(actual treatment begins further along, on this page)
The first thing a reader has to do is, not find a good story although that's the ultimate goal, but to weed out the mountain of material to be read. A reader will pull out the 'easy reads' first. Treatments are supposed to be 'easy reads', but often they're the worst. That's because a screenwriter tends to squeeze the very life out of the story, reducing it to little more than a recipe, about as fun to read as add two eggs and stir.
If there's a secret to good treatment writing it's this: Give them plenty of white, and have fun writing it. I'll explain both of those statements.
When a reader picks up even something that runs no more than four or five pages, and it's presented as a solid block of words, it will get read 'later' because it just looks like too much to wade through. However, let's take that very same story and let's put 4 spaces between paragraphs where the location, or the time frame, changes. Now, because there's space on the page, it looks much easier to read -even though it may actually come out to a longer page count.
Speaking of page count, a treatment is never less than 3 pages (5 is what I tell my students and what I say in my book) and NEVER more than 12, with 8 being the ideal. The sample I'm showing here runs 6 and 1/3 pages.
As for having fun writing a treatment, even the most gruesome storyline has got to sparkle. That happens when the mind of the writer is fully engaged in telling the tale in the most exciting way possible. Don't forget, the point of the treatment is to so excite the reader that they have no choice but to plead with you to get them a full script as quickly as possible. Well, maybe that's a little dramatic, but you get my meaning.
No matter what you might read about the writing of a treatment, I've found the way I do it to be tremendously successful for me. I happily pass it on to you.
One last word before you get to the sample: The moment you complete your treatment, send a copy of it off to the Writers Guild of America to protect it. If you're not sure about this step, go to the Writers Guild page I've set up on this website for details.
And now ... my sample treatment.
Okay. This is the way it is. ELLEN WALLACE is, well, let's just say she's a tad older than Rita Moreno. But not by much. And she's had it in her head - and in her heart - to write the most dynamic screenplays ever written. Just as soon as she has time. First she had kids to raise, then she has a husband to take care of and darned if he doesn't seem to need more care than the kids ever needed. Then there's the house and the yard, 'cause they can't afford help, not on MURRAY's salary at the Fabrication House. The design department makes all of those cute signs you see that nod and wave and blink and do all sorts of traffic attention grabbing things, and then that department sends specs to the men out back who actually put the things together and make them work. Disney and Sea World use some of their stuff. But it's a small plant, and the economy isn't as great as our government claims it is, and the boss had to let seven men go. Murray was one of them. Only a few years shy of retirement.
Now, Murray's a good guy, some say he reminds them of the fellow who played Roseanne's husband on TV, and Lord knows he loves his wife, but he's - well, he's right around Moreno's age, too, and that's not the right age to go job hunting. He believes Ellen's the most creative person on earth, the best writer, the cutest, funniest, most determined, most unpredictable - and that she honest-to-God really could come up with a blockbuster screenplay IF he were a sugar daddy who could afford to have her type all day and send out scripts to that yonder-wonder place called Hollywood. But money for ink cartridges and paper and stamps adds up. And the years are going by. And nothing's sold yet, despite the letters of encouragement and flattery. He realizes that Hollywood's probably the only place where you can starve to death while being patted on the back and told how wonderful you are. Odd place, Hollywood. Not that he's ever been there. He and Ellen live in Florida. One of the few natives.
So, Murray's run out of patience and just about run out of money, and Ellen's got to get herself a real job, one with a real paycheck, to help them out of the financial bind they're in. He has two good chances at getting her to see things his way: fat and none. The next script will be The One, you just wait and see, she says confidently.
By sheer coincidence, Ellen's best friend, LINDA HANSON, is also jobless. It happened like this. When Linda got out of high school she took a summer job in a tool and dye company's sales department. She was so good at what she did, she didn't bother going to college. In due time, she was made Area Director of Sales, then Regional Director, then National Director. She won recognition and even awards for her efforts and she used her bonuses to send a few nieces and nephews and cousins to college. Recently, she'd put a down payment on a lakefront condo. And why not? Eighteen years of hard work. It was time she did something for herself. Although she hasn't yet moved from the little cottage she's been renting from MRS. CATHAWAY who lives with her 14 year old grandson, DEANO (a young man always seen behind a hand-held camera, with his sights set on becoming a director like his hero, Stephen Spielberg) in the big house up front. Linda's having a grand time buying carpet and furniture for the first time in her life.
