With a blog title like “Independent Film Project” I couldn’t write about manuscript synopses and not have an article on script treatments. You might think that the script synopsis would be the document to focus on here, but a script synopsis is a plot summary. The script treatment more closely resembles the manuscript synopsis in length, style and content.
(Editor: This blog was once called the Independent Film Project.)
The Purpose of the Script Treatment
The script treatment, or scriptment, is a summarization of your screenplay that defines all of the key scenes and takes the reader through the entire script using one tenth the words. One thing that makes this a little easier is that you write the treatment as prose. Instead of an open specially formatted screenplay, you write a short story.
Writing the script treatment can help you with visualizing your film. You might think your screenplay is fantastic when that’s the only way you see it. Writing a treatment puts it in a new light. You may discover some weaknesses in your movie you didn’t know were there. The treatment forces you to think about the path of your film instead of just the visual impact.
While manuscript writers often write their synopsis after they’ve finished their book, that’s not common for treatments. You should write a draft treatment before you write the script. After you complete your screenplay, you write the presentation treatment.
The draft version tells you whether you have enough material for a film. Because of the tendency to put in too much description, it can be falsely predictive when you first start writing them. The way to get around that problem is to overwrite the treatment. It’s easier to cut a script that comes out too long than to add a sub-plot to a short one.
The draft is only for you. The presentation treatment is for others. It is a tool you use to sell your script. If you have an opportunity to present your film idea, you leave the treatment behind to keep your listeners’ interest going.
Writing the Script Treatment
Your presentation treatment must cut the story down to size. Cutting description is one of the easiest ways to do it. If it still comes out too long, remove the adverbs and adjectives.
A treatment needs to cover the main character and any important secondary characters. It should reveal the structure of the story through the major events and changeovers. Describe all major conflicts, reversals and obstacles. Show personalities, the important relationships and the development of the characters. How do they change as a result of the story? The ending, climax and resolution must also be revealed. The final version of your treatment needs to be very well written and interesting. It must be a page turner that the reader can’t put down.
There should be no dialogue in your treatment unless it’s an essential line that brings a character to life and shows their philosophy. These may be used sparingly to break up the narrative.
Ask your agent or producer for formatting details. If they won’t tell you or they don’t have a preference, go with the following;
Type the treatment in 12 point Times New Roman, Courier or Courier New.
Set all margins to one inch.
For your title page, center your title in the middle of the page. Center your logline immediately below it. Centered below the log line, write “Story by” and your name.
Put your contact info in the bottom left corner of the title page. This should be Your Name, Address, Phone, Fax, and Email.
Put your treatment details such as date and length in the bottom right corner of the title page.
Page numbers should be in the top right of each page, a half inch from the top and with a period after each number.
Use a heading for each group of related scenes. Make it all caps, left aligned, with a blank line before and after. If you must switch scenes in the middle of a long set of scenes, give the new scene a heading and then for the return write “BACK TO” and the original scene name.
The text of your treatment should be left aligned prose with no indentation and don’t use full justification. Put a blank line between each paragraph.
Your treatment length should be no more than one page for each 10 pages of script.
Just like a manuscript synopsis, the treatment is written in present tense.
As with any kind of writing, practice makes perfect. Writing treatments can be a great way to explore many film ideas in a fraction of the time it takes to write full scripts.
Article by Ivan Izo.