audition for Mike, I had these, there were two of them I believe, right? Two separate shirts.
Mike: There was four total…
Gary: Two that I saw. So I had that in my head the whole time and that was precision because I know that guy, you know, I had that boss. I think we’ve all had a version of that boss.
Richard: Did any of you ever work in an office? The reason you became an actor is to not work an office?
Gary: I never did, so that’s another reason I was kind of surprised, the way the movie connected, because I had never spent time in that environment. I had no skills that would put me in that environment. (Laugher.)
Mike: You worked construction, right, Gary?
Gary: I did a bunch of service, yeah, I was a painter, wood-stripper, yeah. There are horrible apartments all throughout Chicago that have been ruined by me. (Laugher.)
David: His rates have gone up.
Ron: I temped for a bunch of years, that was my thing, that was my day job before doing “Office Space.”
Mike: You had programmed a little bit, too.
Ron: Yeah, I had done a little bit of programming too, in a Basic, or a dBase, really old.
Mike: We bonded, I think you worked on the, was is the Heathkit?
Ron: My dad’s in the audience!
David: Yeah, Ron’s dad!
Ron: He was an electrical engineer for Rockwell Collins and he brought a computer home called the A165, which had 4k in onboard memory.
Mike: See, I didn’t know anything about this when I cast him and then afterwards I was like, “Oh, I knew there was a programmer in there somewhere.”
Richard: So, Mike, what was the hardest part to cast?
Mike: Actually, you know what, this is crazy, but I would say, wait is Taylor McEnroe here tonight? There she is! The corporate accounts payable Nina, (applause). That was for some reason very hard, she was great. She came in, she lived in Dallas — no, L.A. — she came down for it and also the cheery waiter I tried like 900 people and then finally Ted Duffy came, he was also from Dallas, a local hire, he was also in “Barney” as a kid. He did the voice of Scooter MacDougal, and yeah so he saved the day. Those two were the last-minute ones that I could just not for the life of me find someone to it. Like people in L.A., L.A. people you get a certain type of person, but those were both people who just had something fresh that was, they lived here and they just kind of knew what those characters were like.
Richard: Speaking of here, you know, Austin, we claim this is a big Austin movie of course, but in your mind, is it Austin or was it places you had kind of more worked like Dallas.
Mike: No, yeah, I wanted it to be generic, like you’ll see on Lumberg’s license plate there’s no state on it which I guess is kind of weird. I wanted it to be like anywhere because all of those office parks look alike no matter where you are. And so I wanted it to not be specific which was maybe like, a weird thing to choose, but it my mind it wasn’t set in Austin. I think, what’s his name, Austin American statesman guy? Back then, not now, it’s great now, but he was saying — yeah, Chris Garcia — “I didn’t make the city look good.” Well, I wasn’t really trying to make it look good, or even look like the city, so. Like the opening of “Suburbia” isn’t great.
Richard: Yeah, it doesn’t make the city look good.
Ajay: I need to jump in because I’m the only guy that’s worked with both of those dudes. So no, I got to say something. When I first read “Office Space,” and this is very similar to when I came to do “Suburbia,” there was a great sequence in “Office Space” where Peter walks to the end of this this monorail — I don’t think it made it in but there was this sequence and I remember reading it in the script and he walks to the end of this monorail and then looks over this vast, apocalyptic, corporate world that’s stretched to the horizon and I remember reading it and thinking, “Aw, fuck, this is deep.” I mean a statement on what the children coming out of college have to look forward to. This means a lot, you know what I mean.
And then similarly in “Suburbia,” at the end you rise up and look out over the vast apocalyptic — and I was like, “Wow, this happens twice.” We went all the way to Dallas to get a shot where we walk through the irrigation ditch. I was like, yeah they don’t have those in Austin it’s like Peter and he comes running and I was like, wow he has to go far away to get this. ‘Cause whenever we watch it I notice everyone goes he (chuckle) when they go through that ditch. There’s something to that. And then Tom struggles to go in the thing. It’s hilarious. One thing too is Austin, and the way of Austin, both of the directors I’ve worked with here are extremely specific, very exacting, but very hands off. “Just kind of hang out.” “Everyone should just hang out?” “Well, not like that.” Rick will like hang out until he gets it but Michael will not be cool until they come and Mike’s like, “I think we’re gonna go again.”
