Screenwriting: Ideas, Treatments & Outlines
A screenplay can be divided into 5 major components:
Many people misunderstand the role of screenwriters. They assume that a screenwriter’s only role is to create conversations between characters. However, this is far too simplified a view of what screenwriters do. Screenwriters first need to establish their ideas and create a general theme to their ideas. They then need to visualize where it will happen and work these visual elements into the script as well. Screenwriting is in fact a very visual process and much of the images, while manipulated by the film director and director of photography, are initially established by the screenwriter. Similarly, while screenwriters do create dialog between characters, this dialog is much more than simple conversation. This dialog helps the story progress, develops character depth and allows audience members to connect with characters on an emotional level.
To make a long story short, if there is no screenwriter, there is no film. This is often why there is jealously directed toward screenwriters within the industry. The screenwriters are the people with the ideas, they are the people who indirectly employ the producers, directors and actors of the film. They often have such clarity of vision for how their script should look on screen that they often work closely with directors to come up with a cohesive story board which brings the script from the page to the screen.
That being said, because the writer often has such clarity, they are also often kept off the set. The director doesn’t want to be told how to direct just as the actors don’t want to know about the writer’s interpretation of the text. People will want the creative freedom to interpret the writer’s script how they see fit. The result is often not what the writer imaged at all, while at other times the team of actors, directors and producers manage to capture the true essence of the writer’s intentions. Similarly a truly brilliant film can be made from a director’s loose interpretation of a script. There is not just one right way to interpret a script. Often the writer’s vision will come second to a director’s more ambitious and / or creative view of the writing.
That is why they say that a script is never “written”; instead a script is “re-written”. This means that when you submit your script to your agent, they will often come back to you with some suggestions for change, then once you finally get it on a producer’s desk, they too will want to put their signature elements into your script. Next you’ll have actors wanting to change lines to fit their own personal styles. Seeing your script worked and reworked can be a very disturbing process. Every word you put into the script was well thought out and now these strangers are going through it and changing entire sections. However, as a writer you also want to try and ensure your main vision for the film stays intact. You can do this by creating very simple documents which outline the main purpose of your film. You can create both treatments and outlines so that everyone can always refer back to these documents to make sure that script changes are not altering the overall look and feel of the film concept. Let’s begin by talking about treatments.