Trouble rears its ugly head, when the tool and dye company sells to new owners, a husband and wife team threatened by Linda's knowledge of the business. Out of the blue, they fire her. And because they claim she was insubordinate, they fight her on the matter of unemployment. With no benefits, and all of her savings used on relatives and on her condo purchase ... what's a girl to do? Who's going to hire a lady who's only had one job in her life and who's pushing the heavy side of 50?
Finances get tighter each day. Utilities are threatened. Phones are 'temporarily' out of service ... until payment can be arranged. Life. What a mess.
In mulling all of this over (most of it caught on Deano's ever-present camera!), the women notice that men charged with white collar crimes serve time in places that more resemble resorts than prisons. Tennis courts. Medical. Dental. Leisure time. A fully stocked library for research. Computers. Writing paper. Ellen considers the idea that prisons are funded by tax dollars and that she and Murry have paid into the system for years. In a way, it's like a time-shire. She's bought into it and, by thunder, she wants to collect on her investment. She wants 2 years of peace and quiet in a white collar prison where she can write the screenplay that's inside her, burning to get out.
Linda, a good Catholic girl, crosses herself and begs Our Lady to forgive her wayward thinking friend. But ... things are getting bad financially. Desperate even. She finally relents.
A major hurdle toward accomplishing the goal of being arrested, is doing something illegal. Ellen can't kill ants without weeping and Linda can't use her hands for much besides crossing herself when she even considers wrong-doing. Such a dilemma ...
Ellen suggets they 'rob' her local bank. A small branch where everyone knows her and they won't get shot. They definetly don't want to get shot. And they won't carry a gun, either. That might get them sent to a place more serious than the white collar campus she's selected. Linda's worried, but agrees to drive the get-away car though, granted, they don't plan to get very FAR away. After all, the whole point is to get caught.
Off they go one morning around ten, straight to Ellen's bank. Linda parks outside, motor running. Ellen goes in with a scrap of paper on which she's scrawled, "Give me all of your money". Not too imaginative, but it should get the job done.
Inside, she waits in line. RON, a young bank officer, waves a brisk good morning. She waves back. Then ROGER, the bank manager, calls out a greeting. Ellen nods a pleasant hello. BARBARA, part-time bank clerk, is on duty when Ellen pushes the paper across the counter. Barbara reads it, frowns, looks at Ellen, and grins ear-to-ear. "Oh my goodness!" She turns to Roger in the back of the room. 'Look what Ellen's doing! She's researching a new story!" Roger comes right over and reads the note, followed by Ron. They think it's so clever of the very clever Ellen to do her research where she knows everyone. Barbara leans to her confidentially, "I don't really have time to go through all the steps I'd have to take if this were the real situation, but if you can come back in about an hour ... Better yet, what are you doin' for lunch?"
It's salt in the wound that Linda gets a ticket for double parking.
They concede that they're just not psychologically up to their task. What they need is training.
Early one morning, with Linda at the wheel of her Toyota, they pull up to a downtown corner where an elderly VENDOR fills several newspaper machines. The minute he's gone, Ellen springs from the car, bolts to the machine, drops in two quarters - and takes every single newspaper in the bin! Heart thundering, she races back to the car and they speed away, burning rubber. Linda takes a left at the intersection on two wheels. They did it! They completed their first training mission successfully. Except that ...
Linda crosses herself and Ellen tears up.
What about the old man who earns a living off of a pitiful percentage of those quarters? What'll he tell his boss when he turns up short? Will it come out of his pay check? The ride back to Linda's where Ellen picks up her car is silent. And tormented.
Ellen doesn't tell Linda that she got up the next morning at the crack of dawn to drive downtown to that corner where, still wearing her housecoat and hair rollers, she presses several dollar bills into the old man's hand. For what? he wants to know. She can't admit to what they did; she's too ashamed. She simply folds his fingers over the money and gets back in her car. As she rounds the far corner, Linda's Toyota comes into view! She pulls it to the curb, leaps out and, wearing robe and hair curlers, presses several dollar bills into the old man's hand. For WHAT??? he nearly screams. But she can't tell him. She crosses herself and drives quickly away.
