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Arts & Entertainment

How to Write a Film Treatment in 6 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 5 min read

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Writing a film script takes a lot of preparation, and even the most experienced and successful screenwriters may find it difficult to sit down one day and start writing a full-length screenplay. A treatment is a narrative screenwriting tool that helps you explore ideas, flesh out various story possibilities, and develop your characters.



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What Is a Treatment?

A treatment is a document that presents the story idea of your film before writing the entire script. Treatments are often written in present tense, in a narrative-like prose, and highlight the most important information about your film, including title, logline, story summary, and character descriptions.

Treatments are a way for a writer to test out an idea before investing their creative energy fully into a new screenplay. Treatments also allow for writers to summarize their story idea so they can present the story to studio executives or producers who might want to finance the film.

Why Do You Need a Film Treatment?

Treatments can help you find your film’s story, while simultaneously helping to raise money. The research for both treatment and film involves gathering the same facts, talking to the same individuals, and shaping the same story. By figuring out how to communicate your passion, knowledge, and vision on the page, you reach a deeper understanding of how your story needs to be told on the screen.

A script treatment comes earlier in the writing process, before any actual scriptwriting, which allows you to sort out the necessary story elements you need. The point of writing a film treatment is to:

  • Set up the world you want the reader to envision.
  • Lay out the structure of your whole story.
  • Help you identify plot holes, or parts of the film you’re missing.
  • Flesh-out characters and figure out the importance of each role.
  • Serve as a roadmap that makes the journey of your film easier to navigate.
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What’s the Difference Between a Spec Script and a Treatment?

A treatment and a spec script are sometimes confused because both serve to help writers hash out screenplay ideas and potentially sell a film or TV show.

  • A treatment comes earlier on in the development process and provides a detailed summarization of the characters and events that will unfold throughout the film. A treatment comes before the first draft of a spec script is written.
  • A spec script is the longer, complete version of that story written in screenplay format.

How Long Should a Treatment Be?

The length of a treatment depends on the writer—some screenplay treatments can be as short as one page while other treatments can be upwards of forty of fifty pages. If you are showing your treatments to people who want to fund your film, it is best to communicate the most pertinent information as efficiently as possible by keeping your treatment on the shorter side— the sweet spot is usually between two and five pages.

The 4 Elements of a Film Treatment

Treatments contain detailed descriptions of the setting, theme, character roles, and plot in order to show how the story will play out for the audience. There are four main things a treatment should contain:

  1. Title. Give your treatment a title, even if it’s just a working title.
  2. Logline. This is a short sentence summarizing the premise. Learn how to write a logline here.
  3. Plot summary. How long you want your story summary to be depends on you as a writer—some writers give short one-page summaries, while others use 70 pages to tell their film’s story.
  4. Key characters. Provide a breakdown of key characters, including their arch or how their character develops in the story.


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How to Write a Treatment in 6 Steps

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While there are different ways to style your treatment, there are a few general steps most writers take.

  1. Start with your title. A title should be something that encapsulates the essence of your story. Some titles use the characters (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”), the setting, (“Manchester by the Sea”), or the premise, (“Get Out”). Titles can also be metaphorical, (“Silence of the Lambs”). Titles should be as original as possible, and not sound like or be too close to an existing film title.
  2. Compose your logline. A logline is just a brief sentence (or two) that captures the general premise of your movie. In your log line, include who the protagonist is and what they’re up against in their world. This condensed summarization of the overall concept of your film should make the reader want to see the rest.
  3. Summarize the concept. Here is your chance to expand on the shorter log line, and provide the next step in understanding how the film will play out. This is also where you can establish theme, tone, and cite any relevant background related to the conception of your story.
  4. Set up the main characters. Who is going to be in this story? What do these characters want? How will they develop? Give a brief version of their possible arcs. You want to emotionally invest the reader by giving them a sense of who these characters are and what will become of them.
  5. Explore the acts. Once you’ve set up the world and its inhabitants, it’s time to delve into the story itself. Write out how the story begins: What do we open on? Who do we see? Tell the tale of your film as if it were a short-story, and include the juicy moments to keep the reader engaged in the world you’ve created.
  6. Epilogue. The final paragraph of your treatment wraps up the narrative. State what the ending is, how the premise concludes, what happens to all the characters, and what they learn (if anything). Here is where you tie up any loose ends, and give the reader a sense of what will now happen to this world.

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