The show is filmed as if it were a documentary and follows many documentary conventions.
Characters respond to the presence of the camera in different ways. Generally, characters are aware of the camera and are not as candid as they might otherwise be. For example, in "The Carpet", when Ryan is asked for his thoughts on Kelly, he begins by commenting on her "junk in the..." before noticing the camera and reconsidering his remarks.
Different characters react to the camera differently. Pam and Jim, for example, treat the camera as a friend and will share a look of disbelief or surprise. (In one extreme case, in the episode "Email Surveillance", Pam enlists the camera crew to help her investigate a suspected romance between Dwight and Angela.) Michael, on the other hand, treats the camera as an audience and often "plays to the camera". Dwight lies somewhere between these two positions, sometimes sharing a joke with the camera and sometimes treating it as an audience. Most other characters do not interact with the camera to a significant degree.
To capture candid moments, the documentary crew will film from a hidden location or from another room. The writers of the program informally refer to hidden-camera scenes as shot via spycam. The actors are conscious of the distinction between normal scenes and spycam scenes and alter their characters' behavior accordingly.
To preserve the conceit that the show is filmed by a documentary crew, the film crew could not move walls, or furniture, with the exception of the conference room table. They were also permitted to move small items like plants.
The talking head interview
One documentary technique that is heavily employed by the show is the so-called talking head interview, or a talking head for short, so named because the subject is framed so only the head and shoulders are visible. In a talking head interview, typically filmed in isolation from other characters, a character responds to a question from an unseen documentary filmmaker. Subjects are encouraged to share their private thoughts in the talking head interview. For example, it is during a talking head interview in the episode "Branch Closing" that Karen admits to having a crush on Jim.
When a talking head interview interrupts another scene, the conceit of the show is that the interview was conducted before or after the scene and inserted by the editing process.
To remain consistent with the documentary form, the music in the episodes must come from the scenes themselves. Since most of the characters are middle-aged office workers, they are unlikely to be familiar with the underground music scene. This rule of thumb has been broken twice:
- The Office theme music plays over the final moments of "Pilot."
- "Tiny Dancer" plays over the final moments of "The Dundies" -- Greg Daniels justifies this by claiming that it is an acceptable documentary technique to recall music that appeared earlier.
Sometimes the songs are improvised on the set. "Zombie" by The Cranberries was decided upon during filming. "Closer to Fine" was originally a different Indigo Girls song.
Inability to secure permission to use a song on the show can prevent a song from being used, even though the scene was filmed. Obtaining the rights to the song Two Tickets to Paradise cost a whopping $60,000.:01:21:20
- Burns, Ashley and Chloe Schildhause. The Behind-The-Scenes Story Of ‘Diversity Day,’ The Episode That Defined NBC’s ‘The Office’, Uproxx, March 23, 2015.
- Kinsey, Angela and Jenna Fischer. Episode 2: Diversity Day. "Office Ladies" podcast, October 23, 2019.
- Blankenship, Mark. "'Office' Songs In the Unhip Keys of Life And Karaoke", The New York Times, 2007-01-25, p. 12.
- Daniels, Greg. "The Dundies" DVD commentary.
- 'The Office's' Andy Bernard returns to Atlanta
- Kinsey, Angela and Jenna Fischer. Episode 39: A Benihana Christmas w/ Rashida Jones and Jen Celotta. "Office Ladies" podcast, August 6, 2020.