If you have a great concept for a film, odds are you want to tell it immediately. Naturally, you might get tempted to hop right into Final Draft and type away.
How to Write a TV Show Treatment
Resist that temptation! Experienced writers know that writing a movie means meticulous organization and clarity.
This is why film treatments are so useful: they boil your idea down to your characters and the story events that drive them to change.
So let’s examine how to write a film treatment that both snags your readers and organizes your vision. Let’s also look at a few examples to inspire you as you fill out your own film treatment template.
Film treatment definition
What is a film treatment?
A film treatment (or story treatment) is a detailed summary of your film. It will communicate all important scenes in a style that evokes the tone of your film.
Think of a film treatment as a short but engaging document that sets up your movie. They capture the big moments and tone, but do not include any of your clever dialogue.
The intended audience for your treatment can include producers, executives, directors, and actors you want to attract to your film.
But it’s also an extremely handy tool for the writer to get his or her story worked out before the actual writing.
1. Film treatment layout
How long should your film treatment be?
They have no set page length, but you want to keep them pithy. If you’re writing without anyone specific in mind, try to keep them under ten pages, single spaced.
If you’re writing for someone more official, like a reader at a production company, then make sure to ask what they’re looking for. Sometimes they will ask for as many as 20 pages.
Treatments can be much longer than that too. James Cameron, for example, writes 70 page treatments to get his stories organized. Everybody does this their own way. But the guidelines exist to keep your presentation as strong as possible.
2. Film treatment structure
How to write a screenplay treatment?
Approach writing your treatment like you would a present-tense short story. You will include all relevant story turns and maintain a voice that is colorful enough to portray the tone, but not overly stylized.
Consider cutting or significantly minimizing your subplots. The idea is to show your movie to a reader, or organize it for yourself. So keep the driving story front and center.
WHAT TO INCLUDE
Again, there’s no set format for what you should or shouldn’t include. But you can employ the following items while writing a treatment (depending on who you intend to send it to):
- Your name
- Sections for logline, concept and theme (if needed)
- Summaries of all three acts, with pithy descriptions of the plot points, locations and characters.
- Airtight exposition and context where needed.
Including a logline is recommended. This is a one high-level, or two line summary of your film. Explore the art of writing a logline, and spend some time on it.
WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE
Generally you want to keep your film treatment economic and reader-friendly. Don’t go into too much exposition on anything -- be it characters, locations, or actions. Avoid also:
- Any dialogue (save it for the script)
- Images, clip art (and anything else that’s not text)
- Paragraphs that are too long
- Distracting fonts
Similar to how you format a screenplay, use a tried-and-true font like Courier (size 12, single-spaced).
3. Film treatment examples
Examples of film treatments
To further explore how to write a film treatment, look to existing film treatments online.
This will give you a sense of what story beats to include, or not include. You can also base your film treatment template off a particular style you like.
On their site Wordplayer, working screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio posted a few of their own film treatment examples. Their 1994 treatment of Mask of Zorro is a glimpse into an effective script treatment.
Film treatment examples: The Mask of Zorro by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
In this eight-line paragraph, you’re launched into the uproarious world of Mexico in the early 1800’s. You’re also clear on whose perspective you see it through.
It spends its page real estate on setting up up the brothers, Alejandro and Jaoquin, because they’re crucial characters.
Alejandro will grow up to become Zorro, and will be motivated by his desire to avenge Jaoquin’s death. It also sets up Montero, because he is the villain of the film.
From script treatment to screen: The Mask of Zorro (1998)
The rest of their Mask of Zorro script treatment carries forth this established prose format.
Too simple for your story?
Well, Elliott and Rossio include more film treatment examples to show different formats they use.
Again, there’s no set way to do it, so format your film treatment template to the demands of your story.
For example, their treatment for Godzilla (1998) includes headings for locations and big events. This makes for a highly skimmable read.
It’s also handy because their story jumps around the world a lot, and keeps its actions clear amongst the many locations.
But what about the other items we mentioned (title, name, etc.) ?
The team offers another film treatment example from an un-produced Sinbad film (the swashbuckler, not the comedian).
In this format, they divided up their treatment into sections including Concept, Theme, Characters, and Synopsis.
This lets the reader pick and choose what they want to read, while giving a very direct feel for their vision.
The concept section of Ted Elliott and Terry Russo’s unproduced Sinbad script
You can dig up many more film treatment examples (in PDF and HTML) to reference more examples that might help you.
Get some feedback
Learning how to write a film treatment provides a great resource for both you and “them.”
For you, it will set the groundwork for your story, and get you thinking about the “look and feel” interested parties will need to get psyched on your idea.
For “them” (meaning producers, actors, or even directors) it will provide a quick, readable “download” of your story.
It should showcase your voice and your overall creative vision.
Once you fill out your film treatment template, get some feedback. Tweak it until it becomes the movie you want to write.
And then (and only then!) should you start writing your screenplay.
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