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What is a Treatment?

Updated: May 9, 2023

And why do you need one for your Screenplay?

A treatment is a document that outlines the main elements of the story in your script. It's predominantly used to pitch your idea to producers, agents, and other industry professionals before you start writing the full script.


However, treatments can also be sent alongside a script to give an overview of the project before the industry professional decides if they want to read the full screenplay.


Think of a treatment as a document that falls somewhere between your homework, a road map and a sales pitch.


HOW LONG IS A TREATMENT?


Some people will tell you it's a document between 2-20 pages long. That's fine but not very helpful.


IF it's simply a treatment for your eyes only - the blue print or step outline for you to follow when you're writing a script, then it can really be as long as you like. A 'Terrible Treatment' as we like to call it, is the document where you vomit all your ideas into a document and try to assemble them into a well-structured story; creating a road map for your script to come. The 'Terrible Treatment' can be as long as you need it to be.


BUT if it's a pitching tool to send to producers then you do not want your treatment to be more than 10 pages. Especially if you or your agent are sending it out 'cold'.


Aim for your treatment to be 3-10 pages and ideally somewhere in the middle. Producers are busy people, so if you can keep it short and sweet whilst impactful, it'll win you brownie points. The only exception for this is if a producer has specifically asked for a longer document, or given you a framework to complete.


If not, then edit the hell out of your document and cut it down wherever you can. You want to entice the reader not send them into a depression at how much you've sent them to read.


BUT WHAT IS A TREATMENT?


We're not stalling, we promise. It's just, there's different answers depending on multiple factors so it's not a one size fits all.


Overall, a treatment should be a brief summary of the screenplay and its components but many people interpret this incorrectly so we're going to break it down.


To fully explain what a treatment is, it's helpful to first talk about what a treatment ISN'T.


A Treatment is not:


A Script.


A Step Outline.


A Beat Sheet.


A One Pager.


A Story Board/Mood Board/Vision Board.


A Pitch Deck.


A Bible.


An endless stream of consciousness you typed up...


Hyperbole of why you're so great and they should take a chance on you.


A Novel.


Got it? Good. Let's get into what a treatment should include:


The Longline. One or two-sentences that explains the concept and entices the reader. It should capture the essence of the script and whet the appetite. A logline should be clear, so that we know what we're about to read. It is a logline's job to be concise and intriguing without giving any spoilers.


The Premise. Essentially an expanded logline. Here's a chance for you tell us what the script is about within a longer paragraph. Without waffling, you can go into a bit more detail, creating more intrigue. Set the scene more, sell the genre. It's the story concept, again, without spoilers.


The genre. This is the category or type of story being told. What is it? Drama, comedy, romance, action, horror, sci-fi etc. Knowing the genre will help the audience to understand what to expect. This information should be included within the premise rather than having it as a random sentence in the document.


The Tone. The tone is the overall mood or feeling that a script conveys. It can be serious, funny, suspenseful, emotional, or any combination of these. The tone is often set by the genre, but it can also be influenced by the story's themes and characters. Of course you can enter into the world of hybrid genres but typically there are tones that are associated with genres ie dark, gruesome, scary is going to pair better to a horror than a romantic comedy.


The Theme. The theme is the underlying message or idea that a script conveys. It is the deeper meaning behind the story and can be expressed through the characters, dialogue, and plot. Common themes include love, loss, redemption, justice, and more. Themes shouldn't be told with exposition, they are the undercurrent of the piece. To help your theme, you should create a sentence or a question that your script should then answer by the end. For example if your theme is 'Can true love ever die?' and your story ends with true love winning, then that's the message your project will convey to the audience. But at no time should that question ever be said out loud or stated at the end. Themes should be subtle but creating a clear theme or message will help you to keep your script on a clear path.


The Format. We don't mean the standard way in which a script is written and presented. That's the way script's are written, so it's redundant to mention that. When we refer to format within a treatment we're talking about the WAY you're telling your story ie Flashback, Voice Over, Multi-Protagonist, Multi-Strand, Linear, Non-Linear. How are you telling your story and why? What is the purpose of your chosen format? Again, there are certain traits of certain formats that commonly couple with genre but not always. And it's totally fine to tell a story in a linear fashion. Don't get fancy for the sake of it. The format should inform the story and enhance the audience's enjoyment. Shoehorning style over content never fools anyone.


