Q&A with Michael Schur: Part 1

[During our online chat with Mindy Kaling this past Tuesday, she mentioned an interview with Mike Schur that she read here on OfficeTally. That got me feeling a little nostalgic, so given that we have no new Office to look forward to today, I’m re-posting it here. I’m pretty sure this interview started my undying crush on ‘The Office’ writers. Originally posted July 2007, right before Season 4.]

Michael Schur is one of the veteran writers and co-producers of The Office. He’s written or co-written classic episodes from all three seasons, including The Alliance, Office Olympics, Christmas Party, Valentine’s Day, Branch Closing, Traveling Salesmen, The Return, The Negotiation, and The Job. He also played Dwight’s cousin Mose in the episode ‘Initiation.’

I recently had a series of conversations with Michael about Season 4 scripts, the writing process in general, how he really feels about his fellow writers, and other behind-the-scenes stuff. Enjoy! (I certainly did.)

Michael: Happy Birthday!

Tanster: Thank you! If this is really you, you totally made my day. If you are an imposter, shame on you, getting a girl all excited like that on her BIRTHDAY! Answer this question: which room did I meet you during my set visit?

Michael: Wow. You’re hard core. I promise it’s me. No one in the world would ever bother to steal my identity. But since you asked, it was in Video Village. And we talked for a long time. And Gene and Lee were there … and Kent came in … and it was just magical …

Tanster: Omigosh, it is you! We did meet in Video Village! I hope you guys are doing well, cranking through the first 13 scripts.

Michael: We’re doing okay writing these suckers. Won’t know for sure until we get back and can actually read them. I’m on page 24 on mine (it’s one of the hours) and most of what I’ve written needs to be thrown out. Takes a while to remember how to write these characters.

Tanster: Before we dive into Season 4 stuff, let’s start at the beginning. What did you do before you worked on “The Office”?

Michael: I wrote for “Saturday Night Live” for six years. It was a great job, and I loved living in New York, but I was dating my then-girlfriend (now wife) JJ long-distance. She was in Los Angeles writing for shows out here. As nice as it was to rack up JetBlue frequent flier miles, I decided to leave and move to California.

Tanster: How did you become involved with “The Office”? What was the process of joining the writing staff?

Michael: As luck would have it — and when I say that, I mean, “as the luckiest thing that could ever happen to a human man would have it” –- Greg was putting together a writing staff for The Office, which at the time had been picked up for a less-than-confidence-inspiring six episodes. I got an interview with him and we talked for about two hours in his office at “King of the Hill.” A few days later he offered me a job, which I nonchalantly mulled over for 1.2 seconds before accepting.

Tanster: You weren’t nervous accepting a writing job for only six episodes?

Michael: I, like everyone else, loved the British show and was nervous when I heard it was being remade. But within two minutes of talking to Greg, I knew it was in good hands. Before we even got together as a staff, he had put so much thought and energy into figuring out how to make it work. I figured that if it didn’t succeed, it wouldn’t be for lack of quality.

Tanster: How’s your summer been Office-wise? When did you start working on scripts for Season 4?

Michael: We tried something new this off-season. Usually, the writers will disappear as soon as the director yells “cut” on the final shot of the season, and spend two months or so doing all of the things we haven’t been able to do. Like, scheduling doctors’ appointments, and seeing our families during the daylight, and thinking about anything other than the characters we write for. But since the end of shooting for an episode happens about four weeks before it airs, the showrunner has to stick around at the end of a season to finish editing the last few episodes and deal with DVD preparation and stuff. So Greg figured, why not keep the staff around too, and keep working for a while.

Tanster: So what you’re saying is, Greg’s a taskmaster.

Michael: He’s ruthless.

So we took two weeks off when we wrapped to clear our heads and take deep breaths and sleep, and then went back to work. We spent the second half of April and all of May breaking stories for next year, and then took our actual vacation in June and the first week of July — but ten of us have outlines for scripts. We’re getting back together July 9, and we’ll have ten scripts to look over and begin rewriting. Four of them are hour-longs, so the work is really just beginning.

