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.