Columentary (title sadly not pending) is a weekly feature, in which I’ll listen to the commentary track of a sitcom, and divulge, through pretty pictures and less pretty words, the behind-the-scenes secrets the creators, writers, and cast discuss about their show. If you’ve ever wondered what Kevin James’s favorite kind of pizza is, this column is for you.
Show: The Office
Episode: “Business School” (S03E17)
Original Airdate: February 15, 2007
Episode Plot: Ryan invites Michael to speak at his business school class. Meanwhile, while back at the office, Dwight is on the hunt for a stray bat. Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, directed the episode.
Players Involved: B.J. Novak, actor; Rainn Wilson, actor; and Brent Forrester, writer
Forrester: “What was it like being directed by Joss?”
Wilson: “He was great. He had really specific ideas, and he had a real strong point of view about what was going to make it work. But he was always really open to your input and improvisation and a great collaborator at the same time.”
Novak: “The funny story about Joss is, obviously he created Buffy the Vampire Slayer…big science fiction guy, and he was very excited. His background is in comedy, as you were saying. He did Toy Story and some other things. But he was very excited about coming back to comedy and taking a break and doing The Office, and we put a CGI bat in the episode that he was directing…”
Forrester: “Which was a total, total coincidence. But he was kind of a little mad about it, until we convinced him it was a coincidence. He was like, ‘Do I have to direct the bat episode?’ And no one believes it, of the fans of the show that I’ve encountered.”
Forrester: “In the climatic scene of this episode, when Rainn puts a bag over Meredith’s head, that thing was the craziest production virtually ever on the show. We had a stunt woman…”
Wilson: “Yeah, a stunt woman, an animal trainer, someone who had built that crazy prop of a mechanical flapping bat.”
Novak is easily impressed by “any director choice involving a mirror.” That’s why he’ll love Forrester’s spec film, House of Reflection.
Novak: “We almost named Ed Helms’s character Brett Forrester.”
Forrester: “Why? What did you feel that connotated?”
The bat’s name is Gary.
Forrester: “You know what’s great about [John] Krasinski? That guy is insanely funny, yet he actually enjoys being the guy who makes other people funny. I’ve seen him so many times be on the verge of cracking up, but not pushing it in his own lines. And that is a tremendous talent.”
This scene was shot at California State University, Northridge, and all the students actually attended the school (minus Novak). Forrester excitedly tells us that they all brought their own laptops. As soon as every scene was finished shooting, though, they would “just bust up” with laughter.
Wilson: “I think Elmer’s Glue and a cardboard box would make an excellent bat trap.”
The “candy bar scene” was actually a late edition to the episode. Forrester wrote something, but it didn’t work, so Jennifer Celotta, who scripted “A Benihana Christmas” and “Beach Games” (my personal favorite episode), came up with the idea of Michael chucking out candy bars with inspiring names into the audience.
According to Forrester, the way Jenna Fischer gets into character is to play music on her drive to the set that she feels Pam would actually listen to. How does Wilson? He “just kind of turns it on when it’s time to be Dwight and just get into his mindset and try to have your brain work the way his brain would work.”
There was a big debate between co-creator Greg Daniels and Whedon over whether Pam would have painted that “completely forgettable background image,” said Forrester. Things got so heated that production had to be shut down, and even Fischer took a side (Whedon’s). No one actually says whether it’s Whedon/Fischer or Daniels who’s against the pictures, though.
Novak was placed in “the Annex” because he wanted to spend more time writing, and less time on-camera as a background extra. That’s why Mindy Kaling and Paul Lieberstein are often off-screen, too.
There was another back-and-forth over whether Pam should hug Michael at the end of the episode. They made the right choice.
Josh Kurp thinks the most inspiring thing anyone’s ever said to him is, “Don’t be an idiot.”