On this episode of The Office Deep Dive, Brian Baumgartner sits down with director Ken Kwapis, who helped bring The Office to air and directed some of the most beloved episodes, from “Diversity Day” to “Booze Cruise” to “Casino Night” and many more. He talks about how he got involved in the project, the very Creed way Creed Bratton got on the show, the moment he knew they needed to hire Phyllis Smith, and the unique choices they made in filming that gave it that special something. For example, they chose not to shoot in a studio, or give themselves any TV tricks like movable walls. “One of the things I loved….was creating a sense that we were blocked from seeing the action properly,” Ken says. “It feels like we were catching the action by accident – things were not being staged for the camera.”
On a normal sitcom, the actors don’t necessarily work on the same days unless they actually have scenes together. But on The Office, everyone had to arrive around the same time and stay all day, to be in the background of everyone else’s shots. They would set the tone by having everyone do mundane office work for the first half hour of everyday, something Ricky Gervais (creator of the British Office) called “general views.” “I remember getting a comment from some executive not understanding lengthy shots of the water cooler or Rainn [Wilson] sharpening pencils. There was no pushback, but it was like, ‘Huh? What are you guys doing?’” Ken laughs. Brian quips, “We’re paying you for this?”
Ken is actually responsible for some of the fan favorite casting choices, like Creed and Phyllis, and even Larry Wilmore’s sensitivity trainer Mr. Brown. Almost all were happy accidents. Phyllis was Allison Jones’ casting associate, and would read the lines for the actors auditioning. “I just became fascinated with her….there are some actors whose auditions I missed because I kept looking at her,” Ken remembers, laughing. “I took Greg [Daniels] aside and said, ‘This woman belongs in a paper company.’” Creed was another one of Ken’s bright ideas; they had met when Creed was a stand-in on The Bernie Mac Show, and Ken overheard him talking about his days with the 1960s pop group The Grass Roots, which opened for Janis Joplin and The Doors; they became fast friends. Creed asked if he had any work for stand-ins on The Office, and Ken said it wasn’t really that kind of show – but there were a bunch of empty desks in the back, and he was welcome to take one and hang out in the background for a week. The rest is mung bean history. Hear all these amazing Office stories and so much more from Ken Kwapis on this episode of The Office Deep Dive.
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