A film treatment is a written document that describes the story that your screenplay will tell. Most film treatments follow a narrative format and include key information about the characters and the plot while guiding the reader through the story arc and the acts of the film.
Screenwriters generally develop film treatments before writing the screenplay. That’s because film treatments are ideal for working out ideas and narratives before investing time and energy in the screenplay.
Understand the Script Film Treatment
Before writing a film treatment, it’s important to know how this document fits into the rest of your workflow. Learn why you need one and how it works with other elements of the writing process.
Why Do You Need a Film Treatment?
Most screenwriters create film treatments for one of two purposes:
- Working out a complex idea: Writing a film treatment allows you to structure the story and find issues with the plot. It can also help with world-building and developing compelling characters.
- Marketing a screenplay: Before deciding to produce or invest in a movie, studio executives often read film treatments. A great film treatment can get producers interested in your screenplay.
Scene from “The Terminator“
How Long Should a Treatment Be?
Guidelines for the length of film treatments vary widely. Some simpler film treatments are just a page long. Others are more complex and span dozens of pages. For a typical movie, film treatments are about five to 10 pages. That’s long enough to convey the right information without overwhelming the reader.
What’s the Difference Between a Spec Script and a Treatment?
Both a spec script and a film treatment come before the screenplay. However, there are a few important differences:
- A film treatment is one of the first steps in the screenwriting process.
- A film treatment summarizes the concept and the main elements of the screenplay.
- A spec script tends to be much longer and more detailed than a film treatment.
- A spec script is generally in screenplay format rather than narrative format.
How Is a Treatment Different From an Outline?
Like a film treatment, an outline also comes before the screenplay. Yet the two documents serve different purposes. An outline is an organizational tool that allows screenwriters to put scenes in order. An outline can also help you identify any plot holes or redundant scenes.
What’s a Scriptment?
A scriptment is a combination of a film treatment and a screenplay. It uses the main elements of a film treatment to tell the story, and it also includes select screenplay components like scene headings and dialog.
Although a scriptment has more detail than a film treatment, it’s much shorter than a screenplay. That means it can serve the same purposes as a film treatment, but it can’t replace a screenplay.
The 6 Elements of a Film Treatment
The most effective film treatments include six essential components. Be sure to include these parts in your treatment:
- Title: The confirmed or working title
- Format and Genre: The film type and category
- Logline: A one- or two-sentence summary
- Plot Summary: A rundown of your story
- Main Characters: An introduction to the protagonists and their character development
- Contact Details: Your name, number, email, and Writers Guild of America registration number
Film Treatment Dos
Keep these tips in mind as you write your film treatment:
- Write in the present tense: Using present tense helps show action and describes events as they happen.
- Use it as a roadmap: Let your film treatment guide you through the screenplay.
- Keep it simple: Since your film treatment can help you organize and plot ideas, make it as easy to understand as possible.
- Convey emotion: Include major moments of fear, surprise, happiness, and other emotions and convey the emotional arc of the story.
- Start with the first and end with the last: All scenes from your screenplay won’t make it into the film treatment, but it should include the first and last scenes. This strategy helps the reader envision the environment and visualize the conclusion.
Film Treatment Don’ts
Avoid these common mistakes when writing a film treatment:
- Being overly specific: Since the film treatment comes early in the writing process, many details may remain unknown. Avoid committing to specifics, such as stating the names of the actors you want to play the characters.
- Writing too much: Some longer film treatments are 40 pages or longer, but most are much shorter. Keep yours concise and save your energy for the screenplay.
- Using images or nonstandard formatting: The writing should be the focus of the film treatment. Including images, dialog, or unusual fonts can distract from the main purpose.
How To Write a Film Treatment
From deciding on a title to tying the narrative together, follow the steps below to produce an effective treatment.
1. Decide on a Title
Begin your film treatment by stating the title of the screenplay. Your title can refer to the setting or the characters or it can be more abstract. Either way, make sure your screenplay has an original title that doesn’t copy the name of an existing movie.
2. Write a Logline
Next comes the logline, which is just one or two sentences long but has the power to make a big impact. Since the logline is the first thing a studio executive reads after the title, it has to be compelling. Use this space to hook the reader with an intriguing summary of the concept, conflict, and arc.
3. Summarize the Plot
After you’ve condensed the concept into the logline, you can unpack it in a longer plot summary. Here, you can explain the theme and tone of the screenplay and discuss the backstory of your narrative.
Scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales“
4. Describe the Characters
Next, introduce the reader to your main characters. Rather than focusing on actions, highlight character motivations, and explain why they do what they do. Discuss the character arcs and the protagonists’ emotional development.
5. Use the Three-Act Structure
Outline the plot using a standard three-act structure. Divide the story into the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. Explain how one act leads to the next, including major conflicts and key turning points. When you finish, look over your work and make sure you’ve mentioned the who, what, where, when, and why of the story.
Use this format to structure the acts:
- Act I: One to three paragraphs
- Act II: Two to six paragraphs
- Act III: One to three paragraphs
6. Wrap Up the Story
Finally, conclude the story and provide a resolution. Mention what the characters learn and how they’ve developed throughout the screenplay. You can also hint at what the future holds for this fictional world.
Film Treatment Examples
Reviewing treatments, scriptments, and outlines for successful movies can help you understand how to make yours as effective as possible. Get inspiration from these well-known film treatment examples.
Scene from “Avatar“
“Battle for the Planet of the Apes” Outline
Scene from “Battle for the Planet of the Apes“
“Big Fish” Outline
Scene from “Big Fish“
“Godzilla” Film Treatment
Scene from “Godzilla”
“Halloween H2O” Film Treatment
Scene from “Halloween H2O”
“The Mask of Zorro” Film Treatment
Scene from “The Mask of Zorro”
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” Film Treatment
Scene from “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”
“My Own Private Idaho” Film Treatment
Scene from “My Own Private Idaho”
“Planet of the Apes Revisited” Film Treatment
Scene from “Planet of the Apes Revisited”
“The Shining” Film Treatment
Scene from “The Shining”
“Strange Days” Scriptment
Scene from “Strange Days”
“The Terminator” Film Treatment
Scene from “The Terminator”
You can learn more about film treatments and discover how to improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute here.