Help me write a treatment!
December 12, 2007 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Help me write a great treatment.

I'm small-time. Like...miniature time. Since I've never even come close to a screenwriting gig that actually pays, I've never written a treatment. That changed (not with a major gig, obviously, but one that would involve a check), and I need to have one hammered out in about a week. I've read various articles on it in the past, but the hivemind always helps. Any and all tips on great treatments are appreciated.
posted by Roman Graves to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I assume Roman Graves is non-WGA doing work for a non-sig company, ryecatcher.

When forced to write them, I write them like a loose, fluid short story from an omniscient point of view where I turn and address the audience when necessary ("And holy shit, Jason has a BOMB strapped to his chest" or "This is when we realize that Audra is actually Jenna's sister", etc.)

Don't be afraid to call out important points that people need to get, or to do a bit of telling instead of showing ("This apartment is depressing. Very, very depressing." or "John and Isabelle have crazy crushes on each other, and we can tell.") Subtlety is not your friend, but be brisk. Don't get all purple in your prose.

The vast majority of screenplay-related documents are horribly boring and dry to read. If you can make whatever you write easy to read as a document in itself, I think you can ignore pretty much all other stupid rules.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:21 PM on December 12, 2007

IAAW, but not one who's had a lot of luck with treatment writing, so take this with a heap of salt:

Write yourself an outline covering the 5 'tentpole' points of your script, [by tradition (1) the point of attack (2) beginning of the second act, (3) midpoint (4) culmination (5) twist/turn/resolution] and then fill in the minimal key scenes that will serve as connective tissue between them. Use the outline as the skeleton of a cohesive narrative that you string together with as little extra verbiage as possible.

Don't be overly preoccupied with writerliness – avoid literary flourishes and whimsy – and just tell your story without getting in the way. Make sure that you establish winnable conflict, clear and consistent characterization, and that you keep your locations/personalities/motivations simple and traceable.

A treatment is gestural, not synoptic, and you shouldn't spend too long with your substories, minor plots, and the tones, moods or construction of individual scenes. Keep your prose terse and specific, and as visual as possible, because the likelihood is that it will be read with great haste.
posted by mr. remy at 10:57 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

Above all, do your best to wrangle your story into a traditional dramatic shape with stakes that matter, and a real sense that there is something to be lost or gained. You must avoid the trap of an incoherent summary of action, e.g. 'we find ourselves at a farm where X fights with Y and discovers a clue' and make sure that you portray each action as character driven, and the choice made toward a measurable goal, instead writing (dumb e.g.) 'X tries to talk with Y, but tensions flare and a fist-fight knocks a clue from Y's pocket' in a way that lets us know the human element and not the plot progression.

Make sure you do not write for the market, or for genre/commercial expectations: write with truth toward the reality and integrity of your character situations, and let the culmination feel like it is inevitable (but not expected) outcome to the world you have created.
posted by mr. remy at 11:08 PM on December 12, 2007

Best answer: Treatment is one of those things that means a lot of different things to different people.
Why do you need this thing? Is it a marketing tool? A working tool for the actual script? How long is it supposed to be? Who's going to be reading it and why?

A favorite example of mine is Simon Kinberg's treatment for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Only you can say how closely it fits what you need, but there's some good stuff in there regardless. Note that Kinberg starts off with what amounts to an elevator pitch that also sets up the feel of the movie, the tone, the characters, stuff that the reader can then carry into the story section so he doesn't have to explain as much.

Perhaps the biggest tip to take from it is how he moves in and out of the story, occasionally stopping to go into a moment in considerable depth, but otherwise skimming lightly over the surface so the whole thing stays breezy and readable. What you want to avoid is a lengthy recitation of every single plot point in the story. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. That's going to be way too long, and it's going to be deadly dull to read.
posted by Naberius at 1:52 AM on December 13, 2007

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