As part one of a two-day celebration of the 20th anniversary of Office Space, the Austin Film Society screened the film and had a creator-heavy Q&A, with a couple other surprises, at their March 7th event. The next night, the Texas Film Hall Of Fame would induct Office Space. But on this night, the AFS brought out their big gun in writer/director Richard Linklater to interview the cast and crew of the Austin-based comedy that still resonates as much as ever.
Mike Judge opened by saying that if in 1999 someone would have told him there’d be a 20th anniversary screening of Office Space after its financial failure of an opening weekend, he’d have thought they were making fun of him. It only netted $4 million that February weekend in 1999 on its way to $10 million overall. But here Judge was, on stage in front of a sold-out crowd of over 1,200 at the historic Paramount theater, reveling in 20 years and counting of adoration for Office Space.
Before we could get to the well-loved screening, the AFS treated the crowd to four “Dancing Miltons,” a troupe of grown men dressed like the nerdy worker obsessed with a red stapler. These Dancing Miltons dabbed awkwardly and simulated the film’s classic printer-destruction scene. Ignore that Milton isn’t in that bit. He’s the spirit of the film, the main character in the original shorts on which the movie is based. But why was one Milton dancing, let alone four of them? Why was the stapler award presented to Mike Judge motorized? Why not. The event didn’t have to make sense. They were celebrating the quintessential office movie, the stapler, and the man who loved it. Whatever fun gimmick they could think of felt right.
Office Space timelessly captures dead-end soul-sucking corporate and service industry jobs. Seeing it with a huge crowd 20 years later, it was clear its cult success comes from its ability to tap into the dehumanizing feeling of what it’s like to work for a living. The biggest applause and cheers came when the characters rebelled against their corporate overlords, flicking off the boss, destroying the printer, knocking down the cube wall, and ignoring all dress code and decorum. As Milton would say, burn the whole building down.
The laughs arrived early and often at the screening, but Judge wouldn’t know. He admitted he still doesn’t watch the movie, even when he’s attending a screening like this. He did appreciate hearing us laughing while he did something else within earshot, though. In addition to the writer/director and four cast members, a whole batch of lesser members of the production and cast attended. Judge asked them to stand and be recognized for their part in making this cult classic.
Linklater conducted the Q&A with Judge and the core members of the cast, including Gary Cole, but excepting Jennifer Aniston and Stephen Root. It didn’t feature any big revelations, but we did get a few fun tidbits. Judge purposefully made the film not look like Austin because they wanted the office parks and chain restaurants to feel like Anytown, USA. Most of them hadn’t seen the movie in a while and really hadn’t watched it since previous anniversary screenings. Ron Livingston was mostly quiet in the Q&A but said he’d done programming work and that helped him get into the spirit of the worker bee.
Linklater asked Judge if if the studio was supportive or if they made things more difficult. He said yes to both. They really didn’t want him using the rap music with all the swears, but he insisted it worked. They showed it to a focus group and tried to lead them into saying the rap music wasn’t working, but the focus group all loved it. Judge also gestured to the collection of odd-looking dudes on stage with him and said that the studio didn’t want them to cast “any of you.”
David Herman, the guy who played Michael Bolton, now looked far more like a hipster than an office nerd. He took us down an interesting path, playing a video from his phone into the microphone in which Michael Bolton (the singer), promotes his slow-pitch softball instructional video. He doesn’t seem to have gotten over the connection to Michael Bolton he had from 20 years ago.
Ajay Naidu, who played Samir, was the star of the Q&A. Having worked with both Judge and Linklater, he did impressions of both. His Linklater sounded like a Muppet whose directorial style involved letting actors find the scene. His Judge sounded like a character on his King of the Hill show, flatly saying that actors didn’t get the scene yet. But Judge nailed all the scenes in Office Space. There will be screenings and anniversaries as long as anyone involved will come back to participate in more well-deserved love-fests like this one.