Someday I plan to write a Dilbert movie script.

I anticipate your questions. Let me answer those before making my fascinating point

Q. Will it be animated?

A. No. I'd like to reimagine Dilbert's world with live actors, modern day, no neckties and suits. I have an idea for Dogbert's character but I'll keep that to myself for now. This would be a reboot of the brand, not an extension.

Q. Why haven't you already made a Dilbert movie?

A. I've tried for years. But every attempt hit a different wall. I've had A-list directors and producers say yes. I've had major studios lined up. I've had signed contracts. One time the project died because lawyers couldn't agree on a split of licensing revenues (which is not a hard problem to solve). One time our A-list director backed out because of issues in his personal life. The list goes on.

The solution to every movie-making roadblock is a great script. Studios, directors, and actors flock toward great scripts. You've seen lots of examples of top actors working for scale just to be associated with a well-written film.

But writing a great script is hard.

Or is it?

The interesting part of this post is coming. Stay with me, please.

You might not be aware of how structured a movie script is. Virtually all movies follow a common formula. Here's a quick look at just some of the elements you need to engineer into a script:
  1. The main character needs to "change" over the course of the movie
  2. In the first few minutes, the main character's life has to experience an upset.
  3. The so-called B-story has to run parallel until it interferes with the A-story near the end.
  4. There should be three acts.
  5. The characters each need their "who am I" revealing moments.
  6. Scenes need to end with a mystery or propel the story forward.
  7. Scenes should last a certain length of time (usually).
  8. The number of scenes should fall within a certain range.
  9. Humor movies should be about 90 minutes long. Drama can be longer.
The list of script requirements goes on and on. Books have been written to describe the architecture of a movie. It's complicated stuff.

Do you know where I'm heading with this yet?

For years I've been thinking I needed some sort of writing partner to get this done. I can write dialog on my own, and obviously I know the characters. I can even come up with a good story arc, and have. But I need someone who can figure out all the scene complexity because frankly that part has been holding me back. If I had no other jobs, I'd love immersing myself in the story and working out the complexity of it. But I don't have that type of freedom. (I'm working about four jobs at the moment.)

Interestingly, it's almost impossible to find a writing partner for this sort of project. For starters, successful humor writers are rare. The best ones are booked with projects for years. And picking a newbie writer with talent is a crap shoot.

Then one day it hit me.

I don't need a writing partner.

I need an engineer. An actual trained engineer.

Scripts are complicated systems. They need architecture and planning. A writer needs to hold all of that complexity in his head and understand how each part connects and influences the others. It's not a writing job; it's an engineering job.

I can write the general story (already done). And I can populate scenes with dialog because I'm good at that. I need an engineer to make sure all of the logic gates are in the right place and there are no structural holes in the script.

My idea of a script meeting goes like this.

Engineer: "Today you need to write a conversation between Asok and Alice. It needs to happen in a hallway. It needs to reveal Asok's personality and be 30 seconds long. And it needs to foreshadow the upcoming reorganization."

Me: "Okay. See you tomorrow."

You have to admit there's something that feels right about an engineer creating a Dilbert script.

Before you apply for the job, you'd need to be local to me. And ideally I'd like to have external funding to pay for the script before doing any hiring. A million dollars should cover it.

Most movies are funded by traditional studios. I think a Dilbert movie should be funded by a tech company or by a wealthy individual in the tech industry. It would be a strong combination. Crowd funding is an option too, but messier.

If you're interested in funding a Dilbert movie project, email me at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com. If I can arrange funding, I'll look to hire an engineer.

And I couldn't start until this summer. CalendarTree.com is keeping me too busy at the moment.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +42
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Feb 12, 2014
Written in the voice of a man who truly has a !$%*! you" amount of money.
Feb 11, 2014
Speaking of the overuse of formulas, it would be fun to do a James Joyce and make the entire movie parody _Ulysses_. Dilbert's quest is to get home in time for his favorite TV show, but he must face and defeat obstacles which all are obvious parallels to the obstacles in _The Odyssey_.
Feb 10, 2014
Oh, my last post might make it sound like I think this is a good idea. I think it's a terrible idea, but interesting.

What you, a comic writer, need to write a script, is help from someone who's used to the visual, spatial, and temporal vocabulary of film.

Think about the last scene from Office Space with the photocopier. That worked better than it would have in a comic strip because you could zoom in on it, show it from an angle, use the camera's position to turn it into an action scene, and use tempo and music to refer the whole scene to the rap-gangster film/video genre.

