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

chuck: How did Michael get access to professional grade film equipment, and the necessary film crew?

Jaci: Did you guys have any specific inspiration/guidelines for how the cinematography looked in Threat Level Midnight? Was there a different camera for TLM, or were most of the adjustments just made with coloring in post?

B.J.: Michael had been working on this for eleven years; he re-shot substantial portions after his disastrous first screening; and he’s been known to spend way too much of his own money on misguided ideas.

I think that over the course of the years, Michael has at various times rented expensive equipment, hired some local help, and gone for it himself. We’ve established that Michael knows how to edit and that he has made decent video projects before, and this movie is a much greater ambition of his that he would have put much more time into.

We didn’t want the joke of the episode to be how bad he was at filmmaking, which we felt would be a little easy and actually a little out of character; we wanted it to be more about how he actually did a heartbreakingly good and diligent job on something completely ridiculous.

Tucker Gates, who directed the episode, and Matt Sohn, our director of photography, were careful to use different shooting styles for Michael’s movie and for the show itself (for example, no handheld, and no zooms except in isolated and poorly-executed instances) and we changed the coloring in post-production as well to reflect the cheaper cameras that Michael would have used.

Nathan: Have you always wanted to do more with Threat Level Midnight since the story first appeared in season 2? Or was this just a spontaneous episode idea to pay tribute to Steve before he leaves the show?

B.J.: We had always liked Threat Level Midnight as part of Michael’s back story — as his show business dream that he still hadn’t let go of — but it hadn’t occurred to us to show the movie in an episode.

It was Steve’s idea to focus an episode on the completed movie, and once we heard it, we all wanted to do it.