Linda's little one room cottage, with its loft bedroom, is the only place they can talk about their plans lest Murry get wind of their scheme. Long talks ... sipping wine so old it's gone to vinegar rather than good stuff ... talking as the sun goes down without bothering to get up and turn on lights ... talk talk talk ... Linda's heartbreak at never having gone to college ... her deep desire to go into law ... a dream never fulfilled once she began supporting the nieces and nephews ... their parents on welfare, or in mimimum paying jobs, no hope of anything better for the kids without good ol' Aunt Linda ... and it was her pleasure to provide for them. Her incentive. The reason she was the best at what she did. Her immediate family was comfortably set, but no one else bothered with the relatives not so fortunate. How Linda loves those kids! And now .. she can't even take care of herself, let alone another year of tuition for any of them. If only she'd gone to college, if only she had a degree ... maybe now, with two years of the prison library, and without distractions ...
Ellen's mother always told her that she'd never amount to anything, that she was a dreamer. Her father ran away from home when Ellen was only 13. The father she adored. His parting words to her were, "You'll never see me again, Monkey face. Not after today." When she asked why, he said, "I'm too disappointed in you to stay here any longer." Those words would live with her forever. What had the 13 year-old dreamer done to so offend her beloved daddy? Years later one of his friends would explain that he only said that to make her angry, so that his leaving would be less painful. But it hadn't worked out like that. It had reduced her self-confidence to zero. It had also eventually given her a will to succeed, to do something creative and beautiful and worthwhile, something that would touch people in such a way that even her father, wherever he was, would smile in favor. She would write the most incredible screenplay ever produced. It would make people laugh and cry and think. It would change the way they felt about themselves. It would make them sing and sigh. She would not die without having accomplished this one small, lovely thing ...
With new resolve they drive to another bank, one unknown to either of them. Linda parks out front. Ellen goes in with her scribbled note.
The OLD SECURITY GUARD who sits on a stool in front of the double doors, nods pleasantly as she passes, on her way inside.
There are no lines. The day is new. Ellen goes directly to a BANK TELLER, passes her the note - and watches the woman freeze in horror. Panicked, Ellen leans across the counter and points to the alarm button. "The button! Push the button!!! Push, you idiot!" But the woman is immobilized by fear. Ellen pushes the button herself. The Old Security Guard can be seen still sitting on the stool outside the doors. Ellen screams, "GET IN HERE!!! ARREST ME!!"
Finally, other BANK PERSONNEL realize the alarm is no accident, despite the fact the only person they see in the lobby is a small brunette hardly older than Rita Moreno. The BANK MANAGER comes to the floor, more puzzled than frightened, to ask what might be the problem.
Other TELLERS approach, too. Ellen screams at them to do their job! At last, the Old Security Guard notices all of the activity and, despite his deafness, comes inside more curious than anything else. Ellen sticks out her arms. "Cuff me!" she demands, but of course the old gent doesn't own any cuffs.
Linda can't stand it any longer. She's heard the alarm. She sees the Old Security Guard amble curiously inside. What's going on?, she hisses to herself as she marches into the bank where blissfully, finally, a POLICE OFFICER arrives to arrest them!!
Two items of importance haven't yet been touched on and they should be.
Murry, as much as he loves Ellen, has found comfort in the arms of another. He leaves, not forever, he tells Ellen, but to try to get his head on straight. Ellen's hurt, but amazes herself that, after the first blow of reality, after the first nights of sheer panic at being alone, she realizes that she's going to be all right. She loves Murray, but she understands he has to go. And she lets him.
Second, there's been a gentleman friend in Linda's life for the past two years. RUSS FRANKLIN. But when Precious, her 18 year-old cat, dies on the night she and Russ were to have attended a concert, Linda can't go because of her grief - and Russ doesn't get it. "Don't you realize how much I payed for these tickets?" he shouts from the other end of the phone when she calls to break their date. "Do you have any idea how hard these tickets were to come by?" Linda counters with, "And do you realize that Precious has been a part of my life for 18 years whereas you, bozo, have been in it for only two?!!!" She tells him that he doesn't connect with her emotionally or at any other level and that he's an insensitive louse. End of relationship.
And now, back to the saga of two ladies who have finally managed to get themselves arrested.
All is well. Linda and Ellen are taken into custody, booked, and locked in a cell in the women's city jail. High fives are exchanged between them. They can breathe a sigh of relief. Step One has been completed. Or, so they think. Less than an hour after their arrival, the MATRON unlocks their cell door and tells them that they're free to go.