You need somebody who understands timing, and knows how to write a script so that the director and actor will understand what timing to use. You need somebody who will make sure you write enough info to set each scene without being overly specific, and without ever writing anything that can't be depicted visually (such as "Morning.") You need somebody who knows enough about cinematography to place the camera for the critical shots that make a joke or have thematic impact. An engineer can't do any of these things.
Feb 10, 2014
This is a crazy idea, but has a kernel of merit.

The reason an engineer might help you write a decent script isn't because the engineer will help you follow the rules, but because an engineer would be willing to break them.

Back in the old days, the Bible for writing a Hollywood script was Syd Field's /Foundations of Screenwriting/. That book tries to teach people how to write a good story with interesting plot and characters. But as marketing budgets have gone up, producers have become more frightened. When they've got a hundred million dollars and their careers on the line with every movie, they want a formula. They believe in every new scriptwriting formula like suburban housewives believe in each new celebrity diet.

So now we've got the tiresome overuse of the Hero's Journey, Blake Snyder's /Save the Cat!/ and its beat sheets, and Thomas Lennon & Robert Garant's /Writing Movies for Profit/ with its turning-points-by-page-number. We've also got the bad formulae promoted by bad novel writers, like the "Scene-Sequel" formula which was the basis for the recent movie /Gravity/. (Great movie, but that's the only kind of movie Scene-Sequel can make.)

Scott, you seem to have been fooled into believing that you can write a movie script by starting at the beginning and writing until you reach the end. It's nothing like that. It's not engineering; it's R&D.

The advantage of using an engineer or scientist is that they know how to do R&D. They know how to look at the desired endpoint and find a path from here to there, without relying on the latest fad or wanting to know what everybody else is doing.

Well, some of them do. Avoid the ones who says they write their code using "design patterns".
Feb 9, 2014
My husband is perfect for this job. Too bad we live in Washington state tho..
Feb 7, 2014
One problem you'll encounter: Do you know how long a scene takes? What about the dead time where characters don't say anything, how long does that take?

If you don't know how the writing affects the pacing you can't give your engineer the appropriate inputs to drive the system. And pacing is everything in a movie.
Feb 7, 2014
Love Dilbert, but Office movies and TV shows have been done ad nauseam. That's why Mike Judge won't do a sequel to Office Space.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2014

All the comments are moot if you have a good script.
If you have a good script (and a director who gets it, and doesn't bow to producer pressures.)
A good script, a director who doesn't screw it up, and someone other than Charlie Sheen.

I would love to have a Project Manager keeping things organized for me. Brilliant. Sort of like an assistant and partner in one. One who doesn't just handle details but can deal with the big picture too.

It's usually called a wife, but Mrs. MT learned a long time ago that I'm no successful cartoonist.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2014
I think its horrible that movies generally follow such a strict formula. Many have this cookie-cutter feel to them, and its for the worse.
In fact, nowadays I consider every movie to be one big magic trick. Its all about distracting you from plot holes and predictable stories. That's why movie reviews are so polarizing; either you got distracted, or you didn't.

To me, movies that give the formular a swift kick in the nuts will be good almost by definition (at the very least, please create the illusion of having done so). Dilbert is supposed to experience an upset, have a "who am I" moment and then change over the course of the movie? You already lost me.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2014
Talk to Drew Carey, he's got that whole ReasonTV thing going. He also played a character much like Dilbert on a sitcom which shall not be named.
Feb 7, 2014
Scott, it's already been done albeit at a higher level than you'd like.


I haven't read the follow up, so I can't speak for it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2014
I'm thinking "Dilbert: The Musical" a Broadway smash followed by the inevitable movie.
Think "Rent" but entertaining. Call me, we'll do lunch.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2014
Well I think this sounds like a cool project to work on, I'd honestly love to apply if I were local :D.

Having said that however I would have to agree with basically everyone else who said that having live action is a bad idea, I can't think of a single cartoon that has translated well into live action, Examples I can think of:

Last Air bender
(infamously bad probably the worst 2)

Ouran high school host club (had some promise, but I'm biased because I loved the series)
Dragon ball
Mr Magoo,
He man Masters of the universe
Inspector Gadget
Mario brothers
Scooby doo
Fat Albert
Alvin & the chipmunks

Death note (not terrible but definitely did not work as well as the cartoon)

Fact is when something is a cartoon is develops a particular look & feel that becomes a part of the brand, & the cartoon creates the characters in well, a caricature (obviously) try to make it look too different, & people no longer recognize, and you may as well star fresh, too much, & it enters the "creepy valley" where real people start having cartoonish features.