Ron: I have a question. I remember maybe two or three weeks in you had a sit-down with me at a hotel bar to talk about the way I was playing Peter because the very first scene we did was the hypnosis scene and in the rehearsal I said, “Just to be clear here, ’cause I wanna know what to do when he falls on the floor, is the thing that I’m still hypnotized or is it that watching this person die in front of me has this profound effect on me?” And he’s like, “Uh…I don’t know.” And so I was like, “OK, so this is the profound reaction,” and he was like, “OK, and what’s the other one?”
Mike: Yes, always cover it both ways when in doubt.
Ron: But I was kind of stuck and I think the studio thought I was on drugs.
Mike: Yeah, that sit-down was only due diligence for me — I thought you were doing great. You were like, do I think I should smile more? and I was like, well he’s miserable, he’s not gonna smile a whole lot.
Ron: Was I close to getting fired, though? Was there talk to recast it?
Mike: No, it was never like that. I mean, before we started shooting they tried to get stars in every single role, not just your role, and I just kept saying I don’t know. It was actually not a hard negotiation. I just kept saying, well then i’m going to back out, and I really would have. I wanted to do it my way. Once we were going, it was like I was so nervous. It didn’t even cost that much. It was weird they picked this one to meddle with — I think it’s because “Titanic” was just released, fall of ‘98. So they were just nervous they were in the worst place possible…so it wasn’t a great time to be making a movie at Fox. Then it started to turn, it became clear that “Titanic” was going to be huge…
Richard: Well, I’ll open it up to a few questions.
Audience: Who did the studio want for those roles?
Ron: I think in my case anybody.
Richard: Do you think that kept them from getting behind the movie?
Mike: I didn’t even have to do anything, half the time they talked themselves out of it. Like “Good Will Hunting” just came out so they wanted Ben Affleck for his part and I thought, well I like him but he’s tall alpha…
Ron: Handsome and manly.
Audience: What’s your best advice to a young filmmaker?
Mike: I would say you just gotta make stuff. I didn’t start doing it until I was in my 30s. Nobody wants to hear that you just gotta make something by any means necessary. Steve Martin said years ago this great quote, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Richard: Write a really good script that they are excited to make.
Mike: It will have its own inertia if it’s really great
Ajay: Don’t spend your own money
David: A pyramid scheme?
Audience: Is the person who is a next-door neighbor based on anybody in real life?
Mike: That’s the one person I can say is almost one-to-one exactly based on a neighbor I’ve had. I guess it was my first apartment during my first engineering job, his name was Lawrence — it still is Lawrence — and he was a Volkswagen mechanic so I changed that to construction worker. But he used to talk to me through the walls. I didn’t like it but he was a great guy.
Audience: What do you guys recall is still the same here [Austin] as 20 years ago?
Ron: Still the same? Are bats still around? I used to walk by bats all the time. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world
Ajay: Whenever I come back I’m struck by the sense of incredible tranquility and chill, literal no-bullshit vibe whenever I come even though people are like, its growing, I feel it! I feel like the normality of it, the good thing about Austin, is that it doesn’t compromise the grounded feeling and the warmth. I’m only here for one day and I was like, I can’t wait because I can come here and decompress and then I have to go back to New York and jump back in the rat race but while I’m here for those four hours I can decompress.
Audience: What’s Peter doing in 2019?
Ron: I don’t know, but I know it’s not software engineering and I know it’s not demolition. What I really fell in love with about that character is he was constantly trying to change everything into some spiritual journey and then having to do it again so I feel like he’d do that for another 15 years.
Audience: Was there any point in the movie-making process where you were like, wow this is a great script, this is a great line, that you saw this was going to be big?
David: I loved the script right away. I thought it did so well at putting a mirror up to that life and I was so excited.
Gary: Also at the time it was made, all of this tech and additional ways of communication were not around so it was hard to know that it would catch the fire that it has now, even though it had a cult following but now it’s in a different way because it’s grabbed in so many ways to communicate so many things.
David: What’s amazing is that every 30-second commercial break now you’ll see what looks like “Office Space,” you’ll see the gray cubicles and fluorescent lighting, but at the time this was groundbreaking.
Richard: People don’t want to create a work environment like this now, they want to go the other way and say how cool they are.
Mike: Work is going to be work one way or the other.
Ajay: I think there’s a reason the hierarchy works and dehumanizing is OK. Sometimes it builds character in a certain way.
Audience: About 10 years ago at the last anniversary, I asked if you could still do the headstand. Can you?
Ajay: The headstand? Yeah, yeah. I have a little three-year-old boy and every time I dance now he’s like daddy don’t but…(does move).
Richard: It means so much to us that we’re gonna give an award tomorrow night. It means so much to us that you’re here and this is great, so thanks a lot.