The Office taught fans many invaluable life lessons, one of which is that machines don’t always know best.
Remember in the Season 4 episode, “Dunder Mifflin Infinity,” when Michael Scott drives his rental car into a lake because the GPS told him to make a right turn? Case in point. (Though, in the GPS’s defense the directions were pretty self-explanatory to Dwight and viewers at home — pretty much everyone except Michael.)
On the latest episode of the Office Ladies podcast Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey chatted about the second half of “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” and unpacked the memorable stunt for fans. They checked with Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, writer Jen Celotta, and camera operator Randall Einhorn to get all the behind-the-scenes details about the scene, and let me tell you, it’s some good stuff.
You’re probably wondering how they ended up in this situation
As a quick refresher, the early car scenes in “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” show Michael expressing his love of the very GPS navigation system that later does him wrong. He finds the GPS voice soothing. But after numerous failed attempts to successfully win back lost clients with a kind gift basket gesture, he’s grumpy and stubborn and thinks he knows better than the technology.
When trying to get to Elmhurst Country Club, which Dwight notes is on “the other side of the lake,” Michael misinterprets the GPS directions and makes a premature right turn, sending himself, Dwight, the rental car, and the remaining gift basket into Lake Scranton.
It’s undeniably one of the show’s most iconic, hilarious stunts, and thanks to Fischer and Kinsey we now know how it came together so well.
Yes. Real car, real lake.
“I started by reaching out to Steve and he said, yes…they really drove a real car into a real lake,” Fischer said. “He said they did this stunt twice all the way through, and that Randall [Einhorn], our camera operator, was in the back seat. So, of course, Angela, I had to reach out to Randall.”
Einhorn, who was ironically just finishing up a river rafting trip on an Idaho lake when Fischer got in touch, said they didn’t actually drive the car into a lake, rather they put the car on a system that pulled it into the water to ensure it would stop at a certain depth and flooding would be controlled.
Einhorn also revealed that the car was stripped of its engine, gas tank, and oil before it was submerged, and shared that for the entirety of the scene he was scrunched in the back seat next to the last remaining gift basket.
“He said at first they discussed just filming it on lipstick cameras that were in the visors. You know, we’ve seen them do that before. But Randall felt very strongly that it should be shot using the handheld camera from the back seat. So he kind of fought for that,” Fischer said.
Though the handheld camera Einhorn was using would capture much better footage, he said it cost “upwards of $130,000” and he was instructed not to get it wet.
“They put some kind of like protective housing on it, but he said he still had to lift his butt off the back seat to keep the camera from dipping into the water,” Fischer said.
“Oh my god, no pressure. Also, Randall, I mean, he’s a big guy, and he’s scrunched in the back of this Ford Taurus with a gift basket and a camera that costs like… as much as a house. He’s holding a house,” Kinsey added.
As for sound, Einhorn said that wires were placed on both Steve and Rainn and they had to use waterproof mic packs called “The Countrymen,” which Einhorn was familiar with from his time working on Survivor. The car’s visors were also mic’d up and boom operators wearing rubber pants were standing in the water.
How long did the scene take?
Einhorn explained that they only shot three takes of the lake debacle, and he believes they ended up using the first one because it had the purest reactions.
The scene also only had two cut points, the first of which takes place when the camera focuses on the GPS. “That’s when they cut into the car being on the rig. I mean, you can’t even tell. It’s seamless. I watched it like five times and I couldn’t figure out how they did it,” Fischer said.
After the rig gets going it’s all one continuous shot until the camera catches the gift basket floating away.
“That’s when they cut away and they reset to get all the stuff of Michael and Dwight crawling out of the lake,” Fischer explained. “But all of that commotion of getting out of the car and Steve hanging on to the passenger side window and opening the door — that was all one take. And that was what Randall was fighting for. He was saying lipstick cams could have never, ever picked up.”
Rainn Wilson’s biggest lake fear
Kinsey also reached out to Rainn Wilson to hear his memories of the lake scene, and aside from one slightly unexpected fear it sounds like the actor had a great time filming.
“My main fear wasn’t like drowning or the car or anything like that. It was kind of like this water is not the cleanest and there’s all these houses all over the place. And I just knew it was pretty sewagey and I was just really afraid of an eye infection or something like that,” Wilson recalled.
“It was fantastic. So much fun to shoot.”
“It was like kind of eerily warm. The water was not cold at all, but it was super fun. I mean, I love a chance to do a stunt. I was really excited to be a part of it. And I mean, how often do you get to kind of drive your car into a lake?” Wilson questioned. “It was fantastic. So much fun to shoot… It was just one of those days where you’re kind of like, ‘Wow, this is what I do for a living. Today I’m playing a fictional weirdo and driving my car into a lake.'”
The real inspiration behind this over the top scene
Before Lake Talk came to an end, Fischer and Kinsey discussed the fact that not all fans were thrilled with the scene when it first aired.
“When I was emailing with Steve about this scene, he reminded me that we got a lot of pushback after this episode aired because of this moment,” Fischer explained. “He said people kind of thought it was a little over the top — that it was unrealistic that someone would follow their GPS into a lake.”
After reaching out to writer Jen Celotta, however, Fischer learned that the scene was actually inspired by real-life GPS mishaps.
“[Celotta] said during the hiatus before Season 4, she went home to visit her parents in Maryland and she was sitting in the back seat of their brand new minivan,” Fischer told Kinsey. “She picked up the owner’s manual and was reading about the minivan’s GPS system. She said that on the very first page of the manual, there was a warning that said, ‘Do not drive your car into any bodies of water, even if the GPS tells you to.’ And Jen was like, what? Who would do that? And she was like, ‘Wait a second. You know who would do that? Michael Scott would do that.'”
Before pitching the idea, Celotta did some research and found that there were actually quite a few instances where people found themselves in perilous situations after misinterpreting GPS directions.
“She brought [the idea] into the room and she pitched it and she showed all of her evidence for why this could really happen and it made it into the episode,” Fischer said.
“Well, it’s fantastic. And you guys, she is right because I Googled it as well. There are so many stories online of people driving their cars into things because the GPS told them to,” Kinsey said.
Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode for more behind-the-scenes stories about filming “Dunder Mifflin Infinity.” And as a reminder, be careful when using your GPS.
You can stream episodes of The Office on Netflix and follow along with the podcast every week on Earwolf, Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher.