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Talking Heads in Mockumentaries

‘Abbott Elementary’ has mastered the art of the mockumentary, using genre staples like confused looks to the camera with razor-sharp comedic precision. And of course, no mockumentary is complete without talking heads, those interview moments when characters speak directly to the film crew.

The Significance of Location

The locations where these talking heads are filmed are just as important as what the characters are saying. They help establish tone and setting, and even put us in a character’s headspace.

For example, in ‘The Office,’ some characters’ interviews are filmed in front of windows facing out of paper company Dunder Mifflin. Others are set next to interior windows facing into the office bullpen. This choice was deliberate.

According to the ‘Office Ladies’ podcast, director and cinematographer Randall Einhorn set these shots up so that any character with a future outside of Dunder Mifflin, such as Jim (John Krasinski), was by an outward-facing window for their talking heads. Those who didn’t want to leave Dunder Mifflin, or even seemed more trapped there, had talking heads next to office-facing windows.

Talking Heads in ‘Abbott Elementary’

Einhorn also serves as a director for ‘Abbott Elementary.’ When asked about the talking head device during a set visit for the Television Critics Association (TCA), Einhorn initially couldn’t think of any specific meaning he brought to the show’s talking heads and where they were shot.

However, star and creator Quinta Brunson reminded him of an early conversation they’d had about the topic.

“When we first started, I wanted to put the talking heads in the classrooms,” Brunson explained. “But you said, ‘These are teachers that are on the move. They actually don’t have time to sit down and do a talking head in the classroom.’ That’s where them doing [talking heads] in the hallway with activity happening behind them came from.”

Filming Scenes Between Potential Couples

In addition to talking heads, Einhorn described how he tends to shoot scenes between potential couple Janine (Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) differently than others.

“We tend to back up, get longer on the lens, and let them have a private moment,” Einhorn said. “Not only are you allowing the characters to have a private moment, but you’re also framing it in such a way that the viewer feels a bit privileged that they get to see this.”

Randall Einhorn’s Influence on Mockumentaries

“Randall is the godfather of this form,” co-showrunner Justin Halpern added at TCA. “I think that when you watch mockumentaries from now until the next 40 years, what people are aping is Randall’s style. Randall has been the person who’s been at the forefront of this style of sitcom-making for such a long time and has had such a powerful influence on this style of comedy.”

New episodes of ‘Abbott Elementary’ air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, and are available to stream on Hulu the following day.