Q&A with Michael Schur: Part 2

Tanster: Do you have a long-term outline for each character?

Michael: Before we start talking in specifics about any individual episode, we spend weeks talking about the long-term stories for the main characters.

Last year, coming back from the big kiss in Casino Night, we knew Jim would be in Stamford for 6-8 episodes, the branches would merge, and by the time they did, Jim would have a girlfriend. We also knew that Pam would get upset and backslide into Roy’s arms, that it would be a disaster, they’d break up, and that the whole second part of the season would be from Pam’s point of view as she summoned the courage to tell Jim how she felt. Season Two was from Jim’s point of view, and Season Three was from Pam’s.

We do a lot of refining and readjusting and stuff as the season goes on, but we don’t ever start writing until we at least have a basic outline of where the season will take us.

Tanster: Casio Night? I think I missed that episode. Is that where Dwight buys a new calculator watch?

Michael: Smartass. I changed it above so you have to delete this. I win.

(Michael’s original answer referred to “Casio Night”; he later corrected it without authorization. Advantage, Tanster.)

Tanster: How often is it when you’ve been in the writers room all night racing toward a deadline, you’re brain dead, and everything sounds ridiculously funny? Do the writers pull “all nighters”?

Michael: The best part of the job, hands down, is the time spent in the writers’ room when everyone is giddy. It is a happiness I cannot describe.

Tanster: Do you plan on doing any more collaboration with Gene, Lee, Paul, or other writers? How does collaboration come about?

Michael: I would definitely work with Gene again, but Lee kind of drags me down. He is the singularly least amusing person I have ever met. Including Paul, which is saying something. Because Paul is a Class-A jerk. All day, every day, it’s, “I’m so great. I’m Toby. Everyone loves Toby. Toby is the best character.” Seriously, he’s the most egotistical jackass. And loud. You would never know this, but his natural speaking voice is like bullhorn-level loud. He sounds like the Marine boot-camp leader in “Full Metal Jacket.”

Tanster: Don’t diss Toby! He wears killer suits. Except during the Christmas episode. (Jenna told me to say that.)

Michael: I don’t care what he wears. He’s a mean nerd.

But Gene I like, and would gladly work with again.

Tanster: Which one is Gene?

Michael: The one who’s not Lee. That’s all I care about.

Collaboration on our show is constant. The “writer” of the episode can be responsible for anywhere from 50-90% of what you see on screen. This is not because the writers are bad — again, except for Lee, who hasn’t got a funny bone in his body — but rather because every script is put through a rigorous rewriting process to ensure that we get the best possible jokes and scenes at every possible moment.

As for technical collaboration, like when Lee (ugh), Gene, and I wrote “Traveling Salesmen” and “The Return” together — that was borne out of necessity, as we were in a time crunch to get those two episodes written, and we pitched out a 2-parter about Dwight quitting to keep his relationship with Angela a secret, and we thought it would just be easiest for all three of us to write them together.

The same was true of “The Job” at the end of the year, with stupid lame Paul and me (and a significant amount of material from the rest of the staff — that was a true team effort), and “Beach Games” with Jen Celotta and Greg. Sometimes it’s as much about time management as anything else.

65 comments

  1. There’s a part 3?! Tanster, you are heaven sent, my friend…this is a really fun and informative interview :)

  2. Tanster, thanks for doing this interview, and Mr. Schur thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. This is probably the most entertaining interview I’ve read in a long time, and gives us fans a perspective that we don’t often get to experience.

    Awesome.

  3. You mean there’s EVEN MORE TO COME?? Is it my birthday and no one told me? I love “Office” writers more than Michael Scott loves his hundred hypothetical children.

  4. Okay, when Michael starts laying into Paul, I totally lost it. The man is hilarious. (And I agree with his assessment of Mindy’s magical stage direction.)

  5. There’s going to be more?? :) Amazing! Can you do more writer interviews like this?? The writers are my favorite.

  6. that part from “take your daughter to work day” is one of my favorites from the series. the puppet looks completely stunned. i love it! great interview.

  7. awesome interviews to keep us going in the office drought, how many parts are there all up tans?

  8. Wow! Have I said yet how much I love your Michael Schur interviews? This is great stuff and I can’t believe there’s more! I can’t wait to read the rest.

  9. I know everyone has already said this but, honestly, interviews like this are really wonderful. Tanster–I’m so impressed that you held your own against someone whose job is to be clever and funny. And, I really love it that Michael was so willing to let us into the process. I feel selfish asking for more but…please, Please, PLEASE keep these kinds of substantive, behind-the-scenes conversations coming!

  10. please let this be part 2 of like…30?
    both of you are so amusing- i actually lol’ed in the literal sense of the term.

  11. Haha! Oh my god that is the funniest interview I have ever read. Michael Schur is a funny man. I like that likes, and dislikes list he made. LOL

    BTW that scene with the puppet was so funny. I was thinking about that too, how that puppet looked stunned even though it can’t really make any facial movements.

