Apart from them being what we require after spending too many hours in front of our computers, treatments are something of an amorphous scriptwriting document. It is bigger than a logline (1-3 sentences) and a synopsis (1-5 pages), but shorter than a movie script (90-110 pages). What is it’s function? Where did it come from? What does it want? Why bother?
For the large part, film treatments are not something emerging writers should worry about. Generally, newer screenwriters should write a great logline to generate interest, followed by an impeccable script. Some scriptwriters (not me) write treatments in lieu of an outline.
Movie treatments describe the key elements of your story in present tense prosaic form viz. concept, the main characters, themes, conflict, resolution, but most importantly, the action or plot of your story. All the key structural plot points should be covered. They should also convey the mood, pace and tone of your story.
Studios request them when they urgently require a document and there is insufficient time to write a quality script. Also, if studios have a concept of a pre-existing literary property such as a Marvel superhero(ine) comic, they request a treatment from several screenwriters as part of the development process.
Treatments are effective sales documents when packaging a film during pre production. Furthermore, since treatments are tangible documents, they can be copyrighted. There are also WGA rules regarding rates producers need to pay writers for treatments.
The lengths of treatments varies greatly from around 20 pages (eg The Terminator) to a rarer 60 pages. Some producers ask for an extended synopsis (5-10 pages) which serves the same function.
Generally, treatments do not contain dialogue and are written as straight prose. Some writers may add the occasional heading in bold capitals to colour the read.
This is a term coined by Jimmy Cameron. He lets me call him that. Anything to avoid writing a full script. As you may have gathered, scriptments are more in depth documents ranging from 80- 110 pages. They are the penultimate step to locking down a screenplay prior to shooting. They are an extension of treatments and contain key dialogue such as “I’ll be back”. Here is a link to the scriptments for “Avatar” and “Spiderman” to give you an idea of formatting.
These are useful documents during the advanced stages of a project before a writer is hired to write the film script. Scriptments give less creative control to writers, but keep them focused on giving producers what they want by including most scenes and key dialogue. Moreover, scriptments are useful in high-tech, effects heavy films to determine if an element in a script is technically feasible. This seemingly over planning in the script stage is crucial, because scenes which don’t work can’t easily be reshot. Scriptments also tend to accompany storyboards.
An even more comprehensive document is called a DRAFTMENT. It’s an unfinished, unpolished script that isn’t ready to go out, but must. If Jim Cameron can devise his own screenwriting terms, so can I. Boom!
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