85 comments

  1. Wow he was funny and it was such a great interview, I can’t wait. It seems so long, and hard work, but at least it also seems like they enjoy it.

  2. Wow, great interview! He seems like a very down-to-earth, cool guy. How am I supposed to hate him for having my dream job? Did you talk by phone? It sounds very conversational. By “a series of conversations” I wondered if you meant e-mail.

    Anyway, once again, great job tanster.

  3. Tanster, that was really interesting! Thank you so much for posting that; it must have been really cool talking to him. Can’t wait for part 2!

  4. Awesome interview! That blew my mind that the first cut of The Job was 73 minutes.

  5. Tanster you’re so lucky. Great interview! I love when anyone in the show sits down to really explain their job and what it entails.

  6. This sounds like a really cool interview. Thank you and I can’t wait for more! Did you get any spoilers for season 4? :)

  7. Please, someone start working on a documentary about Dean and Dave for next summer’s break Webisodes. “Why did you roll your eyes?”

  8. That was a great interview! Can’t wait for the second part. Thanks for sharing, tanster! Michael Schur comes across as such a cool person! Then again, aren’t everyone who works on the show cool? Dean and Dave are probably among the most under-rated of the folks who work on “The Office”. Imagine having to edit 40 minutes worth of brilliant “Office” reel to fit into a 20 minute broadcast time each week…yikes! Both of them were Emmy-nominated last year for their stellar editing work and I hope the Academy will once again recognize them with richly-deserved nominations this year.

  9. Wow, thank you SO much for sharing this with us, Tanster. This this is fascinating stuff. I can’t wait for Part 2!

  10. Michael’s work has been awesome on the show, the scripts he has written are usually my favorites. Branch Closing, Traveling Salesman and The Job are all in my top 5.

  11. Very cool. I love hearing about the writing process!

    Also, new Creed Thoughts up, just so you know.

  12. WOW! This is an awesome interview Tanster! Great job with the questions, I can’t wait for part 2!!! Thanks for sharing!!

  13. Fantastic Q&A!

    Such a great read — especially for a writing geek. I can’t wait for part two.

  14. Tanster, this interview is awesome! I love that Mike is writing one of the hour longs!

  15. Great read! Eagerly awaiting part 2. I had know idea Cousin Mose was on the staff!

  16. This was so much fun to read, Tanster! You ask great questions. And Michael – how nice was he to take so much time to be interviewed?! Looking forward to part 2.

  17. That was great! I love hearing about the inner workings of this show, especially the writng process! Keep it up Tanster.

    You can see why this show is so funny, the writers and editors are just oozing with sarcasm and wit. They are just so naturally funny. And if they ever did a documentary on what goes on in the background of this show, specifically with the writers, I would SO watch it.

  18. yes! This is a sweet interview. Michael is so funny just being himself. It is easy to see why Greg D. wanted him on the show!

  19. haha on man this is so funny…this is great tanster!i love hearing about behind the scenes stuff, can’t wait for part 2!

  20. Hey, this is majorly awesome.

    I don’t know if you’ve been alerted to this, but your RSS feed is acting weird. XML Parse Error. Thought you’d want to know.

  21. What a great & insightful interview, Tanster! Thanks for going behind the scenes for your OT fans. Michael Schur is a true talent. Looking forward to Part Two!

  22. Oh Tanster, great interview! I’m a hobby writer, but definitely a professional second guesser.

  23. thanks for posting! i always worry about the office’s ability to maintain its immensely high quality, but these interviews with the writers give me hope.

  24. Wow! Great interview. I’m super impressed with you for doing this, tanster. Loved the win-win-win thing at the end.

  25. Kudos on a great interview, Tanster! So funny and interesting. I’m impressed he remembered all the details of your magical moment together. ;-)

  26. wow! i’m impressed…this is great! interviews are always so much better when the person asking the questions is educated on the subject :) looking forward to the next part!

  27. This was SO interesting to read! I can’t wait to read part 2. Thanks for doing this Tanster!

  28. Awesome interview! It is so interesting to hear behind the scenes stuff. Can’t wait for part 2.

  29. Reading this made my heart go all aflutter. What a wonderful interview! I love learning more about the writing process. I can’t wait for part 2!

