‘Threat Level Midnight’ Q&A with B.J. Novak

Robin: What year was the Dave Barry Page-A-Day from?

B.J.: Dave Barry was a huge influence on me as a kid. I read everything he wrote and I just couldn’t believe anything could be that funny. I also remember his writing voice as being classy and warm and joyful, and for those reasons I always thought Michael would be an unabashed fan.

It made sense to me that Michael would not only have a Dave Barry Joke-A-Day calendar, but also assume that they were so common that it wouldn’t be a distracting choice to convey the passage of time in an action movie.

I believe the props department got a current or recent calendar that luckily didn’t have the year on it, or any topical material.

GKCfan: Could you please explain what specific special effects were used for the “shooting Toby’s head” shot?

B.J.: Paul Lieberstein spent hours of time when he could have been producing the show in a full-face plaster mold that unnerved him greatly, all so that a realistic replica of his face could be made.

We made two Toby heads and put them on dummies dressed like Toby. We then rigged each head with mild explosives and filled one with some fake blood, and set up slow-motion cameras from three different angles to film the explosion.

In the end, the shots with the blood were too disturbing for us and arguably too disturbing for Michael. We knew that whatever lengths we were going to in order to make the Toby head explosion realistic, Michael would have gone to more.

what’s the dealio?: There were so many tiny but very significant choices you got to make in this episode. Like, how would Michael view a typical bartender? What cheesy movies did you (well, Michael) use for inspiration in the masterpiece, Threat Level Midnight?

B.J.: My favorite thing about writing the episode was creating a movie from Michael’s perspective. There are some elements of conscious and unconscious wish fulfillment (Toby’s head exploding, having lots of friends at the bar) and some examples of Michael’s innocence that he wouldn’t notice.

For example, in the hospital scene, after Michael is shot by Goldenface, Michael moans “more Tylenol” and the nurse responds “you’ve already had four.” To Michael, Tylenol is a pretty strong drug.

Threat Level Midnight: Andy

I think it was Michael’s choice to make Billy the Bartender an antiquated working-class stereotype, since he’d be more familiar with bars from movies than in real life; but it was Andy’s choice to really play that to the hilt, since he is even more unfamiliar with actual working-class bartenders than Michael is, and probably romanticizes them even more. Plus, we’ve seen Andy do regional theater, and this character is played as something of a stock type.

Sara: Curious as to how you managed the episode-to-movie ratio. I liked having both because it was great to see everyone’s reaction to watching themselves but was there ever a point where you just wanted to air the entire movie and not include any actual episode stuff?

B.J.: This was the most difficult thing about editing the episode: the balance between the movie itself and the story of showing the movie. Yes, in the early stages of discussing the episode, we seriously considered showing just the movie, but in the end that didn’t feel like our show. We thought it would feel like a gimmick or experiment.

In the end, we put a lot of work into the completed movie as a stand-alone, separate work and we will be including that on the DVD. I think it’s a very entertaining and substantial work on its own, as Michael Scott’s film; but it simply felt out of context to simply air that the way we normally air “The Office,” without including any background, reactions, or consequences to the characters.


  1. Thanks BJ and LaVerne for the answers! It would have been so cool to have Amy Adams show up in the movie and now I can’t wait to watch the whole thing!

  2. Wow, that was completely amazing.

    I love that the office writers get so involved.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look BJ!

  3. Fantastic Q&A! Thank you so much. This is the type of thing that sets The Office apart. Awesome generosity!

  4. Wait So Erin wasn’t in the movie because Michael had stopped filming awhile ago, but Helene was in the movie?

    Erin was working in the Office when Michael was dating Helene.

    Michael must have done some pick ups and re-shoots :)

  5. Well, I’m glad I figured out why David Wallace wasn’t in the movie, or why he hasn’t been seen on the episode. I hope I find him on a deleted scene.

  6. Yay! He answered my comment (which ended the segment)! This made my day…

    So thank you B.J. for not only answering our questions, but maintaining the world’s greatest and smartest show as well!

  7. Thanks, BJ and crew! I loved the description of going back in time…that was how it was watching it for me. Just a great episode and really appreciate the insights.

  8. @ #5
    Didn’t Michael not like Erin for a while, but finally got used to her? Because he was reluctant to let her go with him to the school in “Scott’s Tots” maybe he didn’t want her in it then but was already done filming when he finally liked her.

  9. Great interview! It’s always good to see the process behind bringing all those elements together on screen.

  10. Thank you, BJ, for sharing such interesting information about the making of TLM. As usual, you gave us a great insight into how you put this all together. And I loved how expertly you captured Michael’s mind and intentions — he truly is a most remarkable character!

  11. This was awesome! I’m sitting here going through back episodes on Netflix tonight and forget just how incredibly funny some of these are. I LOVE THIS SHOW.

  12. Thanks for all the detailed answers B.J.! I hope the David Wallace talking head makes it as a deleted scene on the DVD. It’s amazing how much work every department put into making this a great episode. It would have been funny to see Katy come out in the movie. I can’t believe this episode was Steve’s idea. Steve is a genius! I’m so glad everyone decided to jump on board to do this episode.

  13. Thanks Tanster and BJ! I can’t believe he answered my really stupid question! I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t see it because I felt so embarrassed for submitting it. But look how well he answered it!

  14. Thank you so much to B.J., LaVerne, and everyone else involved for the great Q&A and the great episode.

  15. Wow – what a great Q & A! Thank you BJ and the entire Office crew – this is such a gift for us fans!

  16. What a fantastic Q&A — It deserves a second reading! I will never get tired of geeking out over the behind the scenes Office stuff. Thanks so much for facilitating this and thanks to wonderful BJ Novak for his great responses, and to sweet LaVerne too!

  17. What a great Q&A! It really rounds the episode out for me. Thanks, BJ and LaVerne, for those great answers, and thanks, as always, to Tanster for making this happen!

  18. Thank you BJ! I can never get enough behind the scenes insight. Love this stuff. We Office fans are sure lucky. Look what we get! Such a great group of people.

    Very interesting to find out this was Steve’s idea. Sounds like an amazing experience for everybody involved. And I too hope to see that David Wallace TH on the dvd.

  19. Just noticed that other than the voiceover, Leslie David Baker does not appear in this episode! Why he is not there for the viewing party?

  20. I love this show, love the writers, and love everything about it. I have all the episodes on random/repeat 24/7.

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