B.J. Novak TV Guide blog: Halloween

From B.J. Novak’s TV Guide blog, dated October 18 2005:

Someone Gets Axed on Halloween!
by B.J. Novak, aka “Ryan”

Tonight’s episode of The Office [8:30 pm/ET on NBC] is the Halloween episode.

It takes place on Halloween, during a workplace-wide party in which all the employees show up in costume. The much bigger story, however, is one that inspires far more fear in the employees than anything Halloween-related, and through very unfortunate luck it takes place on the same day as this party: October 31 is also the last day of the quarter, and the day on which Michael (Steve Carell) must finally, after months of procrastinating, fire somebody.

(Yet another level on which Michael is a bad boss: When it’s time for him to actually be a bad boss — i.e., make a simple decisive move and lay off an employee — he can’t bring himself to do it, and instead pulls off the Band-Aid interminably.)

If you’ve been watching the show for a while, you’ll know that the threat of downsizing has been there for a while — in fact, since our first episode, when Steve Carell’s character learned it for the first time. Over time the audience may have forgotten about it, and Michael has been able to put it out of his head as well. But tonight, there is no avoiding it, and somebody does indeed get fired.

One fun thing about filming this episode was instead of our usual, realistically plain suits, we got to be on a set in which everyone was in a Halloween costume. Just as would happen in a real office, at first we were very excited by all the costumes. And then, eventually, we all got used to it and just went about our daily business as two-headed monsters and vampires and sexy cats and witches and Dorothy. Seeing the most serious of our plotlines play out alongside such silly and bizarre visuals was, I think, one of the most inspired ideas of the episode’s writer, Greg Daniels.

Without giving away too many surprises: Steve Carell spent the workweek dressed as a two-headed monster. Michael left this costume on the whole day, even as he called one person after another into his office to soberly talk to them about the risk of being downsized. Instinctively, several of the actors talked to Steve Carell’s second head, and I found myself doing this occasionally even when we took breaks. Rainn Wilson, who plays the boss’s intensely unique stooge Dwight, dressed himself as a Sith lord — though, in my opinion, the effect ends up making him look more like the face of death, which only added to the surreal quality of the episode.

Jenna Fischer, who plays the receptionist, Pam, and is, I think it’s safe to say, real cute to begin with, came dressed as a cat. Maybe this is less safe to say, but she looks really, really cute as a cat. One of our writers, Gene Stupnitsky, was especially struck by this and has since suggested several plotlines in which Pam Beesley must disguise herself as a cat. Which, if you watch the show, is hardly the type of madcap adventure that is a typical source of humor in The Office. The fact that Gene seems more than willing to ruin our show for the sake of bringing back this costume is a testament to how cute it looked. (Or, then again, maybe Gene is making cold calculations about how to bring scores of new viewers into our realm of otherwise realistic, observation-based office comedy. Mmmm… no.)

Paul Feig directed this episode, and it’s worth mentioning what it’s like to work with him. (He also directed our “Office Olympics” episode.) Paul has a great résumé, most notably as the creator of the show Freaks and Geeks, and is a very talented director, especially visually. Impressive fact: Paul Feig always wears a suit, every single day. It was mildly ironic that he was directing the one episode in which almost no one wears a suit — although, to be fair, Paul Feig’s suits are very stylish and expensive-looking, whereas the suits our characters wear range from “bargain basement at Kmart” to “bargain basement a JCPenney.” And now for an awkward fact: Paul wrote the book Superstud, a comic memoir about his early sexual experiences, which writer and costar Mindy Kaling read and warned everyone vociferously not to read before working with Paul, because the book apparently reveals way too much about someone you are supposed to trust with blind reverence while you film.

I would love to write more but I am being called into the writers’ room to write the episode in which Pam goes undercover as a cat in an animal-rescue clinic. If you get a chance to see the episode tonight, I hope you like the jokes, I hope you are able to focus on Steve Carell’s real head, and I hope you enjoy Halloween a hell of a lot more than these characters do.

Jenna Fischer MySpace blog: Tonight – Halloween!

From Jenna Fischer’s MySpace blog, dated October 18, 2005:

See the employees of Dunder-Mifflin in our costumed glory on tonight’s episode. Michael is told at the beginning of October that he has to fire someone by the end of the month. He waits until the absolute last day of October – Halloween.

Some fun facts from behind-the-scenes:

  1. The employee that gets fired is now doing a play off-Broadway.
  2. Angela broke several cookies in the “What did you bring” scene with Pam. She kept slamming them down on the plate in disgust during the scene.
  3. One of the ears on Angela’s costume kept falling down and ruining the takes.
  4. Stop the presses – Pam wears her hair down! This was a much-debated decision. Would she look too good?
  5. Our director for this episode was Paul Fieg who has directed a ton of Arrested Developments and Freaks and Geeks. He’s also written 2 great books!
  6. I ate WAY too much of the candy corn on my desk one morning and got really sick. (See previous post for details.)
  7. John (Jim) and Rainn (Dwight) and Brian (Kevin) have major Playstation 2 boxing contests in our down time. They staged their first tournament the week we shot Halloween. You could hear them cheering all the way into the parking lot. The episode finished shooting before they could finish the tournament. Rainn and John were on their final fighters.
  8. This episode was written by Greg Daniels – our executive producer and genius behind the show. Greg has written for The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and co-created King of the Hill. We love Greg. He wrote the Basketball episode from last season.
  9. Steve Carell almost NEVER laughs during a scene. He has this amazing ability to contain himself until the director yells “cut”. In this episode, after a scene with Toby where the actor who plays Toby (Paul Lieberstein) improvised a very funny line, Steve had to hold the scene for another 2 minutes. When the director yelled “cut” he collapsed onto his desk laughing so hard he cried.
  10. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant visited our set one day when we shot this episode. They stayed for a long time – it was awesome! I took a picture with them and some other people on set. It’s a really funny photo because I am the only one dressed in a costume. It was taken in the hallway and looks like they came to see me in some play where I was a cat.

