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How to Write a Powerful Film Treatment: Step-by-Step Guide

by Clarke Scott | Last Updated: September 2, 2021

If you have a fantastic idea for a film but, for you to have the best chance of creating something amazing, something that people will love and want to share, you need a plan. You need treatment.

What is a film treatment?

A treatment is a document that outlines the main points of a story and can be used as a storyboard for the film. The short film treatment is one of those things that you should do before approaching investors or other people who might fund your project to show them how serious you are about what you’re doing and assure them that it will work. This article will give you an overview of what kind of information to include in your “short film treatment,” as well as some examples from professionals to help guide you along the way.

In this article, we give you everything you need to know, from what a film treatment is to examples of successful treatment, as well as a detailed step-by-step guide to creating your own short film treatment.

But before we get to the guide for creating your own short film treatment, we first need to get straight on a few things, such as what treatment actually is, how long it should be, what it needs to include, and why. For without some understanding of these key elements, you might fall short of writing an amazing document for your next project.

What is a Film Treatment?

Whether it is for a feature film, TV series, or even a short film, a film treatment is a document that highlights the story of the film before it is finished. Treatments also include script title, logline summary character descriptions, and some discussion and action footage for the film. Treatments are a method to write before you begin writing the movie’s screenplay itself.

A treatment is a very effective way to describe your project, begin gathering excitement, and even help you organize your own thoughts before jumping into your own project. Treatment documentation typically consists primarily of present moment sentences in pros. The treatment takes a lot of turns. I wrote that at the moment for your enjoyment. Tense prose and writing so like the text of a story.

It’s a multi-page document that tells the narrative of your screenplay in prose. It’s a quick read, with action and little dialogue, and serves as a guide for a producer, or writer, to get excited about the project you want to make.

Why Do I Need a Film Treatment?

Let’s face it, pitching your idea out loud to people can be hard because no everyone can follow along with your ideas as well as you can. This is mainly because the idea is in your head. But if you get the treatment down on paper, the pitch becomes a lot easier to deliver and much more enjoyable for the listener.

So the treatment is a thorough description of the script’s content and narrative, including all plot holes, obstacles to overcome, and conflicts, that will help you excite others to get involved and help support your vision come to life.

Research for both film and treatment involves collecting the same information about the same subjects speaking to the same people, and shaping the same story. By working out how to tell your true and believable story on a website, you can get a deeper insight into just how your message or story should show you. It is an earlier stage of the writing process before the actual scriptwriting and thus allows drafting to decide on the appropriate story element. The point of writing a film treatment will be how your motivation and vision need to be presented on the screen.

When it comes to marketing a film, television writers find treatments helpful. They’re also useful for developing concepts ahead of time and whether or not that little spark of inspiration is worth pursuing as a future project.

They take care of a lot of the grunt work when it comes to determining your film or TV show’s tone. It’s your chance to go all snarky, emotional, and nail the world of your work before you even sit down at your favorite or best screenwriting software.

How Long Should a Short Film Treatment Be?

There is no fast rule when it comes to how long a written script should be.

While a script might be 80-120 pages long, the length of your film treatment will vary. James Cameron, for instance, is also famous for his 42-page film treatment. It’s probably worth reading his treatment of Terminator (example below).

A 10-page document is appropriate for a film or a series treatment, and if it is a short film treatment you are looking to create, then you could potentially get away with a treatment for your short film in three well-crafted pages. But some treatments are no longer than one page.

Many people do not include dialogue in their treatments, but I’ll add a few lines to elicit sentiments or even some jokes from time to time. If you’re making one for a TV show, it might be longer but don’t end up writing or turning it into a pitch deck or a show bible. That’s not the point of a film treatment.

And you don’t want to go overboard on the dialogue because the dialogue will likely change as you move from treatment to a screenplay and onto a shooting script. So you don’t want someone to reject your just because they cannot relate to the dialogue at this point.

In the end, the purpose of treatment is about getting others excited about your ideas so they will support you in making the vision come to life.

What Needs to be Included in a Film Treatment

While there may be no real hard rules when it comes to writing a treatment, there are generally acceptable things that need to be included.

Below are the most have elements for a film, tv, or short film treatment.

Project Title

It goes without saying your project needs to have a title that reflects the final film idea.

Your Contact Details

Your name and contact details

Logline

A logline presents your story in a compelling way that hooks them into the narrative. It can be one sentence and at the most three or four. More than this, then we are getting to the area of a summary.

