The mockumentary-style sitcom made use of talking heads to drive the narrative forward.
‘The Office’ is a truly phenomenal show whose fan base, even after over a decade of its premiering, still keeps growing. With an amazing cast playing fantastic characters and a storyline that is weaved exceptionally, the sitcom has become something of a classic. But why do the characters look at the camera in ‘The Office’?
- Confessionals and cues
- Who the cast is actually looking at
A mockumentary-style sitcom
‘The Office’ has been shot in a style that mocks the documentary, a style that is sometimes referred to as mockumentary. Ostensibly, the “cameras” on the show are a part of a documentary-making crew who are following and filming the employees of an ordinary mid-size paper company called Dunder Mifflin, and capturing the events of their lives over the course of nine years — which then forms the nine seasons of ‘The Office’.
This unseen camera crew actually “shapes the narratives and participates in the story” as a video essay on the show says. The way the camera moves captures the various emotional states the characters are in. But also, the structure of a mockumentary imposes limitations on the way the show is made. This means that even though ‘The Office’ is a sitcom, it lacks the things that go with a conventional sitcom: there can’t be sound effects or a laughter track, and neither can there be dream sequences. This actually works well for the creators of the show, who then have to exercise their creativity in order to work their way around these limitations.
Confessionals and cues
When characters talk to the camera, they give their own perspective of the narrative. It is also an additional means to evoke laughter and add punchlines. When a character has acted in one way and means it differently, which is then brought out while talking to the camera, as happens much of the time with the character of Kelly Kapoor (played by Mindy Kaling), it adds to the laughter.
Moreover, these segments serve as a confessional for the characters. The cameras in ‘The Office’ usually follow the employees around as they go about their daily work, but these shots are cut through by interviews with the employees. Sometimes, they use the interviews as a space to confess. This is seen mostly with characters like Pam Beesley, who is usually a quiet and shy sort of person, but while talking to the camera is able to say a lot more.
Who the cast is actually looking at
Besides the talking heads, the characters often look into the camera at crucial moments in the storyline, as if they are sharing a thought silently. But who are they sharing it with? Who is the cast looking at when they look at the camera? An interesting thing about the show is the way the characters develop a relationship with the documentary camera crew as the series progresses. As the audience, we don’t get to see these purported crew members, until the last season, but it becomes amply clear that the characters find the presence of the crew comfortable enough to even tell them their innermost thoughts from time to time.
While that works for the show’s storyline, how did the cast deal with it? Did they actually just look at the cameras? Jenna Fischer, the actress who plays Pam, has revealed on her podcast “The Office Ladies” who the cast actually interacted with when they were looking at the cameras. She says,
“Well, there’s two different scenarios. When we’re just shooting the show and it’s a scene, the camera operator is this man named Randall Einhorn. And he’s our director of photography. And we will look at him, we’ll give him the look, or we’ll look into the camera at him. And he’s become another character or another actor on the show to us. So, we do actually act with him”.
The cameras in ‘The Office’ are so natural in the sitcom that they seem like a part of the show itself. Perhaps that is why they not only blend in but are also able to contribute to much of the humour of the show!