What is a Film Treatment, and Why Do I Need One?
By Micki Grover
If you’ve ever asked those questions, you aren’t alone. In the world of synopses, one-pagers, beat sheets, outlines and drafts, treatments can get lost in the shuffle. Writers often forego the treatment process altogether – which is a huge mistake! Treatments are a writer’s secret weapon, because they benefit you in countless ways.
Perhaps the most common reason for skipping the treatment stage is simply that not everybody has a clear definition of what they are. The unfortunate fact is that many rules regarding treatments aren’t cut and dry, and taking on a project without strict guidelines can seem daunting.
However, it’s important to embrace rather than be intimidated by the flexible construct of writing the treatment. All we’re talking about is a short document written in prose form and in the present tense that emphasizes, with vivid description, the major elements of a screenplay. Yes, treatments are actually written in prose! The essence of the story and the characters should be evoked through exhilarating language and imagery.
Treatments have a style of their own just as screenplays do, and they too take time to master. Writers who swear by using treatments find that it’s a fun outlet to write with a voice that screenplays and synopses sometimes constrain. The ultimate goal is simply to tell your story in an engaging way, as if you were passionately telling your best friend about a new script over coffee.
So, why do you need a treatment?
First, writing the treatment is an excellent way to force yourself to get the intricacies of your story down on paper before you even think about writing FADE IN. Let’s be honest, most of us are guilty of having jumped into a new draft when there were still gaping holes in the story, and that never ends well! The more work you put into your treatment, the less time you’ll spend writing and rewriting… and rewriting… And when it’s time to rewrite, the treatment is right there to help guide you. A strong treatment is practically guaranteed to make your script better, so why limit yourself?
Treatments are also one of the most effective marketing tools in the film industry. They are used as the middle step between the pitch and the full draft; if your pitch goes over well, you can leave your treatment behind as a next step. The bottom line is, Hollywood execs will not read a full draft unless they already know it’s worth their time, and the only way they can be sure of that is to read a stellar treatment. Think of it as reading the back cover of a book before you invest in buying it. If you know how to nail a perfect treatment, you’ve already got one foot in the door.
A treatment is a great first step when assembling your cache of marketing tools. Because you’ve already put the development work into this document, it’s relatively easy to boil it down to a one-page leave-behind, rather than starting with a one-pager that leaves something to be desired. Not to mention, if you find yourself at a pitch festival or meeting, you’ll be glad you worked out all the kinks of your story in your treatment when potentially interested parties start asking their questions!
Additionally, if you were asked to adapt source material or rewrite another writer’s story, the filmmakers would likely ask you for a treatment. It’s a quick and accessible way to summarize the structural and character development choices you’ll make as the new writer before moving on to the scriptwriting stage. It’s a situation we’d all like to be in, but not if you’re caught unaware of the intricacies of writing a treatment!
Even before you get to the marketing phase, treatments are a great way to get feedback from your peers. While not everybody has time to read a full draft of your latest script, it’s hard to turn down a few exciting, well-written pages. Feedback is the key to developing your story, and passing out a treatment is generally more readily accepted than passing out 100+ pages is. Not to mention, friends who aren’t familiar with screenplay format and style will have no trouble reading the prose of a treatment, so you can get even more feedback, faster.
Perhaps you woke up with a great idea, but you’re not sure you want to commit just yet to weeks or months of writing the first draft. Instead, write the treatment – it’s a surefire way to help you decide if the story you have in mind is worth pursuing. Of course, if you don’t feel like putting weeks’ worth of writing in to flesh out a full draft just yet, you still have one more pitch-able idea in the vault if necessary. And you never know when you might need it.
The bottom line is that treatments exercise your writing muscles, they make your story better, and they are one of the most accepted forms of marketing tools. Whether you’re a budding writer or a working writer, if you don’t yet know how to pen the perfect treatment – it’s time to learn!
Meet the Author: Micki Grover
Micki Grover is a Story Specialist for The Writers Store and has worked as a reader and analyst for Red Hour Films, Truby’s Writers Studio, various writing contests, and of course, deadbeat friends. Having been trained in every genre and most mediums, Micki strives to help passionate writers achieve their dreams with each project because she believes that camaraderie and a dash of optimism are essential to survival in Hollywood. She has been published by the St. Petersburg Times, McSweeneys, The Devastator, and countless online outlets. She holds a degree in screenwriting from Chapman University.