I’ll post a bunch of photos from this episode soon.


P.S. We are shooting a scene right now!

B.J. Novak TV Guide blog: The Fire

From B.J. Novak’s TV Guide blog, dated October 11, 2005:

Which Office Stars Have the Write Stuff?
by B.J. Novak, aka “Ryan”

I’ve been keeping a blog here about The Office for four weeks now, and it is time to come clean. This is not a real blog. A real blog is updated at random times at the whim of the writer. A real blog has a place for people to leave comments. A real blog does not involve an editor from TVGuide.com calling you and asking, “Hey, man, how’s your blog coming along?”

I’ll reintroduce this then. This is a weekly article about what it’s like to work at The Office. I can’t tell if people have been bothered by this — after all, there’s not a space for comments, since it’s not a real blog — but I’ve been self-conscious about it.

Tonight’s episode of The Office [airing at 9:30 pm/ET on NBC] is about a fire that temporarily drives everyone into the parking lot. Jim (John Krasinski) introduces a series of games to keep things interesting outside, such as the harmless “Desert Island” questions (i.e. “What would you bring? and the riskier “Who would you do?”) And Michael (Steve Carell) decides that this is the day to start serving as a mentor to my character, Ryan the temp, which inspires jealousy in Dwight (Rainn Wilson).

Since this episode, “The Fire,” is one that I wrote — I’ll explain what that means exactly a little later — this blog/article will be my excuse to talk about how these episodes are written.

One unique thing about our show is that we have a lot of writer-actors, including me, Paul Lieberstein (Toby) and Mindy Kaling (Kelly). And a lot of our main cast members are writers in “real life,” including Steve, who cowrote his movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin; and John, who just adapted a novel. Jenna [Fischer, Pam] and Rainn are both married to successful writers. Rainn also writes poetry, but I read it and it sucked.

We start a batch of episodes with a handful of comedy writers, always in jeans and sneakers (except for Mindy Kaling, the Beyonce of our writers’ room, who is typically all blinged out), procrastinating and trying to make each other laugh with story ideas. (By procrastinating, I really mean procrastinating, as in painting chopsticks to resemble Harry Potter wands.) Then we narrow it down to the stories that are the most interesting, funny and realistic, and we start outlining those ideas as a group. Each writer is then assigned one script idea and goes off to write a first draft. Sounds simple, right? Think again. Still sounds simple, even after you thought again? Fair enough.

People ask how much of the show is improvised. I’d say a good 10 percent. We try to write the dialogue to sound natural, so a lot of the ums and pauses are actually scripted. Steve and Rainn usually improvise some of the later takes of each scene, and they often write better dialogue on the fly than the writers can come up with over days and nights of Diet Coke-fueled effort. Sometimes we ask John and Jenna to improvise some casual conversation or flirting, which they do surprisingly (suspiciously?) well. Steve and Rainn are something else, though. Whenever I am in a scene with Steve or Rainn, I feel like an improvisational genius just by coming up with simple lines like “Yeah” or “Sounds good” to stay in character with whatever jaw-droppingly original thing they’re coming up with.

This episode was a fun one to film. It’s the third episode that I’ve written that Ken Kwapis directed, which is always a fun time because 1) when Ken was a young man he directed Big Bird’s Big Adventure, which I love talking to him about, and 2) he directed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and I have some hope that if I’m nice to Ken he will somehow set me up with Alexis Bledel, and 3) he’s an okay director. Also, we filmed outside in 100-degree weather, but we couldn’t look hot. Also, we film in a bad area of Van Nuys, Calif., but had to pretend we weren’t scared, even though every car that is left next to our set overnight is stripped to the bone for parts. Also, the firemen were real firemen. Also, a really, really unbelievably sexy thing happened, but I will have to save it for the DVD commentary.

I hope you enjoy the episode. As a writer, creating something that makes people laugh is a great feeling. And if you don’t like it…. Look, again, television is a very, very collective process. Any number of people could have messed up what was a pristine script. It was probably that Ken Kwapis guy I told you about earlier. Also, Gene and Lee (their last names are Stupnitsky and Eisenberg, FYI) pitched some terrible jokes. And did I mention Rainn’s poetry? I did, right?

Until next week…

Jenna Fischer MySpace blog: Pam’s Work Wardrobe

From Jenna Fischer’s MySpace blog, dated October 11, 2005:

2 pairs of work shoes – one black, one brown

1 pair of white keds

Button down shirts: lavender, blue stripe (one regular, one with flower cuffs), pink stripe, beige stripe. I like stripes.

Every outfit has a matching sweater. It is usually on the back of my chair but it’s getting cold out so I’ve started wearing them.

Pencil skirts: grey, navy, brown, brown stripe

Panty Hose

Pink Corduroy Coat

Black purse

Brown/Black Hair clip

Gold Heart Necklace (from Roy)

Gold Earrings