Director Ken Kwapis goes inside 'Casino Night' on its 10th anniversary.
The moment happened during the season 2 finale, “Casino Night,” which also featured Jim confessing his feelings for Pam in the parking lot outside Dunder Mifflin’s casino fundraiser. Later, he finds Pam talking to her mom on the phone in the dark office, and the two end up making out before the scene cuts to black. With that, season 2 was over — and Jim and Pam’s relationship was officially starting. Well, almost.
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of “Casino Night,” EW called director Ken Kwapis — whose credits also include The Office pilot and finale, along with movies like He’s Just Not That Into You and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — to talk about what it was like working with Fischer and Krasinski on such a pivotal episode and when the future Halperts’ romance really began (hint: before that kiss).
Like the original British version of The Office, the American take was shot like a documentary — a choice that affected how the fictional characters behaved.
KWAPIS: When we were doing “Casino Night,” it was still fairly early in the series, so a lot of the characters were still by design not comfortable being filmed. I think one of the lovely things about the show is how awkward everyone seems. [Laughs]
Part of the style of the show was that it wasn’t important that actors hit precise marks. And in [the scene in the parking lot] in particular, there were times when one actor would block the other, you wouldn’t have a good view or as much of a view if you had asked the actors to hit specific marks. To me, it helped sell the idea that the documentary crew was just there to capture something as opposed to the scenes they staged for the benefit of the camera. It just helps the emotions.
“Casino Night” was a very special episode for a lot of reasons, and of course the most important thing was, it was the turning point in the Pam-Jim relationship. I know that John and Jenna were very anxious to do it the right way and I think they were very preoccupied with that kiss for weeks leading up to the shoot.
Everyone but Kwapis, executive producer Greg Daniels, the camera operator, and the sound person left the set when they shot the long-awaited kiss.
KWAPIS: One of the things that really helped make the scene is the fact that for the first time, we saw the Dunder Mifflin bullpen after hours. It was very low-lit, very moody. And John, I think, didn’t even want to come onto the stage until it was time to do the scene. John and Jenna wanted to stay separated from one another until the actual moment they were doing the scene. Part of my job as the director was to in a way not make it as momentous — I wanted to not make them more nervous by underscoring how momentous it was. I wanted them to approach it as if it were any other scene, knowing full well that that was not possible, that this was truly a turning point in their relationship.
We shot it with one camera only, and the camera was hidden far away from where Pam was standing, talking on the phone with her mother. So we really shot it in a way that was like we were eavesdropping on Pam and one of the things I love about the shot is that when Jim walks in, Pam’s back is to us. He walks up to her and kisses her and with that angle, you see his face quite clearly, but you really don’t see her expression. As an audience member, you get to fill in those emotions that you can’t see on her face. You get to imagine how she’s reacting. In a funny way, it puts you in her shoes. In a more conventional approach, you’d have a reverse close-up on Pam for her reaction to the kiss, but what makes this one of the great advantages to the mockumentary style is it forces you to get involved in a different way.
One of the things that makes the kiss so unique is the fact that it feels like something we caught, that the documentary crew happened to be there at the right moment. Even when Jim enters the room, the camera operator sort of suddenly has a startled moment and then zooms in, again creating the illusion that we weren’t prepared for the moment. Of course we were prepared. Part of our job was to create the illusion that things were happening and we were just able to capture it at the right moment.
Fans of the show know that Pam and Jim’s love story started long before “Casino Night,” though — Kwapis, for one, thinks the first notable moment between the future husband and wife was in season 1, episode 2, “Diversity Day” (which he also directed) when Pam falls asleep on Jim’s shoulder.
KWAPIS: It’s a small moment, and Jim just lights up. The fact that Pam leans her head against his shoulder changes the whole day for him. The final moment of the episode is Jim saying to the camera, “You know, not a bad day.”
For me, that’s the beginning of their romance. And so it’s nice to trace that line from that moment to the end of the second season in which they actually kiss.
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