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Arts & Entertainment

Proposals and Treatments: Why Are They Necessary for Filmmakers?

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

There’s simply no getting around it: Making film projects requires money. Even if you don’t pay yourself (and you should pay yourself), you still need to budget for equipment, licensing, and salaries for your crew. Assuming you are not independently wealthy and are reluctant to get mired in credit card debt, then how, and where, do you find this money? Proposals, treatments, and abstracts are all ways to pitch your film to potential funders and collaborators.

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What Is a Film Proposal?

A proposal is the most complete way to pitch a film, containing a working title, a logline, key characters, and a thorough description of all aspects of your proposed film, including the project’s history, the intended audience, the style and approach of your storytelling, visual material, biographies of your chief collaborators, and a plan and budget for completing the work. It will also include a breakdown of act one, act two, and act three and how the film coheres as a whole. Depending on the project, a proposal can be a two to sixty-page document. Often the production company or other funders will dictate the length of a proposal.

Write your proposal in the active voice, using the present tense, and in a confident tone that assumes that the project is already happening, in order to appeal to funders. If this is your first time writing a narrative or documentary film proposal, you may want to read examples, or even start with a proposal template.

What Is a Film Treatment?

Your most important fundraising tool is the treatment—an in-depth narrative description of a proposed film, written almost like a short story narrative of what you envision will happen on-screen during your film. Treatments are integral to screenwriting. They can be several pages long and should contain colorful descriptions and give specific details about characters, story beats, and actions that will feature in your final film. The treatment is typically included as a section of your proposal. This is different than a narrative synopsis since you’re not just outlining plot points, you’re trying to sell your story idea and unique point of view.

Although you may find it frustrating to write a story about your film rather than simply writing the film itself, writing treatments is an essential part of the development process and necessary for pre-production. 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.

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Documentary Treatments vs. Treatments for Scripted Films

Treatments are an especially important part of the fundraising strategy and filmmaking process for documentary projects. Your documentary proposal will be necessary when submitting film grant applications and won’t involve a traditional screenplay in the same way as, for example, a feature-length action movie. For scripted, fictional films, the screenplay treatment is typically written before the spec script and can serve as a first draft or roadmap for the screenplay. Putting hard work into writing a treatment can both help you get funding and prompt you to think about the whole story, including the main characters and potential scene breakdown, whether you’re a documentary filmmaker or are working on a narrative feature film.

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