Story Synopsis

Summarize the story into three acts but keep shot and sharp so the reader can easily see the progression of setup, conflict, and resolutions.

Opening Scene

Create a picture for the reader to clearly see the world of the film.

Act One

The setup, introductions, and inciting incident that gets the plot moving.

Act Two

The conflict, action, obstacles, excitement, wins, losses.

Act Three

The story rises to a climax in an entertaining and satisfying manner.

Final Sequence

What’s the final image/feeling/emotion that is evoked by the end. Will anyone come back?

Character List 

Include a list of the main characters in the film, together with interesting facts, backstory, and anything that makes them interesting and memorable.

You may also want to include any research, research, exposition where needed, and anything else that helps the reader understand the world you are creating.

What to Avoid in a Film Treatment

It goes without saying that you need to stay away from stereotypes and cliches, as this will reflect on the depth of the creativity of the project. People don’t get excited by hearing the same thing rehashed in a treatment.

You also want to avoid having a lack of motivation and goals for each character. Your treatment needs to make it clear what they are doing and why they are doing it.

And this must be done in a way that does not give off the sense that we’ve seen this before.

Imagine reading the treatment for something like The Sound of Metal. And this is where a lack of personal experience and or research will show up.

There is an old filmmaking cliche – show don’t tell. But then, how do you avoid this in a document that uses prose to tell the story? You do it by descriptive works that prevent the reader from having a lack of seeing and hearing the characters in that world.

You must avoid having a clear beginning, middle, and ending where there are no stakes. If you do so, you risk the possibility of readers not caring about the characters at all. And if that happens, readers will not care about your project.

This often happens with there is a lack of conflict, and nothing is being risked by the characters. This will level a reader with a sense of, “who should I care!”

Another important thing to avoid is unrealistic expectations for the film. If you’re a first-time filmmaker with no real experience, and the project is going to cost too much and is reproducible, then you will come across as unprofessional. So do not get so carried away that it makes it practically impossible to produce. Avoid being unrealistic.

But you also want to stay away from being seen as cheap. That doesn’t mean your project has to be a huge film, but it does mean you cannot be boring! Paul Thomas Anderson‘s short film Cigarettes & Coffee is an example of a small and highly creative short film.

So you want to know how to create a film treatment or short film treatment, right?

Let’s go!

Step by Step Guide to Write Your Film Treatment

Some articles I’ve read on this topic get it completely wrong, in my opinion. I won’t tell you who…m-a-s-t-e-r-c-l-a-s-s ** cough cough **

They get it wrong because sometimes it is best to write out of order.

What I mean by that is that you don’t start with the title, then logline, then summary, then the characters, and so on. That just strikes me as evidence the writer of that article has never written a treatment!

So if you want to come up with something genuinely interesting, you need an approach that gets the heart of the story right from the very start and only then fleshes it out from there.

What follows are the steps you need to take to create your own treatment.

Step 1 – The Premise

Comes up with an interesting premise for the film.

Step 2- The World

Set that interesting premise within an interesting world.

Step 3 – The Characters

Create characters in this world interesting and in a way that reinforces the premise.

Step 4 – The Stakes

Create the stakes for the character that comes naturally from the first three steps.

Step 5 – The Beats

Create a series of beats that have a cause and effect sequence to them. First happens, because of that. And because of X happening, Y naturally follows.

If you are able to do this well, the story will evolve well.

Step 6 – The Summary

Then summarize all of the above into a well written and entertaining summary that delights and excites your readers.

Step 7 – The Logline

And from there, the logline should be easy to write.

Famous Film Treatment Examples

Below are links to examples of film treatment that warrant some attention.

Mr & Mrs. Smith treatment is a great example of a “high concept” film treatment that has a lot of “punch” and the ability to hook viewers. It is an excellent example because it manages to be entertaining, informative, and creative at the same time.

James Cameron is well known for his treatment. They are longer than most but show the world he is trying to create. Here is the link to the film treatment for the movie Aliens.

Finally, the Hollywood screenwriter, John August has an example for a shorter treatment coming in at only 7 pages in length. Get it here – John August OPS treatment.

Summary

Once you know how to write a 30-page film treatment document well, your writing will improve as a whole. One of the many benefits is having a strong sense of what works and what does not, which helps you improve your writing overall. If you are somewhat familiar with screenwriting, then adapting that knowledge to film treatments should be easy; however, it may take some practice before becoming comfortable.

In conclusion, film treatments can be used to show producers, directors, and actors what your project is about. If done correctly, they can be used to sell your idea and help you get funding.

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