The Story Overview. A summary of the full story. It is NOT a full synopsis with every single detail but instead, the nuts and bolts of the story. It must however contain the beginning, middle and end in a concise manner. Do not include cliff hangers or 'mystery ensues' etc. The producers want to know the spoilers. This section of the treatment is where you WANT your spoilers. You're not ruining the surprise by telling them the story - they want to know the story. This can feel disappointing to a writer because they'll think 'I just want you to read the script, it's so much better'. And whilst that might be true, the producer should know if the script has potential from reading the treatment. Writing a brilliant treatment and story overview is a tricky task but it's a test that you need to pass. If your story doesn't jump off the page in the treatment; nobody's going to want to waste their time reading the script. 'If it ain't on the page - it ain't on the stage'. It doesn't matter how much witty dialogue you have or cool camera angles... Story is king! So get practising this skill.


Comparisons. Comparisons are often used in the film industry to describe a script's similarities to other successful films to show that your film has a target audience "Jaws meets Jurassic Park" suggests that it has elements of both a suspenseful thriller and a creature feature. There are two camps when it comes to comparisons. You can use the first example of Jaws/Jurassic Park or you can say something like 'the style (or tone) of the film could be compared to Jaws and Jurassic Park. There's no ranking in the order of those comparisons and everyone has their preferences. But the rule of thumb in our experience is that the film meets film option works well if you have a genre project or hybrid genre project. If you're writing a drama or more of an indie character exploration then 'in the style of/could be compare to' is probably more fitting.


A Writer's Statement. Why do you want to write this project/have written it? Why are you the right person to tell this story - what's your connection to it? The writer's bios and statement provide information about the writer's background, experience, and perspective. The bios can include details like the writer's education, previous work, and industry recognition, while the statement explains the writer's motivation for writing the script and what they hope to achieve with it. If you have a lot to say in the statement then keep your bio separate.


Why Now? This is everyone's favourite question to ask and every writers least favourite question to answer. Why Now? Why should we make this now? Why is it relevant? This information helps massively to whether producers and commissioners are willing to put their money into the project. They want to know why it's relevant and why audiences will connect to it. Half the time producers don't really care, they just know that the commissioners are going to ask them. So as the writer, you better know, or make up something convincing.


A Separate Bio. This isn't always necessary, especially if you've linked your bio with your writer's statement but if you've got a good CV with wins and accolades then include it. Keep it brief though. If you know the producer/industry folk already, you can skip it. Or if you have nothing to shout about yet, also skip it.


Series Potential (if it's TV pilot). If the script has potential for a TV series or franchise, it's important to include a section on how the story could continue beyond the initial script. Talk about where the series arc could develop and what journey your protagonist will go on. Don't be so detailed that there's no room for development though. Remember 'potential' not 'set in stone'. Producers want to work WITH you - they want to create WITH you. There's no bigger turn off than a rigid writer who doesn't want to change their precious script ideas.


WORD TO THE WISE:


If you're a new writer then it's incredibly unlikely that anyone will take on your project with JUST a treatment. You'll need to write the script AND have the treatment to a high standard for anyone to consider reading it.


Writing a treatment is a critical step in the screenwriting process. By taking the time to create a clear and compelling summary of your story, you'll be able to pitch your idea with confidence and get the attention of producers, agents, and other industry professionals.



To wrap up, it's pretty evident that treatments are notoriously hard to write and get right. But it's something that you need to practise as a screenwriter. They will not only help you to pitch your work but they'll help you to get really clear about what your screenplay is about. Often they can help you take the fat off your idea and point out errors/plot holes that need sorting. For that alone, they are 100% worth doing.


So don't it right, get it written! As ever, you can always re-write and perfect it along the way.


DO YOU NEED HELP WITH YOUR TREATMENT?


We have never met a writer who loves writing treatments - it really is like doing your maths homework. So Script Stable are in talks at the moment about creating a Treatment Template to help screenwriters nail their treatments.


Let us know in the comments if this would be helpful to you. We're always looking to support writers in the best ways possible that makes sense for them; so tell us what would help you when it comes to writing treatments and we'll create something with you in mind!


 

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