After years of waiting for Pam to dump Roy, subtly and not-so-subtly flirting in the office, and a series of adorable romantic gestures, did Jim really propose to Pam in a gas station parking lot in the rain?
Absolutely he did.
In the latest episode of the , Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey chatted all about the second part of the Season 5 premiere, “Weight Loss,” which features the proposal fans had been waiting for for…well…five seasons.
When discussing the first half of “Weight Loss,” Fischer and Kinsey talked all about hilarious deleted scenes. Now, it’s time to unpack Jim’s impromptu rest stop proposal and hear the unexpectedly sweet inspiration behind the very expensive scene.
Since Fischer was part of the scene she was able to share some firsthand filming experiences, and Kinsey peppered some helpful DVD commentary from the crew into the conversation.
Here’s a look at six key behind-the-scenes proposal revelations from the episode:
1. The proposal was a shock to everyone, even the cast
Like fans, Pam was clearly thrown for a loop when Jim popped the big question mere steps away from a bunch of gasoline — but the cast members were shocked by the timing of the proposal, too.
“So first of all, I just want you guys to know that Greg [Daniels, showrunner] spoke with us about this. He said that he really wanted Jim’s proposal to Pam to be in the season premiere. He thought that would be unexpected. You usually end seasons with proposals,” Fischer explained. “So he thought this would be a real shock.”
“And it was,” Kinsey replied. “Jenna, I even remember at the table read, you know, we had so much going on with this weight loss story and Pam at art school. I didn’t see it coming.”
“No,” Fischer confirmed. “And we’d been teasing it all last season. [Daniels] said he also wanted to throw people off by having it in a very ordinary location. So he wanted it to feel special, but he also wanted it to feel like Jim made the decision without a whole lot of planning.”
2. Location, location, location
That brings us to the somewhat controversial location of the proposal: a gas station.
Fischer explained that Daniels felt the ideal location for the scene was a gas station along the freeway between Scranton and New York in the rain.
As I first learned from reading Andy Greene’s The Office (The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History), the gas station was based off of a real rest stop that Daniels often visited when driving on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.
“…They used Google Street View to capture images of a real gas station along the Merritt Parkway…”
“We did not actually fly to this location. This is the insane part,” Fischer explained. “They built this in the parking lot of a Best Buy that I have been to many times, actually. What they did was they used Google Street View to capture images of a real gas station along the Merritt Parkway, and then using those images, they built it to match this parking lot.”
The set reportedly took around nine days to build, and Fischer said that in order to create the illusion of highway traffic, they built a four-lane racetrack loop around the gas station.
“They set up cameras on the other side of this raceway and they had cars drive around it at 55 miles an hour. Then they added rain pouring down on us [with] these giant rain machines,” Fischer explained. “Our production manager, Randy Cordray, said they had about 35 precision drivers. They were driving not just cars, but like semi trucks. When we were standing there on that set you could feel the wind like of these cars speeding past you. It was so, so bonkers.”
Fischer said that after they shot the scene a special effects company was hired to replace the background — which was originally some California mountains — with trees that looked like they could be found in Connecticut.
3. The most expensive scene in Office history
Fans know The Office dished out some big bucks to for jokes and music over the years — remember that Michael Scott joke that cost the team $60,000? — but Jim’s proposal to Pam was the most expensive scene of the series.
“It lasts 52 seconds and it cost $250,000.”
“In the end, this was the single most expensive scene ever shot during the entire run of the show. It lasts 52 seconds and it cost $250,000,” Fischer said, much to Kinsey’s surprise.
“Oh my lord. Oh my lord. Wow,” Kinsey replied.
“Yeah, so a quarter of a million dollars for less than one minute of screen time,” Fischer concluded.
4. Jim actually proposed on…a toxic waste site
After listening to the “Weight Loss” DVD commentary, Kinsey learned several other interesting location tidbits.
“So after months and months of scouting and meetings, it was our location manager, Kyle Alexander, who found this enormous paved parking lot,” Kinsey shared. “…Acres and acres of paved ground, which is what they needed if they were going to build a racetrack, basically, right? So these cars could loop around. Now, according to Randy Cordray, the reason why it was such a massive, massive, massive parking lot is because it was a paved over toxic waste site.”
Oh. No biggie!
“Apparently years, and years, and years ago, there was an old ceramics plant or something that had buried lead paint waste into the ground, so they had to seal it and cover it,” Kinsey explained.
“So, Angela, I just want to make sure that we acknowledge that the information you’ve just given us means that Jim and Pam, our beloved Jam, got engaged at a former toxic waste dump,” Fischer said, to which Kinsey replied, “Fluorescent Jam.”
5. Giving props for fake props
The set looked great, but did you know the gas station behind Jim and Pam wasn’t actually stocked?
“[Production designer] Michael Gallenberg shares on the DVD commentary one of his favorite things that he built of this whole set was the drinks behind the glass doors — it’s in fact one humongous giant photo,” Kinsey explained. “It was an inkjet print on foam core paper.”
“It looks amazing. And there’s a great shot at 38:32 right behind Jim and Pam. I would have never known that those drinks were a photo,” she continued.
6. The great sound debate
One of the big debates when filming and editing was whether or not the scene should include audible dialogue.
In the end, the series opted for sound, but Daniels really mulled over the decision.
“This was a huge, huge debate. Greg could not make up his mind. They had two versions ready to go.”
“This was a huge, huge debate. Greg could not make up his mind. They had two versions ready to go. One with sound during the proposal and one without. And literally, I mean, Jake [Aust, producer] shared on the DVD commentary that up until the day of airing Greg was still trying to decide.
“It’s so funny because I vaguely remember that. But we spoke dialogue every time,” Fischer said. “So the debate was just simply whether Jim and Pam were still wearing their microphones and you could hear our dialogue, or Jim and Pam weren’t wearing their microphones and you couldn’t. So we said dialogue every time. It wasn’t like there were two different scenes that were written with or without dialogue. It was just whether or not you could hear it.”
“I don’t think John and I knew about this big debate because we were just saying our lines every time,” she continued.
In the end, both Kinsey and Fischer liked being able to hear the proposal. And even though Jim got some fan pushback for proposing at a gas station, Fischer assures everyone the set felt very romantic.
“It was actually, to be there, really romantic. You know, it was funny. The gas station was just a front. If you went in, it was a like a fakey-fake. You go through the door and you’re just looking at trees that didn’t have a back or anything. But it felt magical,” she said. “And it was so much fun to shoot that scene. I mean, I feel like we got it on the first take and maybe we did a few. But my memory is that we weren’t there long, that we got it pretty early and it was a cool moment.”
Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode for more behind-the-scenes stories from filming “Weight Loss.”