Film Treatments

How to write a film treatment

Generally speaking, a film's treatment is similar to that of an overview or synopsis of the film idea. It usually ranges from 8 to 15 pages and includes all the important conceptual elements, structured in 3-5 acts, each with a beginning, middle and end. When you submit your script, your treatment will often be the first document to be glanced over. If the main concept is enjoyable and your treatment is well written maybe, just maybe, your script will make it into the hands of the "professional script reader". This is an important element of screenwriting which you should know about. When you submit your script to producers, you will not be submitting your scripts to the major decision makers first. Your script will first have to pass through a filter that these large production companies have put in place.



Message by: Lights Film School

Large production companies hire professional readers who go through the many scripts the company receives on a daily basis and they weed the bad options out. Sometimes the professional reader will reject a script if it's not formatted or packaged properly. Or more often, they will reject poorly written scripts or scripts with little or no commercial value. They can often decide these factors within a few short minutes or sometimes even seconds after taking a quick browse through your treatment.

If your treatment is well composed, interesting and has commercial potential, the professional reader may actually take a look through your script. If your script manages to capture their interest, they might then take a full read though it. After this point, if they still feel strongly towards it, they will forward your script to their manager or a producer who will then take another read through the script.

How hard is it to get your script past the professional reader? Well, it's really not that hard. While professional readers say they usually reject 95% of the scripts that come across their desks, this doesn't provide us with any insight into how much pure unprofessional junk they read.

Imagine you asked 10 of your friends to write you a short story which would be about 15 pages long. Most of these people would have limited or little writing experience. They may love the experience of writing and they may even love their little 15 page story. However, just because they love their work it doesn't mean that the general audience will. Imagine how many of your friends' short stories you would reject right away. Probably about 60%. If you were looking at publishing only 1 of them, you would probably find that some lacked proper structure, others were printed in fonts that were too small or too hard to read, while others had stories which were simply not believable or too boring and personal.

Out of the 40% that remain, even if the stories are good, you will be able to knock off many more because they do not have enough commercial potential, perhaps because they are not conflict-ridden enough or perhaps have too much violence or sexual content.

A film treatment states how the audience will experience the film. It's important to write treatments in an active voice and avoid the use of hyperbole (such as "this unique film will explore" etc). When writing treatments you want your audience to be able to visualize your film. You will want to write in present tense and provide an overview of the characters, locations and details of the film. You can write your treatment creatively. The purpose of a treatment is to allow your audience to smell, taste and experience your environment. Reading a treatment (second only to reading a full script) is the closest written equivalent to the look of your film.

That being said, it's important to leave out technical information. In a script you may include camera information if necessary (movement etc), but in a treatment you'll want to keep it limited to non-technical information.

Similarly, you won't want your treatment to have an editorial tone. Rather than saying things like:

This film will dive into the subject of gender relations in the hip hop community. The flm will focus on the relationship between two nemeses; Mr. Bugz and Mrs DJ Spinna.

Instead say:

"Mr. Bugz B and Mrs DJ Spinna stand toe to toe in front of their microphones. Mr. Bugz rhymes and misogynistic rhyme stating "we don't want no ugly girls in here tonight" to which Mrs DJ Spinna retaliates with a rhyme mocking Mr. Bugs unusually large ears. The crowd goes wild. Mr Bugz continues, but with less steam. The insult has touched on a vulnerable part of his identity."

Again, it's important to stress that you need to avoid editorial writing when writing treatments and instead speak in an active and present voice. Similarly, you should avoid using words and phrases like

"Next we see" - Don't start sentences with "we see". Tell the audience what they see without introducing your sentence with "we see".

Try to avoid passive words such as: Should, will, might and maybe.

Passive words evoke less emotion and take the audience out of the story. Feel free to use dialogue snippets, descriptions of the environment and characters. Essentially use any non-technical element that helps you paint as colourful of a picture as possible.

A treatment helps investors visualize your idea in a personal manner. Treatments don't have a "business feel" to them. They sound dramatic, personal and honest.

Good luck!

Continue Below...

Film Ideas
Film Treatments
Film Outlines
Using Index Cards
The 3 Act Structure
The Beginning
The Middle & End
How to create subplots