This is especially true for Dilbert where the characters are human.

I would LOVE to see the script though as a cartoon movie, or better yet, it would be great to see the series return/reboot after all these years a la arrested development or futurama

Feb 6, 2014
This sounds like the thinking behind that terrible and unsuccessful Mario movie. And a number of others. The difference between art and engineering is that here something which meets all the specs can still be garbage.

Remember y'all's attempt to cram Basic Instructions into a shorter format? Your conclusions about it? You're trying to write in an unnatural format by reading the same "how to write a screenplay" books that countless hacks think contain magic formulas.

Based on prior posts where you spoke of a dogbert origin story I also sense an urge to explÄ…in and justify things that people routinely accept at face value from fiction.

Mario with rocket boots ...
Feb 6, 2014
The "Dilbert Rebooted" movie could be set 20 years in the future with Zack Galifianakis playing Dilbert. He could have a real bushy beard so you can't see his mouth.

Dilbert would be an analyst at NSA's Utah Data Center. The usual cast of Dilbert characters would engage in their usual comedy while trying to detect terrorist activity in the huge data feed. There could be one wacky scene where Wally accidentally deletes some data which allows terrorists to shut down the U.S. government for a few days and they all get furloughed. There would also be a scene where the main supercomputer correctly predicts the cafeteria soup de jour using quantum technology.

Dilbert has a typical family life. He has 3 fat, lazy wives who are constantly on the couch. He says goodbye every morning and they ignore him. There's a scene where he picks up a cute, charming girl at a mixer. The next scene shows 4 fat, lazy, disrespectful wives on the couch. He goes to work and practices cartooning, hoping someday to transform his life.

One night, Dilbert goes to the Apple Store and buys the new iPhone 16. He's charmed by the new version of Siri, but as soon as he leaves the store the voice starts sounding fat and disrespectful.

Meanwhile, a B-story shows Larry Ellison hosting a party on Lanai. He has quite a few celebs and powerful people there including Richard Branson, David Koch and an unusually buff Scott Adams. Also we see Scarlett Johannson talking to Daft Punk off to the side. Larry is in his element, showing off his one-of-a-kind cloned wooly mammoth and also his beta-version teleporter.

Meanwhile, Dilbert is assigned to travel to Elbonia to repair a huge satellite dish in the outback. As he walks up to the dish, swatting away a cloud of horseflies, he gets word that the Utah Data Center's supercomputer has just turned sentient and is in the process of taking over the worldwide internet. Later, a few guests of Ellison's party materialize in the desert. But not everything goes right. Ellison (with a fly's head) explains to Dilbert that he had determined that primitive Elbonia will be safest refuge from the Singularity.

Other teleported guests (all with fly heads) start fighting over a cowpie. Next, the satellite dish swings towards them all and starts beaming bright colors. The end of the movie could be very similar to "2001 A Space Odyssey", or we could go in a more positive direction and the celebs, led by fly-headed Scott Adams, team up destroy the Singularity in a heated battle with numerous explosions.

Feb 6, 2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman would have made a great Dilbert.
Feb 6, 2014
If you liked the first half of "Office Space", then you may like "The IT Crowd" (British series -- Check it out on Netflix and thank me later).

I would hope that a live actor Dilbert movie would make me laugh as much as those mentioned above. Good luck, Scott.

Feb 6, 2014
Please don't do this.

That is all.
Feb 6, 2014

[If you can't find external funding for a movie, that's a big hint it may not be as viable as you think. If some entity with a track record is willing to put up seed money, they believe that money -- and probably the additional investment needed for production -- will come back. And with all due respects, I don't think anyone's going to put major backing behind a Dilbert movie for art's sake. ]

Then why is he asking for a tech company to fund this project? Surely if its proof of concept Scott is looking for then he should be asking an experienced studio to fund it.
Feb 6, 2014
[You need external funding for this? Or are you intending to match that million dollars.]

If you can't find external funding for a movie, that's a big hint it may not be as viable as you think. If some entity with a track record is willing to put up seed money, they believe that money -- and probably the additional investment needed for production -- will come back. And with all due respects, I don't think anyone's going to put major backing behind a Dilbert movie for art's sake.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog