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Writing a Comedy Like Office SpaceOffice Space

By Elaine Radford

Films that make us laugh long after their release date become classics in the comedy genre. Audiences continue to identify with them. That’s why the 1999 comedy, Office Space, still entertains.

This satire examines, exaggerates, and ridicules office life. It’s an aspect of life that people relate to—working in order to survive but feeling trapped by their jobs. Invariably, the protagonist tries to rebel. The screenplay for Office Space combines the theme of rebellion with exaggerated characters to create a comedic story.

The main character, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer at Initech, is the everyman character who suffers through his job every day but finally sheds his fear of losing his job and rebels. After rebelling, he goes to work only when he feels like it and even shows up at his office to fillet a fish at his desk. The background music also echoes the theme of rebellion with lyrics such as, “Damn it feels good to be a gangster.” And these lyrics keep us laughing.

When Peter learns that his friends, Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael (David Herman), will be fired even though they’re doing their jobs, he hatches a scheme to exact retribution. Peter and his two friends insert a computer virus into Initech’s accounting system to siphon off fractions of pennies from thousands of accounts over many years. However, the scheme backfires when Peter discovers over $300,000 deposited in their account virtually overnight.

Peter and his friends panic, fearing their scheme will be discovered and they’ll be sent to prison. While this scenario transpires, we meet the other characters in Office Space. They’re funny because they’re exaggerations of people in every workplace. For example, one of Peter’s eight bosses, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), is a composite of every irritating boss rolled into one.

The 2007 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards

Milton (Stephen Root) portrays the company nerd who obsesses about his job, his space, and his stapler as he’s pushed into smaller and smaller office spaces in an effort by Initech to force him out. Milton consoles himself by quietly muttering threats about things he can do to get even for the way he’s treated, including burning down the building.

In the end, Milton is finally forced out of his job but ends up having the last laugh. Peter accepts the blame for embezzling money from Initech and tries to confess and return the money, but a clever plot twist spins the story to an ironic conclusion.

Writer/director Mike Judge has very skillfully taken a frustrating aspect of daily life—office work—exaggerated it, and then created a story about how the main character and others rebelled.

To write a comedic screenplay, use the following guidelines:

  1. Create a fictional story based on your own life experiences by identifying an aspect of your life that you find frustrating and want to rebel against. For example, sharing an apartment with a dysfunctional roommate.

  2. Ask yourself: What if I could change my everyday life? What would I do to rebel? The actions you would take become events in a plot that can be woven into a story.

  3. Who is the protagonist (hero)? What is his goal? Who is the antagonist (villain)? What is his goal? Exaggerate these main characters so that they embody the characteristics of several people.

  4. What is the hero’s main flaw? Describe the hero’s traits and show how they lead to a confrontation with the villain?

  5. When does the story take place? Define the time period and how it relates to the conflict.

  6. Where does the story take place? Describe the location.

  7. Why does the hero end up in a conflict with the villain?

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