  12. Terrific! I love reading these interviews. Tanster, you did such a great job. I LOVE that line from Take Your Daughter To Work Day. I try to use it as much as possible, mostly because it makes me laugh. I don’t care what the other person’s reaction is. :)

  13. This is the best ‘Office’ related interview i have ever read. Tanster rocks the house. (whoop whoop).

  14. I think I may have just broken my toe, but this interview made me laugh so hard I forgot the pain! These insights into the writer’s world are so fantastic! I especially loved when Michael talked about Paul’s loud speaking voice. So funny! Tanster, you are awsome for snagging this interview and we, the fans, are so lucky! I love the writers as much as I love the actors. This is just beyond cool!

  15. I L0VE THESE! These interviews opens this like, door of information (hahah this sounds so cheesy) into the office. the writers are truly genius. i mean, really, they write everything on the office: every line, every glance, every grimace to the camera. pure genius!

  16. I know that this is going to sound really weird and embarrassing but I found Mose oddly attractive…

  17. These interviews are amazing and just make me yearn to be able to sit in on the writers table when they’re working on an episode. The Office sounds like the most amazing place to work – the cast and the writers all sound like fantastic people. Season 4… you are too far away!

  18. I just want to know if we will get anymore Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant written episodes because I LOVED The Convict!! I kept waiting for Tanster to ask that!

  19. I heart Michael Shur, or is it Mike? I wonder if the Michael (Scott)/Toby relationship originated from the Michael (Shur)/Paul relationship. I could so vividly imagine most of the stuff Michael was saying about Paul as a talking head in the show.
    I also loved to hear about Mindy’s abusive ways.
    Uber excited to hear about the origin of Mose, it sounds hysterical!

  20. Now this is an interview! Why these stupid entertainment reporters always ask such dumb questions.. and how they never talk to the writers is beyond me. I love this. You ask great questions Tanster! And Michael is just hilarious.

  21. This was a great interview. I was laughing so hard, I had tears running down my face. Thank you so much, Tanster.

  22. How were these interviews attained? Were they done over the telephone…instant messaging…through letters?

  23. No. 27: Minus the Amish-y beard, I thought he was a teensy bit cute too. So there you go.

  24. Reading this interview is making me so happy. Thanks so much again, Tanster, for sharing it with us!

  25. “Even though he is a puppet, Edward R. Meow somehow manages to look confused.”

    OMG. That just made my LIFE. Normally you’re not supposed to put jokes in stage directions (like ever, at all) but that is just awesome.

  26. I love Edward R. Meow. Mindy is a genius! That is one of my all-time favorite Office moments. The look of shock from a ridiculous puppet.

  27. Thanks, Tanster! This was so much fun! I want to be a writer for The Office, too! Hehehe.

  28. Kudos for securing the interview in the first place and I have to tell you, Tanster, I think you have found your true calling. Excellent work!

  29. I’m happy with my “Pam-casso” screen name, but if I didn’t already have one I’d go for some variation on “can shoot flames from fingers” because I think that might be the funniest single line in this whole interview.

  30. I know most of the writers on staff are in their late twenties, so I’m curious as to what they were doing when they were around my age–22, 23–that got them to where they are now.

    And once again, loved the interview tanster!

  31. Awesome, tanster. I’m truly impressed both with you landing such a good person to interview and with the interview itself.

    It would be great to hear interviews with all the writers one at a time some day in the future but for now this is more than I ever expected.

  32. it’s crazy how happy these interviews make me. i can now say, without a doubt, that my dream job would be to write for the office. why is september so far awayyyy???

  33. Great interview, Tanster. I enjoyed it immensely. Great insight into the crazy/genius minds that bring us The Office!

  34. I love these writers (and you, Tanster, for posting the interviews). I’d do anything to spend even a day in the writers’ room.

  35. i’m so crazy jealous that i don’t know these people. i just want to be friends with them.

    mike is hilarious, and i’m sure everyone on the show is freaking funny also. i kind of want to cry this was so good. thanks.

  36. Great stuff!! You should ask him how is it having Regis Philbin as his father-in-law! Haha

  37. wow more parts to come! that was great tanster!
    haha i loved that scene when michael says he wants 100 kids so he could have 100 friends [and no one can say no lol]

  38. Wow. Great interview! I’m so happy that you got to chat with Mike. Thanks for sharing!

  39. Thank you so much–this is an amazing interview. It just gets better and better and I can’t stop laughing! I love this guy!

  40. that was fantastic, he is so funny. and I totally agree with Ruby, he did look cute under that beard. I wonder if the Office audiences will ever meet Mose again, I hope so :)

  41. Thanks Tanster – what a fantastic interview! He is so funny ( and so are you!)

    Great job!

  42. Great interview again! Thanks for sharing, tanster! Aww…you and Michael Schur have such a great rapport…any chance of you guest-starring on the show as Cousin Mose’s nemesis, who stands in the way of his merciless quest for total monopoly of the beet farming industry?

  43. Actually wouldn’t that be great if Tanster could guest star as Mose’ girlfriend! haha…[I shouldn’t laugh cause it might happen….]

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