The Office
The B.J. Novak Interview

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"It Was Just So Intellectually Stimulating And Inspiring; It Was All I Wanted To Do"
BJN: I think he is figuring it out. I think he is conflicted. He is deciding what is the best attitude to have about something that is turning from a brief stepping-stone into, you know, maybe something else. WC: But he's still in business school, right? As far as we know? BJN: Yes, he's still in business school. WC: So there's that! BJN: Yeah, no -- he has some hope! I didn't mean-- WC: I think the viewer's sort of hanging on to that, like, "Ryan could leave!" BJN: Yeah. WC: Not that anyone wants him to, but from a character point of view, you don't want to think of him as being stuck. BJN: Oh, right. No, he's always intended to keep one and a half feet out of the office. And I think the comedy and tragedy of the temp is how much he is sucked in when he doesn't want to be. But, you know, he hasn't been in the show all that much, so there is a lot that hasn't been shown and more that can be shown. WC: Do the producers sort of think, "Well, we have four seasons," let's say, "to tell this particular story and get to this particular end point"? Like, for example, the British version, the culmination of it is with Tim and Dawn getting together. Not necessarily having it end the same, but is there a sense of "We could play this out indefinitely," or "We have a specific place we want this to go and then we stop"? BJN: No. We are not aiming toward a particular point. We are going to see the characters in this office -- and the office itself, Dunder-Mifflin Scranton -- evolve, as the show does. And, you know, we have ideas a little bit in advance, but we often like to see where some small element that we wrote in as an afterthought, or the way an actor played a line, or something that comes into our heads as we produce an episode, would naturally lead the characters. WC: How much of what we see do the performers come up with on the fly that's not in the script? BJN: I think maybe 10%? Maybe a little less? We do script it to sound very natural, because we are writing a fake documentary, but the actors are very talented, and they're close to the writers in sensibility -- and geographically, in terms of where our offices are on the set. Especially Steve and Rainn add a lot in improvisation, and usually the last few takes of a talking head [interview segment for the faux-documentary] will be, at that point, fully improvised. And they're extremely good. I know NBC watches all the dailies of everything, probably just for fun, because they really come up with great stuff. So I'd say maybe 20% of the stuff we shoot is at least partially improvised, but some of that is just to amuse ourselves, and then it's 10% of the finished show. We don't leave any room for improvisation, people just make room. We would love to, as writers, write the thin outline of a scene and let Steve Carell just fix it on stage, and we have been tempted to, at times. But we're all showing off for each other when we write a first draft of a script. We want every line to be exquisite. And when the actors get it, and they add more, we'll delight in passing the dailies around and finding a great take, but it's 100% scripted until it gets to the stage.

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The Office




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