'GO?!!!" Ellen screams in horror. "YOU CAN'T MAKE US!!" Linda shouts defiantly.
The Matron shrugs indifferently as she walks away from the open door. "Bail's been posted."
The women can't believe it. First of all, they don't know anyone who realizes they're in jail and, secondly, there's no one who'd bail them out. Even if folks they knew had funds to do so. Which none of them did.
So, imagine their shock when they see Russ standing in the jailhouse lobby. "You said I'm never here for you, honey," he tells Linda contritely. 'But I'm here now and I'll never let you down again." Linda goes into a rage. "You moron! You idiot! Can't you do anything right?!!"
The poor fellow couldn't be more bewildered.
Once outside, the women are shocked to find PROTESTORS with placards jammed in front of the jail. News vans are everywhere! Someone informs Linda and Ellen that they were TV's noon "breaking news"!
Lauria Allblue, a feminist/activist lawyer, leads the NOW groups in protesting the arrest of "two women with spotless pasts, obviously going through menopause, being treated like common criminals when any fool can see that whey they need is counseling." There are about 10 protest groups in evidence with more on the way, she announces to the press (a 'conference' had been hastily set up with 8 microphones representing various media!). Linda and Ellen watch incredulously from the sidelines.
They are instantly the "Arrest of the Century"! Networks devote huge blocks of time analyzing why apparently normal women would behave in this bizarre fashion. National magazines get in on the act with feature articles and editorials also analyzing them. Linda and Ellen can't go anywhere without attracting CROWDS. Some of them are hostile, however. One WOMAN shouts, "How dare you glamorize crime! There's nothing cute or funny about it! I've lost two children to guns and gangs! How dare you simply want to get away from it all at tax payers expense!"
That's a sobering note. Linda's deeply remorseful. Ellen never thought of it that way and goes into her own little chapel she's created in Linda's apartment, to ask forgiveness.
All of this is captured on Deano's ever-watchful, though carefully hidden, camera ...
Can you believe it? Oprah puts out the call. She wants these two highly controversial women on her program. And who shows up on network TV to 'explain' them? Why ... Lauria Allblue, of course, though Linda and Ellen do get to appear via satellite from Florida.
Comes the day of the trail, the JUDGE is both serious and stern. This is not a game, he admonishes them. Never mind their argument that they paid for their stay through taxes, that the prison system is theirs for the asking, he will NOT have his court become a media circus. Softening, he addresses their concerns ...the press of life, the need to accomplish something worthwhile ... all of this he talks about to them ... before he dismisses the case.
Defeated and deflated, the women go out of the courthouse, still unemployed, still broke, and now media freaks. Their supporters line one side of the steps, their detractors the other. Neither Linda nor Ellen pay the slightest attention. They just want to get out of there.
Before they reach the street, however, a well-dressed gentleman approaches with his hand outstretched. "Excuse me," he begins,in a well-modulated voice. "My name is CRAIG TOWNSEND with McHowell Publishers. I'd like to discuss book rights with you. I think you two might have an interesting story to tell."
The women look at each other. "Are we talking advances here?", Ellen asks Townsend.
Townsend grins. "We're talking about one million dollars in advances here."
Ellen and Linda give each other more high fives right there on the jailhouse steps!
As END CREDITS ROLL, we hear, off-screen, the voice of Deano: "Uh, excuse me, sir. I was wondering if you might have any interest in film rights. You see, I've got ... (fade)
If you want to sell your treatment, or if you've been asked to send a treatment before the production company wants to read your screenplay, you will have protected it through the Writers Guild of America. Once your registration number arrives, you'll make a cover sheet for your treatment. About a third of the way down the sheet, center the Title in caps. Under that, centered and in small letters, the word "by". Under that, centered, your name. In the lower left hand corner write: Writers Guild of Amer-W and, under that, the number you were assigned. In the lower right hand corner put your address, phone number, and your email address. Staple the treatment in the upper left hand corner. DO NOT DATE YOUR MATERIAL. DO NOT MAKE ANY REFERENCE TO ANY COPYRIGHTS other than the WGA information. DO NOT REMARK ON HOW MANY DRAFTS it took you. Now ... you're ready for the market place.