‘Company Picnic’ Q&A with Jen Celotta

Here it is, our last OfficeTally Q&A of the season — The Office’s executive producer Jen Celotta (and co-writer of this episode, with Paul Lieberstein ) answers your questions about Company Picnic! Thank you, Jen!

Some keywords: mirrors, tears, Mose, and wedding.

Q. Was Holly & Michael’s skit scripted or were they able to improvise a little? | Pudge

Jen C: Holly and Michael’s skit was mostly scripted, but they did improvise a few things (including two of my favorite moments) — Steve improvised doing the accent of the kid in the movie and he improvised his “yay!” and throwing his hands up in the air after he got a question right.

He changed around his accents in different takes and went in and out of accents which we thought was funny so in editing we kept the Indian accent for the first two skits and had him drop it for the last one.

They also improvised the bow, which I loved. Steve is a master improviser and one of the things that’s fun about about Amy is that she’s really very good at it, too so it’s fun to watch them come up with things so effortlessly (things that would take us a while to write!).

Like they came up with the Jaws thing and saying Dunder-Dunder-Dunder — which led so nicely into Michael’s line that they were circling around their good idea/michael’s circling around looking for his moment with her. All Steve and Amy.

Q. When Tanster was invited to be an extra, was she specifically placed with Buffalo to get the most exposure or was it a happy accident?

Michael’s predicted that his relationship with Holly would last a long time, maybe she’d be with someone one year, then he’d be with someone the next year. This seemed like a subtle jab at the usual “Ross and Rachel” relationships that we get on TV so often. Was it? | Rachel

Jen C: Tanster should answer the first part!

tanster: A week before flying down, I was told that I might play some kind of volleyball ref. Then on the first day of shooting, I was given an apron to wear because my assignment had changed to a grill cook. An hour later, someone found me and gave me a Buffalo shirt to wear. I assume I finally got placed in Buffalo because that branch had a prominent role in the episode, and for that, I am forever grateful to The Office staff!

Jen C: Second part — it wasn’t meant as a jab. And we didn’t mean it literally, either, that he would specifically be with someone and so would she, just that they have a longer story in his mind.

We liked the idea that he had this master plan to try and make his move with Holly but then over the course of the day as he spent time with her, he was reminded that they have something special and he had a more mature way of looking at this relationship (more than he would’ve had with Jan or other women from his past) and he became calm and confident, quieted by that thought.

Q. The way some scenes were shot were not in a documentary style, for example the scene with Michael and Holly discussing their little ’skit’ there was about 3 cameras on them. Was this a deliberate choice to shift towards more of a sitcom style? | jessica

Jen C: Hmmm … you caught us. No, what happened here is that we used a third angle for the first and last shots (maybe one of the cameramen ran over there … sure, that could happen …) because it helped us in those two moments.

In the beginning of the scene, it helped us establish where Michael and Holly were — we could see that they were still tied to the picnic. And we used that angle again for the last shot because we felt that it had the performance that best captured a little bit of that anxiety/awkwardness between Michael and Holly that was there early on in their scenes during the episode.

To get even more specific (and it could get really boring real quick so feel free to skip ahead to when I talk about Pam being pregnant with octuplets), okay, so I wasn’t there on location for that scene, but I heard that the take (for the first and last shot) was shot through a mirror — apparently there were space difficulties, so Randall shot it through a mirror and then in post production they took that shot and reversed it (so Holly was on the left of the frame and Michael was on the right) and I think Jake (our post guy extraordinaire) undistorted the image (don’t ask me) and voila!

So, no, not a shift in our style just, you know, one of your typical good-establishing-shot-good-performance-takes-left-in-and-fixed-because-shot-through-a-mirror kinda-decision :)