The Back Story

At Last, a Convenient Time (and Place) for 'Office' Mates: The Story Behind Jim's Proposal to Pam on 'The Office'

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Yes, we know it's fiction. But when Jim finally popped the question on the season premiere of NBC's "The Office," millions of viewers instantly forgave the producers for repeatedly bringing together the small-screen soul mates over the seasons -- only to tear them apart again and again.

While the 52-second scene may have seemed sweet and simple, executive producer Greg Daniels reveals it required high-tech special effects, huge rain machines, a month of meetings and a budget that doubled somewhere along the way.

The idea was that after Jim's first romantic plans had been interrupted, he would end up proposing to Pam at a gas station rest stop because he couldn't wait any longer. I had a mental picture of the rest stops on the Merritt Parkway, and we used the Google Maps street view function from our offices in Van Nuys, to find a picture of one of these rest stops that we tried to match.

The writers, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, had written the scene to take place in the rain, with lots of traffic going by to obstruct the view. On our show, the feeling of not being able to see the whole thing helps make it less Hollywood and more realistic.

We decided to fly the cast and director Paul Feig to shoot at the actual Merritt Parkway. But it turned out to be $100,000, and we couldn't use fake rain there. So we decided we would re-create it in Los Angeles. We found a gigantic parking lot behind a Best Buy, and our production team built a replica of the rest stop.

It ended up costing twice as much, it was, like, a $250,000 shot or something. It's the most expensive and elaborate shot we've ever done, but it's also sort of the highlight of five years of storytelling.

I was trying to give the set a feeling of like Edward Hopper's painting in a diner, very dark and dramatic, but the interior is very brightly lit, and it makes it very stagelike. Behind the actors are Snapple bottles and different colored things that are out of focus in the convenience store, which makes it colorful. The overall thing is kind of dark and stormy. So it's a very ordinary setting, but we made certain decisions to give it a special dramatic feel.

One of the things that we decided at the last minute was to leave the sound in; we also had one version where it's the exact same visuals, but you weren't able to hear their dialogue. And that's a very poetic way of doing it. The staff was completely divided down the middle, and I lost sleep over which way to go on that.

Ultimately, I felt that Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski had done this work, and their performances deserved to be seen. It was kind of artier to remove their voices, but I felt like after this length of time, you deserve to see what was going on and hear it.

-- Interview conducted and condensed by Emily Yahr

© 2008 The Washington Post Company