November 24, 2007
A treatment is a short narrative of your story. The treatment explains what happens at each step of your story. The treatment is not an outline, nor is it just a script without dialogue. Your outline is the skeleton of your story. Your script is the exterior with all of the details that other people will see. The treatment is the interior, the collection of internal organs that makes everything work together.
A treatment is a valuable tool (better than a plain outline) for helping you figure out how your story will flow and feel, and it saves you time. If you discover that you don't really like the story while writing the treatment, you can trash it before you spend days on a script. Likewise, if you have some of your friends read the treatment, and they say they aren't likely to watch the movie / play you described, then you can completely rewrite it or trash it before you invest all the time and energy of writing it.
The treatment isn't set in stone. Some people don't like following a roadmap like a treatment because they prefer to be more spontaneous in their writing. Don't worry about it. If you change your story while writing the script, you can always go back and change the treatment.
When you want to sell your story, your treatment is a short story version of your screenplay used to show the movie executives what your story is about, how it progresses, and what your characters are like.
Basic Treatment Writing
A treatment is like telling friend about the amazing movie you saw last night scene by scene. Pretend that your friend won't get the chance to see the movie, but she wants to know what it's all about. Explain briefly but vividly what's going on in each scene. Give vivid character description as characters appear in the story. Don't recite dialog unless you're certain that it's absolutely necessary. Don't talk about camera angles unless there are one or two that really add to the story.
When submitting a treatment, be sure you ask what what margin size, font size, etc. they prefer. (Different executives have different preferences.) Then reformat your treatment to fit their preferences. If they tell you to use a standard format, ask them to be a bit more specific since there really isn't a standard format for treatments. If they still refuse to give you details, just use the following format.
Font: 12 pt Times New Roman or Courier New
Margins: 1 inch all around
Title Page: Title, in bold, centered horizontally and vertically. Log line centered below title. Story by writer name. Contact information in bottom left corner (e.g. Writer Name, Address, Phone Number, Fax Number, Email). Document information in the bottom right corner (e.g. Treatment, Date)
Page Numbers: Top right of each page 0.5 inches from the top edge, aligned with the right margin, each number followed by a period. Example: 1.
Headings: All capitalized, aligned to the left margin, one line space before, one line space after. Headings are optional (some executives don't like headings at all), but they make reading easier. You don't need a heading for each individual scene unless each scene is very different. Instead, use a heading for each group of related scenes. Example, a drag race may be just a fraction of a movie but have several scenes in it. Just call that group of scenes THE DRAG RACE or something a bit more creative but clear. If you have to go off to something different, put in a new heading for the switch, and if you have to come back to the drag race, put in another heading like BACK TO THE DRAG RACE.
Content: Prose style, aligned to the left margin, no indentation, ragged right margin, one line space between each paragraph (basic block format).
Length: Max 1 page of treatment for every 10 pages of script. Shorter is often better, but it should still be complete.
Tense: Present tense only.