Writing a Script Treatment

Knowing how to write a treatment is a skill that can improve your script and your marketing chances. It is one more step after the list of scenes stage and before the script’s first draft.

What is a script treatment?

A treatment is a text that introduces the concept of your film and its plot. Script treatments are a way for a writer to test an idea before investing their creative energy entirely into a new screenplay. Treatments also allow writers to summarize their idea of a story to present it to investors in an easy and quick form. When writing the treatment, the writer of the treatment’s main job is to make everyone (including himself) understand how he will treat the story.

The main problem with script treatment is that when someone asks you for it, you have to make sure that you both are on the same page as to what a script treatment is. In many cases, producers say they want to read a script treatment, but they mean a pitch (a presentation of the script in a few sentences) or an outline (a summary of all the scenes). In most cases, treatment is the film’s story in prose (written in paragraphs instead of in the script’s format). The treatment will focus on the film’s highlights, and you need to write it in the third-person voice and present tense and describe what the audience can see or hear in the film.

What are script treatments good for?

  • Marketing – The treatment is your primary marketing tool. Its purpose is to help the reader visualize the film. Producers need to read hundreds of scripts a day, but they don’t have time, so they will ask you to hand them a script treatment before you hand them the script. If they like the treatment, they’ll ask you for the script.
  • A great writer’s tool – I recommend writing the treatment before you start working on the script. The treatment will make you focus on the main story without the scenes and the dialog that might hide the problems with the story. Using a treatment will save you much time you can waste on a bad script. Eventually, if your introductory story isn’t working, the audience will not like your script.
  • Making the story better – Sometimes, you have a script with great scenes and great dialogues, but they are so high that they hide the story’s problems like story structure problems, conflict problems, premise problems, etc. Many writers write the script treatment when they have that kind of problem in their script or when something in the script doesn’t feel right, and they can’t put their finger on what it is. The treatment is also a way to make sure you use the 3 Acts structure correctly. There are more complicated structures with more than 3 acts, and if you want to go deeper, I recommend reading the book Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

How long should the script treatment be?

There are many opinions as to how long the treatment should be. It should be somewhere between 1 and 25 pages. Now, I know the last sentence didn’t help you very much, but it depends on the kind of treatment you write, the kind of writer you are, and the purpose of the treatment. The general rule for all script treatments is to keep it short as possible without being too vague. You don’t need to write every detail of the film. When you are getting too deep into the details, you might get lost. Stay focused on the main story. You can also write about the sub-plots in the treatment, but make sure they stay sub-plots. Please don’t go too deep into them.

How to write a script treatment? Step by step

I’m going to give you a few tips that will help you write the best treatment you can have, but before that, I want to go through with you as to what are the first steps you should take when planning to write a treatment:

  • When approaching writing a treatment, you first need to work on your story premise. An apparent premise will help you stay focused on your story’s backbone. Write your premise on a small note and keep looking at it while writing the treatment.
  • A good title for the film is also an excellent way to stay focused on the central theme. Please make sure the title expresses the script’s main idea and what genre it is.
  • Write an outline. An outline is a list of the main events in your story. Focus only on the plot when you do that. Write the story while focusing on the plot’s leading events and the sub-plots. Make it about one paragraph for each event. Try to make it up to 5 to 10 pages for a feature film. Read each event out loud and try to imagine it in the film.
  • Now, try to tell your story in one or two sentences. This stage is essential in understanding your story. If you understand your story well, it will save you time writing the treatment. If you are having trouble with that, there is something wrong with your story.
  • Write a Synopsis. It should be no more than 1 page, and it should tell only the plot. Put some time and effort into it, you will use it later on when you try to sell the script, but this will also help you understand your story’s main parts. It would help if you wrote only about your main character’s necessary actions that move the story forward and, as always- write in third-person- present and no characters’ emotions.
  • Your next step is to make a list of the film’s scenes in chronological order. Write only one sentence to describe each scene. Some writers like to write the scenes on cards so they can play with their orders.
  • It is essential to go through all your characters’ actions and understand why they act the way they do. Also, understand the relationships between the characters. Why are they together? At least in your mind, have their back story.
  • Make it sell. Think about how the treatment will “catch” the reader to read more and make sure the film’s style is expressed.

Tips for writing a script treatment that sells

Now that we covered a script treatment, I can give you a few fresh and proven tips to help you write an excellent treatment that will sell your script.

  • Imagine the film – Start by imagining your film. Try to sit in the audience seat and see how you react to everything that happens there. Try to focus on the audience’s feelings and experiences as you write the script treatment.
  • Keep the script treatment simple – Write the treatment so that the reader will understand completely where each act starts and ends. Some writers even mention the acts in the treatments or even the Mid-point. Try to stay focused as much as you can on the story itself. Try to avoid dialogues as much as you can. Don’t describe any feelings or thoughts of your characters. Remember! Describe what we see or hear in the film.
  • Put much effort into the beginning of the treatment – Some writers even like to write the opening shot. Also, make sure the reader can relate to the protagonist right away. It would help if you also tried to go into the film’s action within the first two paragraphs. This action has to be something that will arouse the reader to read more. Just be careful not to exaggerate. In the story conflict lesson, we talked about the impotence of the main character’s commitment to her goal. Make sure it is understood right at the start, and remember- the main character doesn’t have to stick to that goal throughout the movie until his next big goal arrives.
  • Know the big crisis point – Even before you start working on the script treatment, you should decide right at the front what it is (you can read about it in the story structure lesson).
  • The treatment should deliver the tone and the mood of the film – and the experience that the audience will get from watching it, so if it’s a comedy, write it funny. If it’s an action film, you can bring more details to the action scenes. If it’s a drama movie, focus more on the conflict.
  • Know your audience – By audience, I mean who will read the treatment? For example, if you are writing it for an actor you want him to be in the film, focus on his part of the film to look more prominent.
  • Ensure that the protagonist’s growth and the changes are apparent – The treatment also needs to deliver all the leading and supporting characters that are important to the events in the story.

Writing a script treatment is a profession. Many writers even make a living just from writing treatments. As I said, it is an essential tool for the writer but also for your marketing package. Take the time and effort to do it right. I also recommend reading the book Writing the Killer Treatment: Selling Your Story Without a Script by Halperin, Michael. The last thing you need to remember when writing a treatment is that changes may come. You are not writing the final draft, so focus on making it sell.


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