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.