The Office follows the lives of the employees at a paper company called Dunder Mifflin. Like the British version of the show, the sitcom is filmed in a documentary style. The single-camera setup and talking-head interviews only make the situational comedy feel that much more authentic. But why exactly were the employees of Dunder Mifflin being filmed by a documentary crew? According to the show’s writers, the reason is actually pretty dark.
The Dunder Mifflin documentary crew on ‘The Office’
For many reasons, The Office just feels really authentic. Like you’re watching real people (some weirder than others) in a real office living their real lives. Part of that comes from the fact that the people operating The Office cameras came from reality television.
“Our director of photography and cameraman had come from Survivor,” director Paul Feig told Rolling Stone. “That’s the genius of [executive producer and co-creator] Greg Daniels. We’d set the scene up and then they would just shoot it the way they would shoot a reality show.”
Daniels would even direct the camera crew as if they were actors “since they were really in the scene too, since it was a documentary,” he told the publication.
“For instance, instead of saying, ‘Start wide and then pan left and push in,’ I might say, ‘You know that Jan is jealous of Pam, so look for evidence of that, and make sure to check in on Dwight’s weird date, I think she is doing something with her fork,’ and then let them decide when it was interesting and appropriate to find the action, using their instincts from covering reality,” he said, referencing his directions for “Dinner Party” specifically.
“Sometimes I would tell them to close their eyes and spin around so they didn’t know where they were, and then on ‘action’ open their eyes and try to find the scene,” he added.
The audience doesn’t really see much of the documentary crew, save for in Season 9 when Brian, the boom operator, appears on camera.
At the end of The Office, Pam reflects on her time filming with the crew. She says she used to find it strange that Dunder Mifflin was chosen to document, but then realized that maybe they were actually the perfect choice because there’s “beauty in ordinary things.”
Why the Dunder Mifflin employees were chosen to be filmed for a documentary, according to some of the writers
As it turns out, there’s a different reason Dunder Mifflin was selected for a documentary crew to film.
At The Office Convention in 2007, some of the show’s writers spoke about why Dunder Mifflin was being filmed.
Some fans might remember the mention of a character named Tom Peets in “Performance Review.” Michael reads suggestions from an old suggestion box and one of them reads, “We need better outreach for employees fighting depression.” It was signed by Tom. Michael thinks the suggestion is fake because there’s no one at Dunder Mifflin by the name of Tom, but Phyllis reminds him that there was an employee named Tom Peets who shot himself.
During the Q&A portion of the convention, the writers suggested that the original reason for filming Dunder Mifflin was to see how the company handled the suicide of a co-worker. But once the crew witnessed the hijinks of Michael and the gang, the documentary switched focus.
You can stream The Office on Netflix until Jan. 2021.
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