Film treatments are helpful for writers to flesh out screenplay ideas without sitting down and writing a full-length script. Screenplay treatments are also helpful material to help writers quickly and concisely explain their script idea to any executives or producers they might meet with. Now that we've established how beneficial they are keep reading to find out how to write a film treatment!
What is a Film Treatment?
A film treatment or script treatment is a handy document that translates your script concept into a logline, a prose story summary, and character descriptions. Film treatments can be written after a screenplay is complete or before to use as a pitching tool or planning element in your writing process.
How Long is a Film Treatment?
The length of film treatments can vary significantly. Feature treatments can be anywhere from 5 to 12 pages, some even as long as 20 (or longer!). Some writers might do a shortened version of a treatment that's only 1-3 pages long. A TV treatment might be longer to include information about episodes or overall season arcs.
Since there are no hard and fast rules about writing a treatment, it's really up to the writer to decide the length. You simply want your treatment to be as long as it takes for you to impart your story to someone. I personally like to make my treatments as short as possible; I don't want to lose a reader by making a document that's too long. I only want my treatment to contain essential information to understand and be excited by the story.
How to Write a Screenplay Treatment?
Most treatments have the following sections and formats:
A logline is a one-sentence summary of your film.
Give the breakdown of your key characters and impress upon the audience why they should care about these people. What makes them interesting? What makes them likable or unlikeable? Full character development is not necessary here.
Expand on your logline by providing a summary of your movie. You might want to touch on the theme or the major dramatic question your film is focusing on. You can also mention tone, important setting factors, or any critical background factors related to the story.
Act by Act Breakdown of Your Plot
Telling your story in three-act stages can help to quickly convey the beginning, middle, and end to the reader. This format also helps you, as the writer, to understand everything that's happening in each act. An act breakdown can show how all the key plot threads come together and give writers a better understanding of their story—no need to go so far as breaking down scenes.
Remember, every treatment is different, so some may contain different elements from others! It's up to the writer to figure out what information to include to help convey your concept. For example, your script might have a very specific and complex world-building associated with it. If that's the case, you should probably have a section devoted to explaining the world, perhaps with some visual treatment examples.
Stick the Ending
You might be tempted to leave the ending vague or as a cliffhanger to leave the reader in suspense, but this is one of the common mistakes! A treatment isn't the time for that. You want the reader to be able to understand the entire plot from beginning to end. So be sure to explain the ending. How does the story wrap up? What happens to the characters? Do the final scenes convey an opportunity for a sequel?
Film Treatments Checklist
Since the structure of a treatment is mainly left up to the person writing it, it can be hard to tell if it's hitting all the marks. An excellent way to know if you've got an effective treatment is to have friends or family read it and have them reiterate their impression of the film back to you.
I also have a series of questions I like to run through to check the strength of my treatment. If a treatment answers them, it likely means it's thorough in the explanation of the project.
What's the theme?
What's the story about?
What does the main character want, and how does the conflict interact with their wants and desires?
What are the stakes of the conflict?
How is the conflict resolved?
What's learned, gained, or lost by the characters at the end?
Film Script Treatment Examples & Film Treatments Template
Want to see how it's done? We've rounded up three different film script treatment examples from actual, produced films so you can see how the writers approached their documents. You can use these as a film treatment template!
Screenplay treatments can be a great tool for writers to explore and understand a story plot before the actual writing process or demonstrate your idea to others before the development process. A story treatment is a very individualistic document, and every writer must decide what to include that best expresses their story.