Brian Baumgartner has mentioned many times on his podcast The Office Deep Dive that one of the most special things about The Office is how the camera was also a character. So in this episode, he sits down with the man behind the camera, Randall Einhorn, to talk about how he got hired on the show, what he and creator Greg Daniels discussed to nail the aesthetic, when he got into directing, and more. Randall was working in Australia shooting extreme sports with snowboarders like Shaun White before he became the director of photography on the first season of Survivor. Executive producer Ben Silverman decided “this was the guy” – even though it made no sense. “The notion of hiring a documentarian to be a documentarian on a scripted TV show….I don’t know that that’s necessarily the wisest choice,” Randall laughs. “But it really worked.”
Despite being 45 minutes late for his meeting with Greg (not being familiar with Los Angeles, Randall mixed up which Coffee Bean he was supposed to be at), Randall was still hired pretty quickly. “I referred to The Office as a tofu hot dog – it’s good food wrapped like junk food,” he tells Brian. He wanted to make it look real, but also create a sense for the viewer of seeing something they weren’t supposed to see. “The camera should be a very long way away so the viewer’s really leaning in, they feel privileged by it. It feels more honest.” They both agreed that anything that made it more difficult for the camera to capture a moment, the funnier the show would be. “I think it was Greg that first said, ‘Everything that makes it harder makes it better,’” Randall says. “Which I think is kind of a metaphor for life.” He loved it when Michael Scott would close the door of his office in the camera’s face, or close the blinds, so he could find another angle. “The camera was nosy,” he laughs. “It had an agenda, it had its own stories it wanted to tell.”
So when they were in the office, he tried to make it “feel like a prison;” when they were outside, “it was a reprieve.” When characters had a “talking head,” he always positioned them so he’d be shooting into the office – except for Jim (and eventually Jim and Pam), who he put in front of the window, “because they were eventually going to leave this place for something bigger.” He even responded to the actors, smiling at Jenna Fischer or laughing at Rainn Wilson; “probably really unprofessional,” he laughs, but that’s what helped the camera feel so much like an additional character. “Your total lack of professionalism was actually a benefit!” Brian jokes. Everything felt very real to Randall, from Jim and Pam having their first kiss to the fire drill episode when Brian accidentally knocked into Randall and sent him crashing to the floor. “I think there’s something liberating in not knowing how to do something; you come up with your own way of doing it that might be special,” Randall says. “I would just get to chase what I thought was cool.” Hear the entire fascinating interview on this episode of The Office Deep Dive.
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