Q&A with Michael Schur: Part 1

Tanster: Your schedule sounds absolutely brutal. I remember the day that we visited, Lee and Gene must have worked more than 12 hours that day. Is that a typical work day when you guys are in the thick of things?

Michael: Twelve hours is pretty standard during shooting. In the off-season, we generally work 10 to 6 or 7. The super-late nights end anywhere from 11:00 PM to 2 AM, but that’s pretty rare.

Tanster: How many of those first 10 episodes are you writing, and how are they going?

Michael: I am writing two, I guess you would say, but it’s going to air as one hour-long show (it will be two individual ones when they air in repeats). That’s part of this new challenge — the hour-longs should ideally be able to be broken up into two distinct parts, but still feel cohesive as one continuous hour. It’s like an obstacle course. That we perform on computers. And that burns zero calories.

Tanster: How many pages is a typical script?

Michael: Our half-hour scripts, when they’re in “shooting draft” form (meaning all the rewriting has been done and it’s ready to be shot, obviously) are usually 34-38 pages long. Figure a little over a minute a page, so we get editors’ assemblies that run about 40 minutes, which is why we have so many deleted scenes and extra stuff to put online and on the DVDs.

Greg’s theory about the show from day one was that we should write it, and shoot it, and edit it, like it’s actually a documentary — have a ton of material and then essentially do a kind of final re-write in the editing room.

A lot of the real work of the show is done by Dean Holland and Dave Rogers, our two editors, who sift through 40+ minutes of material and (with Greg and the writer’s help) cut it down to 21:09, which is our typical allotted time.

Tanster: 21:09. Wow. Precise down to the last second! And I bet y’all work hard at making sure every second is golden.

Michael: We try. One of the sad facts of network TV is that every year a few more seconds get robbed from the running time of shows, to make room for promos or extra ads. We often feel that the optimal running time for one of our episodes is about 24-25 minutes, but there’s just no way to leave them that long without supersizing or releasing longer cuts on iTunes or something. That’s where those producer’s cuts came from — the feeling that the best version of some of the episodes was around that length.

We’re trying to write shorter scripts this year, because it takes a crazy amount of time to shoot and edit that much material, and we want to shave some of that time off our week. When we were done shooting the finale last year, which was the first true hour-long we shot, the first cut that Dean and Dave put together was 73 minutes long, and it had to be I think 42:30 or something.

Tanster: Dean and Dave must dream about The Office in their sleep.

Michael: Dean is a well-adjusted and mature individual, so I think he is okay. Dave is a dangerous sociopath who refers to the actors as their character names and has a home-made action figure of his dog. I think he probably dreams about doing us great harm in some kind of “Saw III” kind of way.

Anyway, with the finale, we were half an hour too long, which was just crazy. It took Paul and me days and days just to get it into good enough shape to show Greg, and then it took him more days and more days to get it down to its final fighting weight. If we have to spend that much time on each of the first four hour-longs this year, we’ll just curl up into little balls in the parking lot and pray we get run over.

Tanster: Goodness — half an hour too long! I’m hoping most of the stuff you guys cut from “The Job” ended up on the DVD.

Michael: We put a lot of extra stuff on there. There was one Michael talking head that I particularly loved that we had to cut for time — it’s extremely funny and a great performance by Steve. You’ll know it when you see it — it includes another mention of Billy Joel.

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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