The ‘Dune’ Screenplay Was Written in MS-DOS

The Oscar winning screenwriter of ‘Dune’ writes in an MS-DOS program that can only hold 40 pages in memory.
October 26, 2021, 1:00pm
DOS
Image: YouTube screengrab

Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. 

In the brutal future of Frank Herbert’s Dune, computers are outlawed and high level computations are done by specially trained and bred humans called mentats. In Herbert’s world, there’s something elegant about old solutions to new problems. Good then that Oscar winning Dune screenwriter Eric Roth banged out the screenplay using the MS-DOS program Movie Master.

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Roth writes everything using the 30-year-old software. “I work on an old computer program that’s not in existence anymore,” Roth said in an interview in 2014. “It’s half superstition and half fear of change.” Roth wrote the screenplay for Dune in 2018 and explained he was still using Movie Master on a Barstool Sports podcast in 2020. That means Dune was written in an MS-DOS program. 

In the video, he pulled up a DOS window in Windows XP and booted up Movie Master 3.09 on an ancient beige mechanical keyboard. “So now I’m in DOS. Nobody can get on the internet and get this,” Roth said. “I have to give them a hard copy. They have to scan it and then put it in their computers and then I have to work through their computer because you can’t even email mine or anything. You can’t get to it except where it is. It has 40 pages and it runs out of memory.”

Writing is fundamentally about putting your ass in the chair and typing the words. Eliminating distractions (I’ve checked Twitter at least five times while writing this short blog) is a key to success. Nothing eliminates distractions like a stripped down simple program with no internet access. Roth also said the 40 page limit helps him structure his screenplays.“I like it because it makes acts,” he said. “I realize if I hadn’t said it in 40 pages I’m starting to get in trouble.”

Roth isn’t the only writer to use older programs to write in. George RR Martin has used the MS-DOS program WordStar to slowly write every single Game of Thrones book.