Thursday, 23 April 2009


In an earlier post, someone answered the poll question commenting that they were unsure what a treatment is. So I figured it might be something worth going over.

A treatment is essentially a synopsis or story summary (typically between 3 and 7 pages) - your story in prose form. It's also a pitch. Your treatment should be a work of art in itself. If you get in touch with a producer telling them your basic premise for the film (one paragraph explaining what the film is about), they may respond by asking for a treatment. This is because to read a feature screenplay could take days. Whereas a treatment could be read over in just a couple of hours.

I don't have much experience of treatments as pitch documents, however there are various websites you can go to and find samples. A good treatment can be downloaded here.

I often use treatments to actually write my scripts. Very few people write films as they go along, with no planning whatsoever. I've tried it before and sometimes produced some good material, but it's hardly ideal - you always need to know what you're trying to say and where the story is going. Without any form of planning, this is almost impossible. Other writers have the idea fully mapped out in their heads and work from that. Until a few months ago, I wrote everything down in a document and used that. Depending on the idea, the document would vary in length and detail.

So treatments can help you write your story. My treatments tend to do the following:
  • Have a characters section (so I know who I've got). This forces me to think about their motives first.
  • ACT I - everything that happens here. The opening and the catalyst (or inciting incident that kicks everything off)
  • ACT II - the bulk of the story - lots of character development. End with a 'point of no return' moment - characters are usually at their lowest point.
  • ACT III - how the characters deal with their low point and the finale.
  • I bullet point every scene and when it's written, it gets ticked off.
This is a very simple and broad use of a treatment and other writers have much more detailed ones. For example, some people put dialogue in and really go into the depths of their characters. I tend to put dialogue in only if it's something very good or something to remind me about a moment etc. Also, if I have a particularly great moment, I'll write that in the treatment in some detail. Other than that, most of my treatment is broad, generally not exceeding more than 4 pages (5 at the most).

Rather than go into elaborate detail about how something will be done, I tend to say what will be done. For example, this is a segment from the treatment I'm using for my scriptwriting module at uni:
We learn that the antidote is made by scientists at Command. Tonya explains that she was in a coma. She says where her family lived and Nix explains that they're definitely dead. Tonya has no-one left in the world.
This is a classic example of telling rather than showing. Rather than waste time writing out all the dialogue (revealing exposition etc) I've decided to say what the scene will achieve.

What's important to note about the above sample is that it's hardly great writing. This isn't a great example as a good treatment should be (as I said earlier) a work of art in itself. However, this is a bit of exposition (revealing what the audience needs to know). It's boring.

Other parts of the treatment (where there is more excitement) are more detailed and written better. This creates the same effect that the film would, be it emotion, tension, drama etc.
Suddenly, two more Roamers race round the corner, heading towards them. Gaining fast. Loki is a little frantic, hurrying Rider. But the sniper is perfectly calm. He takes his time (a long time) to target the first of the Roamers. A shot rings out and down it goes - head shot. Loki stands up, cocking his heavy shotgun, ready to do his thing. Another shot is fired. The second Roamer crashes into the ground.
This is a lot better example. It has the same effect on the reader as the film would have on the audience.

So that's basically how I write them. My treatments are documents I use to write from. Every scene is present but depending on the desired effect of those scenes, some are more detailed than others.

No comments: