Part two of my set visit report describes the process we observed in shooting ‘Women’s Appreciation.’
Note: Please forgive me if I ‘geek out’ a little on this part of the report; the whole process really fascinated me. And if I got any of the terms wrong, please let me know!
The shooting process
- An episode of The Office takes about a week (five days) to shoot.
- The day that we were there, the call sheet listed 13 scenes to be filmed, plus an additional scene “time permitting” (this was Creed’s “I’m a pretty normal guy” talking head). By the time we arrived for our tour at 9am, two scenes had already been shot. By the end of the day, around 6:30pm or so, all 14 scenes had been shot.
- The scenes are shot completely out of order. (Which made watching the final aired version of the episode a little disconcerting, as I was expecting the Jan/Michael scene to appear earlier since that was one of the first scenes to be shot during our visit.)
- From what I saw, each scene is shot eight to ten times.
- Each time a scene was done shooting, Tom the set P.A. would ceremoniously highlight it with yellow marker on the call sheet taped to the office door. Tom basically stayed in the hallway all day directing traffic, giving updates on his walkie talkie to other staff members, and graciously taking pictures of Kathie and I when he had a free moment. Thanks Tom!
- The writers for this episode, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, sat in Greg Daniel’s office, a room off to the side of the set, watching the action on the monitors. It was a HUGE treat to be able to watch the shooting of scenes with them. The best part was listening to them laugh at their own lines, take after take!
- As soon as an actor is not needed in a scene, they immediately go to their trailer and change into their comfy clothes. Jenna’s mentioned more than once in her MySpace blog that she sometimes wears sweat pants and her Uggs when she knows that she is only being shot from the waist up, and it’s true.
The beauty that is the call sheet
The call sheet is the “cheat sheet for the day,” and a thing of organizational beauty.
On just a single sheet of 11×17 paper, the entire day’s shooting schedule is listed, including scene descriptions, cast call times (Angela had the earliest call time that day — a very cringeworthy 4:30am), and notes on props (“list of Dwight’s rules for women on DM lettterhead, Pam’s sketch book and art kit, bananas”), costumes (“Angela is dressed per Pam’s description”), and set dressing (“Meredith’s van is strewn w/take-out containers, wrappers, trash, teenager’s stuff, feminine items”).
The atmosphere on set
- The staff all have copies of the call sheet, and they seem to follow it to the letter. I was really impressed with how much of a well-oiled machine it was.
- Kelly was the AD in charge of making sure that everyone kept on schedule. I asked her what her job was like, and she jokingly described it as “driving a wayward bus full of eight year olds.” Ah, but they’re pretty well-behaved eight year olds.
- Everybody works together really well. The actors are just incredible; they are so well-prepared, knew their lines, and I didn’t hear any of them once “ask for a line.”
- Despite its efficiency, the set is very casual and relaxed and full of laughter.
The Jan/Michael scene
In the scene where Jan listens to her voicemail in Michael’s office, it was a joy watching Steve and Melora improvise off each other. For each take, either Steve or Melora would put just a different little spin on something which would, in turn, make the other person react in a different way.
One time Jan growls, another time she starts to cry, and another time, she accidentally gets tangled up in some phone cord or something, and exits Michael’s office in a flustered huff.
On another take, Jan actually throws an orange (or an orange ball, I couldn’t tell which) at Michael. We asked Steve later if he knew that Melora was going to throw something at him. He said, “she got that look in her eyes, so I knew something was coming.”
On the take where she starts to cry, Gene and Lee asked us what we thought, and we said no, she should be mad, not crying.
The writing/editing process
I asked Gene about the writing process — do the writers write the script, then they shoot it, and then the editors edit it? He said not quite; the editors do take a pass, but the writers are quite active in the editing process as well. He gave props to Greg Daniels for making the writers feel like “mini executive producers” on the episodes that they write.
When I asked if this was normal on other TV shows for writers to have this much creative control, he said no.
At the end of the day when I was saying goodbye to Gene, I told him that his episode looked great. He thanked me, and then said, “I hope we can edit it well.” It was amazing to me that, after a full day of shooting, he told us that he was going to the writers room to put in some more time. An Office writer’s work is never done!
Go to the next page for a few pictures.