I get it – it’s fun to turn the camera on and just start rolling. But a lot of planning goes into almost any video production, from a simple YouTube video to a full-scale movie. While the filming may be the fun part for many, there are a lot of steps for writing a video.
What is a Treatment?
Before a script can even be written, you’ll create what is called a treatment. A treatment is a bit like a proposal or an outline. It’s a narrative document that establishes the outline of the story and other important notes such as character descriptions, including a title and logline (a one-sentence description of your film). This is a great way to get a general idea of your movie or video, without spending time writing the entire script. This is a good way for the writer to draft the idea and see if it sounds good, and it’s also a perfect medium for presenting ideas to a studio.
A treatment, as you can see, is multi-purpose. It’s exploratory, makes a good proposal, and lets a writer fill in any gaps in the story before committing too much time to the project.
Tips for Creating a Treatment
Treatments are a bit freeform, and there are really no rules. However, a few key characteristics will help you organize your thoughts or make your treatment stand out when presenting to studio executives.
1. Always Include a Title and Logline
Even if you don’t have something finalized, you should always include a title (and no, “untitled film” is not a title). This gives both you and potential reviewers a name to attach to the project. Remember, the name isn’t set in stone. Plenty of movies had laughable working titles. You should also include a logline, which is a one-sentence summary of your story. If you can’t summarize it in one sentence, your movie is either too complex or you need to think more about how to simplify the idea. The logline will usually center around the main conflict of the story. What does your protagonist want to do, and what stands in their way?
2. Keep it Short
If you’re using it for your own personal exploration of the story, a treatment can be as short or as long as you like. Some writers can keep it at just one page, and that’s enough. Other writers may want more detail and will end up writing 50 pages, with more detailed breakdowns of key scenes. If you intend on using the treatment to present to a studio, you should try to keep it to no more than 5 pages. Much like a resume, first impressions are important, and the decision-makers looking over your work don’t care to dive into every tiny detail. Pack the essential information into just a few pages, and you’ll increase your success rate.
3. Decide on Concept, Not Just Story
A good story has meaning. In your treatment, don’t just talk about how awesome your story is, but also why it matters. Establish any overarching themes and messages, the overall tone and feel of the movie, and the context around this meaning. A story about a woman struggling with mental health is one thing. But the same story written by someone who has been affected by mental health issues, and who can establish a positive tone of getting help and surviving through their issues is going to be much more compelling.
Learn more about writing with the archetypical hero’s journey here.
4. Establish Character Arcs
A good story has a set of distinct characters. In most stories, these characters experience a change. In your treatment, you should establish, at a minimum, where your character starts. What are the negative traits that they will change by the end of the story? What are their motivations for doing what they do? What will be the main conflicts that change them?
5. Keep it Casual
Treatments are far from official or final documents. There is no need to be formal. This applies to your language as well as your layout. Describe your scenes and characters in whatever way you feel best describes them to yourself or to the readers of your treatment. You also don’t need to stick to traditional script layouts or terminology, so you can just use your own words. No need to say “fade to black” or to say which character is speaking. You can actually write it like a book if you want to include dialogue. Or skip dialogue altogether and just use descriptions.
6. Use Present Tense
It may make more sense to use present tense when writing a treatment. This can help you keep the casual tone, as well as make it feel more like a movie. After all, viewers experience a movie or video in the present tense. Writing your treatment this way will help you visualize the final product as it’s meant to be seen.
Treatments are a necessary part of the exploratory process when creating a film or a video. Some people can get away with writing a script like a stream of consciousness, but most people need an outline to work from. Treatments will provide script-writers with an outline for story, characters, and theme. And this early planning will result in a final product that is more cohesive and well thought out. Good luck writing your first treatment!
And for more insight into film, check out our piece on 5 lessons to learn from Alfred Hitchcock.