Did you ever wonder why movies are too long? I’ve heard the theory that it’s because directors have too much power compared to the past, when the studio could order them to edit a movie. A top director these days has the contractual right to final edit, and the director isn’t likely to lop off the 30 minutes of boredom that took him a month to create. Brains don’t work that way. He’ll convince himself that every minute of his work is essential. If the studio wants him to make another blockbuster for them, they will agree.
And why is there so much violence in movies? A study done in 2005 showed that G-rated movies are 11 times more profitable than R-rated movies, yet the industry cranks out 12-times more R-rated movies.
Why is that? It’s obviously not because the public wants more R-rated movies. A theory I’ve heard is that directors are trying to win Academy Awards, and G-rated movies rarely win. Screw the public.
For the past 18 months, my syndication company, United Media, and I had been negotiating with a major movie studio to do a Dilbert movie. They wanted to do it. We wanted to do it. A top director wanted to do it. We even agreed on price. But that wasn’t enough to get it done, for reasons that have already appeared in a Dilbert comic. (I can’t tell you which one.)
So the movie rights for Dilbert are available. And I got to wondering how an investor – either a studio or a private movie investment company – would view the prospects of a Dilbert movie. Maybe you can help.
Keep in mind that most movies don’t make money. The prospects for any particular movie are worse than the odds of, for example, a technology startup company.
Still, did anyone think the first Spiderman movie would lose money? There are some movie ideas that are clearly exceptions. You know in advance that moviegoers young and old will enjoy watching Spidey jump around. With a top director and a good script, it was a relatively safe bet.
It’s the same with X-men, Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, The Simpsons Movie, Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, and even Garfield. I’ve fairly sure they all made money, and it didn’t take a genius to predict they would. They are clearly exceptions.
Does Dilbert fall into that category?
First, Dilbert has the potential to appeal to all ages. It has workplace themes for adults, and talking animals for the kids. And the rating could be G or PG, the most profitable type.
Second, Dilbert has lots of name recognition, which seems to have a huge impact on success. Personally, I would have watched Spiderman even if the reviews hadn’t been excellent. The Garfield movie got terrible reviews, and I’ve watched it twice, because it’s rated G and the kids love it. I haven’t watched The Simpsons Movie, but I will, despite tepid reviews. The brand gets me there.
Third, imagine the product placement potential for a Dilbert movie. That’s becoming a larger part of the overall profitability of a film. What better way is there for a technology company to introduce a new gadget than to have Dilbert use it first in a movie? Viewers wouldn’t find it too obnoxious because you expect Dilbert to have the latest gadgets.
Then there’s the curiosity factor. If you knew the theme of the movie involved Dilbert finding a girlfriend, for example, wouldn’t you automatically wonder how that would work out? Or how about a theme where we see the origins of Dogbert? Did you ever wonder how he got the way he is? When you know the characters, those sorts of stories make you curious even if you aren’t a huge Dilbert fan.
Best of all, comedies are generally shorter than dramas. A Dilbert movie would probably be about 90 minutes. That’s totally bladder friendly. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make movie theater decisions on that basis.
One big question is whether a Dilbert movie would be traditional animation, CGI, or live actors. I think live actors is the way to go, with CGI for Dogbert, Catbert, and other talking creatures. That allows you to have star power for the main characters, and it differentiates it from the old animated Dilbert TV show.
The plot I imagine involves an origin of Dogbert as a talking dog. It’s Dilbert’s first day of work, after college, and he causes an accident in the technology lab that releases something into the water supply. The pollutant starts to change regular dogs and cats into talking animals over the course of the movie. So Dogbert would be a regular dog in the beginning, with no glasses, but be walking upright before long. From there on, talking animals would just have jobs like regular people, and none of the human characters would give it much thought.
Tell me you wouldn’t watch that.
If you know any wealthy people who want to invest in a Dilbert movie, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Correction: It has been pointed out to me that The Simpsons Movie got good reviews.]
[Clarification: The Dogbert origin story would be a "B" story, meaning it's not the plot of the movie. It's something that develops at the same time and "interferes" with the main plot. And it would only make sense with a movie that used live actors, because it allows you to go from the normal to the extraordinary in a gradual way and take the audience on the ride. For a fully animated movie, I wouldn't do a Dogbert origin B story.]
[Counterpoint: Some say the Dilbert movie has "already been done," and it's called Office Space. Quick, name a movie that hasn't already been done. How about a movie with fighting? How about a love story? Maybe a sports movie? Monsters? Cowboys? They've all been done.]