Have I Told You This One? Episode 3: Butthead

I once worked for a sound editing company in the Bay area that primarily worked on feature films. It was an amazing experience to see so many creative people making movies. There’s a saying that goes something like, “Acting/Directing/Editing can make a good script great, but nothing can make a bad script good.” I would argue that some mind-blowing sound design can make a bad script watchable. I had seen it done more than a few times while at this job. But this story goes back to my first day there. Literally the first day on the job.

I was a digital audio technician which, in 1999, meant I restarted computers for a living. But occasionally clients would have other tech problems and I would lend a hand. A movie called Office Space was in the final mix and the director and producers were there. Mike Judge, as you know, built his career around Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. Office Space was his first wide release feature film and people were pretty excited about it. Mike’s name was part of every conversation, and like I said I had only been working there a few hours. So when it came time to support the movie that first afternoon, I was pretty comfortable with the idea that Mike Judge was cool and pretty chill as far as directors go during the final mix.

The mixing stages are set up with a little lounge at the back so people can make calls while the mixers keep working. The only way to access the stage is to walk through the lounge. I walked in and there sat Mike with his Windows laptop. He was swearing at it and frustrated that the connection at the facility was so slow (this was pre-wifi, btw). Being new and being unaware of the rule that staff were not, under any circumstances, to speak to directors or producers except to answer a question, I told him I could fix it. Thing is, I had no idea if I could, but I was eager to make an impression. He looked at me. I pointed to his laptop. He held it out and said, “Sure man.”

I was lucky. It was pretty standard virus/spyware lag that plagued PC’s in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. I ran a couple tools and disabled some junk and the machine was good as new. Mike loaded up his email app (remember Outlook Express?) and it snapped onto the screen. He looked up with a huge grin, “Nice.” I said, “No problem” and headed toward the stage door. He said, “What can I do to keep that from happening again?” For an instant, I lost my first day jitters and said what I’d say to a friend, “Stay off the porn sites.”

Mike laughed. And when I tell you it was exactly Butthead’s laugh, I mean EXACTLY. It was freaky. I had been a fan of the B & B animated shorts from the Spike and Mike’s days before MTV. I know people always say that stuff, but I have the VHS collection to prove it. That laugh was so distinctive that I snapped a look at him like he was either making a concerted reference, or making fun of me. But from the look on his face it was neither. I think that’s his actual laugh.

Whenever you meet cool filmmakers, you want their movies to be good. And yes, when you meet asshole directors, you want their movies to suck. Office Space was a riot, and a couple days later, we watched the finished version with the director in the audience. Knowing he was a good guy made the movie that much better.

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