  30. Great interview Tanster! You have a great reparté with Michael! Looking forward to part 2……the only problem with these interviews is that it reminds me how much I miss the show!!

  31. You have come a long way Tanster, this site is official in everyway it is more than a fan site, but like an Office Insider Site.

  32. There’s a part two? You’ve got to be kidding. That was already too amazing. Thanks a million, tanster!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. Great interview! So awesome to see the uncut, non-Us Weekly take on things. Schur is probably my favorite writer, and that’s saying something on this show. Can’t wait to read the rest!

  34. Mike was a writing machine during season 3. This is really amazing Tanster, thank you so much!

  35. amazing interview, tanster!! it is so interesting how the show comes together…kudos to all those writers, editors, etc. behind the scenes!

  36. You so lucky Tanster! You really do run the best site in the whole world!! Yay to hour long episodes!

  37. I would cut off my left arm to edit/write/get coffee for anyone involved with that show. Hell, I would cut off both arms. Though that would make getting coffee kind of hard, I think I could manage.

    Anyways, great, fantastic, wonderful interview. It amazes me the amount of work and talent behind “The Office.” So great hearing about it. Thanks tanster and Michael Schur!

  38. What a fun and interesting interview! I love to hear about the writers and the various shenanigans that go on around “The Office”. Can’t wait for part 2!

  39. Fantastic interview! I love getting behind-the-scenes information for the show. :)

    Michael Schur might just be my favorite writer on the show. He wrote nearly all my favorite episodes for Season 3. :D

  40. Michael Schur will one day be in charge of his own show, much like Daniels is in charge of The Office. Odds are high it will be absolutely fantastic.

  41. Thanks, tanster! As an inspiring writer myself, I always am anxious to read these interviews. And you did a great job with the questions!

  42. What a great interview. Michael Shur sounds like an awesome guy, and you asked some really great questions. It’s always so interesting to find out about all the behind the scenes stuff that is so important. I can’t wait to read the next part!

  43. This was so fun to read–thanks! What a great interview. I love Michael Schur’s writing and he seems like such a great guy. He is hilarious! Can’t wait to read part 2 of the behind the scenes look at putting the show together. Whew–what a huge amount of painstaking work and effort it takes to make an episode! No wonder this show is so consistently awesome.

  44. Thanks so much for posting this. It’s wonderful to read interviews from people we don’t get to hear from all that much. Great interview!

  45. Great interview. Thanks also for letting me know that Michael Schur plays Moes! I love that character.

  46. This was really fabulous to get to read! It would have been better to be you!

    Thanks for all the great inside information that you get us. :-)

  47. Sorry for my second post in this thread, but I’d just like to add my thoughts on Michael Schur’s comment that the time allocated to the show is likely going to shrink with each passing year. While I understand that ads pay the bills, surely there’s no need for 500 promos of “The Age of Love” during a half hour timeslot?

    It’s not uncommon in the 80s for an hourlong drama to have close to 50 minutes that is dedicated to the show. Now, the average is closer to like 42 minutes, and some dramas on The CW even clock in at less than 40 minutes. This egregious decrease is exacerbated especially for half-hour comedies, where every minute given up for ads and promos takes away precious additional footage that could have been added in, as we “Office” fans know all too well.

    I know there’s probably nothing that can reverse this trend. However, I think it would be great if “The Office” could put more of the extended cuts of episodes (e.g. the “Editors’ Assembly” or “Director’s Cut”) on iTunes, especially since, according to the interview, the extended cuts are already available before they are edited down for time.

  48. That Mose interview was really great. (Rolls eyes) I can’t wait til you interview the editors of the show. I’m sure that they’re very witty and good-looking. And very skilled at making home-made action figures of canines.

  49. Thanks for the OT Classic, tanster! That was almost as fun to read the second time as it was the first. :) I know Mike’s busy these days with Parks & Rec, but I hope he’s able to find time for another Mose cameo soon!

  50. I hope Mike makes some more Mose cameos too. He’s hilarious. It’s too bad Dwight and Angela are broken up. That road trip idea Mike mentioned in part three sounded great.

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