‘Threat Level Midnight’ Q&A with B.J. Novak

Angie: What was the vibe like on set, did it feel like a reunion?

B.J.: It was truly fun and exciting and wonderful to work on this episode.

Threat Level Midnight: Karen

It was incredible to bring back Rashida Jones (who said it felt like a time warp when she got the phone call asking for her availability on The Office); it was incredible to have David Denman back, sitting next to Pam in her Season Two hair, and Melora Hardin back in Jan-as-diva mode.

And incredibly fun to put our minds back in that world and really believe in it again and add to that backstory. In that way it was a more than a reunion, it was one in which you somehow seemed to actually go back in time.

Imagine if at a high school reunion, they not only brought everyone back together, but also made you wear the exact same clothes again, cut your hair the same way, sit in the same seats and act out the same relationships and study for the same exams again. And imagine that you really loved high school.

The other special thing about making the episode was how it allowed every department to show off its talents. We have such gifted people here in every department, people that got the job due to their enormous creativity and versatility; but the rules of the show mean that each week, most costumes, sets, camera angles, props, hair, makeup, etc. are necessarily simple and similar to what they’ve been before.

With Threat Level Midnight, since the premise was that Michael had put his energy into a jaw-droppingly elaborate and expensive and in many ways misguided film project over the course of many years, every department got to really be creative, and that made for a really exciting energy on set.

Phil Shea, our propmaster, took it upon himself to design a gold handgun for Goldenface (unscripted) and insisted that Michael would flip his coin for the seventh and deciding time with a two-headed quarter; Michael Gallenberg, our production designer, went so far as to make the Threat Level Midnight poster, without being asked; Matt Sohn sought out his own free time to go to a colorizing session to further cheapen the look of Michael’s cameras ever-so-slightly; Alysia Raycraft got to figure out everything from the speed-skating outfits to Karen’s present-day look; Dave Rogers and Claire Scanlon not only edited the episode but also cut Michael’s trailer for the movie and designed his credit sequences. These are just a few examples.

Taylor: There seemed to be a lot of Billy Joel music in the movie (i.e. “Running on Ice” during the hockey training session and “Pressure” during the gunfight speed-skating scene). Is there a particular reason you chose these songs?

B.J.: Our first idea was to try to get the rights to an all Billy Joel soundtrack. We figured that’s what Michael would have wanted for his movie. But aside from that being relatively expensive, it also wasn’t as dramatic a score for the movie as Michael would have wanted. But those two songs worked well.



Chris K: I absolutely loved the song at the end! Who worked on the song? And was it inspired by Will Smith’s tie in songs for Men in Black and Wild Wild West?



Shannon M.: I loved the song at the end “Threat Level what? Midnight” Was that Ed Helms singing it?

B.J.: Since Michael was trying to throw in everything he loved about movies into this film, we thought he might include a Will Smith-esque pop rap over the closing credits.

Danny Chun had made an observation about those songs around the time I was about to go on script, which the idea came from. Several of us worked on the lyrics together.

Charlie Grandy, who contributed a lot of the strongest jokes to this episode, came up with the anti-apartheid message at the end.

Eve Nelson, a composer who works with us a lot, wrote the music. She also wrote the music for “The Scarn” and the Subtle Sexuality songs for the webisodes. She’s incredible. In the longer version of “Threat Level Midnight,” which will be on the DVD, the song is credited as follows: “Theme from Threat Level Midnight. Music and Lyrics by Michael Scott. Performed by Andrew Bernard. Inspired by the music of Will Smith.”

22 comments

  1. Thanks BJ and LaVerne for the answers! It would have been so cool to have Amy Adams show up in the movie and now I can’t wait to watch the whole thing!

  2. Wow, that was completely amazing.

    I love that the office writers get so involved.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look BJ!

  3. Fantastic Q&A! Thank you so much. This is the type of thing that sets The Office apart. Awesome generosity!

  4. Wait So Erin wasn’t in the movie because Michael had stopped filming awhile ago, but Helene was in the movie?

    Erin was working in the Office when Michael was dating Helene.

    Michael must have done some pick ups and re-shoots :)

  5. Well, I’m glad I figured out why David Wallace wasn’t in the movie, or why he hasn’t been seen on the episode. I hope I find him on a deleted scene.

  6. Yay! He answered my comment (which ended the segment)! This made my day…

    So thank you B.J. for not only answering our questions, but maintaining the world’s greatest and smartest show as well!

  7. Thanks, BJ and crew! I loved the description of going back in time…that was how it was watching it for me. Just a great episode and really appreciate the insights.

  8. @ #5
    Didn’t Michael not like Erin for a while, but finally got used to her? Because he was reluctant to let her go with him to the school in “Scott’s Tots” maybe he didn’t want her in it then but was already done filming when he finally liked her.

  9. Great interview! It’s always good to see the process behind bringing all those elements together on screen.

  10. Thank you, BJ, for sharing such interesting information about the making of TLM. As usual, you gave us a great insight into how you put this all together. And I loved how expertly you captured Michael’s mind and intentions — he truly is a most remarkable character!

  11. This was awesome! I’m sitting here going through back episodes on Netflix tonight and forget just how incredibly funny some of these are. I LOVE THIS SHOW.

  12. Thanks for all the detailed answers B.J.! I hope the David Wallace talking head makes it as a deleted scene on the DVD. It’s amazing how much work every department put into making this a great episode. It would have been funny to see Katy come out in the movie. I can’t believe this episode was Steve’s idea. Steve is a genius! I’m so glad everyone decided to jump on board to do this episode.

  13. Thanks Tanster and BJ! I can’t believe he answered my really stupid question! I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t see it because I felt so embarrassed for submitting it. But look how well he answered it!

  14. Thank you so much to B.J., LaVerne, and everyone else involved for the great Q&A and the great episode.

  15. Wow – what a great Q & A! Thank you BJ and the entire Office crew – this is such a gift for us fans!

  16. What a fantastic Q&A — It deserves a second reading! I will never get tired of geeking out over the behind the scenes Office stuff. Thanks so much for facilitating this and thanks to wonderful BJ Novak for his great responses, and to sweet LaVerne too!

  17. What a great Q&A! It really rounds the episode out for me. Thanks, BJ and LaVerne, for those great answers, and thanks, as always, to Tanster for making this happen!

  18. Thank you BJ! I can never get enough behind the scenes insight. Love this stuff. We Office fans are sure lucky. Look what we get! Such a great group of people.

    Very interesting to find out this was Steve’s idea. Sounds like an amazing experience for everybody involved. And I too hope to see that David Wallace TH on the dvd.

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