I have just received an email from a writer in NYC who has been hired to write a script. As part of the process she’s been asked to deliver a treatment of the screenplay first.
But what is that?
Ah! The Treatment. This is the fabled under-10-page overview of the movie a writer may or may not get to execute, that will inspire, delight, and tickle the reader — and mostly convince he or she (usually a producer, investor, or studio exec) that this movie deserves to live. But what exactly should a treatment contain, and how can you write a better one?
Like anything at the initial stages of writing a script, in my opinion, the treatment should be thought of as a “sell piece.”
It is short, atmospheric, and makes the reader want to see more, i.e., hire you to go on and write the script! But it is not a beat-for-beat description.
The reader cares less about how you are going to execute the nuts and bolts of the script itself; what the reader wants is to get a feeling of the experience of this movie. Yes, there is a beginning, middle, and end. But we care less about your act breaks than why this story should be told.
I have written “clever” treatments, sometimes using the theme of the movie as a springboard. I have also spent more time on the treatment than on the actual script. And that’s a mistake.
The best treatments are good narratives, complete unto themselves, that leave a little something on the table which makes us want to see more.
If you have good examples of a treatment that you’ve written that works, tell us about it. And join me in congratulating this Cat! afficianado in getting the job.
Good luck! And make us proud!
One of the things I like to do in a treatment is provide snippets of dialogue that I might use. This serves a couple purposes.
First, the person reading the script gets to hear the voices of your characters which helps them imagine who might be perfect for the part. If you can get them thinking about a cast, that means they’re thinking about saying yes.
Second, it gives the producer a taste of your sense of humor and, if done right, makes them eager to read the final product – your script.
Ultimately, I find that writing the treatment is not only good for other people, but myself as well. On paper, I get to see what direction my characters are taking and if things unfold in a logical way. Sort of an artist’s sketch, I look at it as a dry run to see if I’ve got the general sense of things down and if the thing will move. If it reads like a story, it will be easier to write the script. Although, I agree you can spend waaaaayyyy too long on it. Procrastination is the enemy. Arm yourself with a copy of STC and The War of Art and you’re off to a good start.
- Sarah Beach
I tend to treat the treatment as a working outline for the script. And that can be a good thing. The original fleshed out BS2/treatment for the script I’m currently working on showed me a weakness in the script.
Basically, when I looked at it, I realized that my hero was being acted upon rather than acting. I redid the BS2/treatment, remembering to make the character more active in chosing events.
So, I find the treatment useful just for myself, outside the other matters.
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I found that “Writing Treatments That Sell” by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong was a good read.
A chicken-or-the-egg question… Is it practical to first write the treatment and use this as a means to determine if the script is deserving to even be written? Or should the script be written first and the treatment submitted as a sell piece for gaining interest in the script?
Will you include a chap of Treatments in your Cat! sequel?