You have an idea for a movie. A good idea. Maybe the best anyone's ever had. You've seen what's showing at the mall and, Lord knows, you can do better. You'll raise the money and produce your own film! Overwhelmed by your own ambition, you decide to just write it and ship it off to Spielberg. Yeah. He'll love it.
The storyline has been brewing for a long time now in your mind. The couple of friends bright enough to comprehend the significance of your idea have agreed that you've got a real winner. But they're gone now. They're home watching a game on TV, or cuddling it up with their special cozy while you, driven, misunderstood and lonely, sit and stare at your cold computer, willing something to happen after those magical first two words: FADE IN.
But nothing does.
Not to worry. You need to write a "treatment". It's your first step and Step #1 is so simple you're going to feel embarrassed that you ever let it intimidate you:
STEP #1: HOW TO WRITE A TREATMENT: TALK YOUR STORY OUT ON PAPER. That's all there is to it. Easy? Sure it is. You just start talking it out the way you'd talk it out with your best friend, letting it flow onto the word processing screen, or onto paper, or whatever. Don't worry about how it sounds or about the words you're choosing and, for heaven sakes, don't worry that it doesn't look like a script. That comes later. Right now, it more resembles a letter home. Once you get the entire story on paper, the beginning, the middle and the end, go back and edit. Spruce it up, tighten it, make it glow. Make sure it sounds a lot like what you'd say if you were telling someone about a wonderful movie you just saw. You wouldn't burden them with tedious he said-she said details. They'd fall asleep. And so will your reader. Just hit the glorious highlights, but in a logical sequence of events.
IMPORTANT TIP: You wouldn't start assembling ingredients to cook a dish unless you knew what dish you're preparing; you wouldn't start out on a trip without knowing your destination. Don't start writing your screenplay until you know how your story ends!
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS: (1) What's so special about a treatment? (2) How is it supposed to look? (3) Do I submit it along with a screenplay when I'm ready to market my work? (4) Can I protect my treatment from theft?
ANSWERS, ANSWERS, ANSWERS: (1) What's special about your treatment is that it's the only chance you'll get to be truly creative in the writing of a screenplay. It's the meat of your script. It's where you'll work out story points and conflicts, it's where you'll find the holes in your story and fix them. It's your guide in writing your script, because a screenplay is nothing more than a set of notes to a production crew and those notes come from the interpretation of this original treatment. It's the place where your mind will cartwheel and nose-dive. It's where you are truly the Creator.
(2) It's supposed to look like the sample in my book. That is: it's no shorter than 5 pages and no longer than 10, though 8 is the ideal. Always written in present tense, with characters names CAPPED as they are introduced for the first time. Readers yell, "Gimme lots of white", meaning they do NOT want to face a sheet of paper with blocks of print on it. It looks overwhelming. When there's a significant time lapse, or change of location in the story, I always leave from 4 to 6 spaces and begin again from there. It simply looks easier to read. Readers almost always go through their stacks of material to get to their 'easy reads' first.
(3) Do you send a treatment along with your script when you're ready to begin marketing your work? Theatrical: Never, unless a producer specifically asks for it. Television: Sometimes it's all you'll send.
(4) Can you protect your treatment from theft? Not really, though you have to make every effort to keep it from being plagarized by registering it with the Writers Guild of America. The best protection you can give yourself is checking out the integrity of those with whom you deal, and that's not always easy when you're in Calcutta and the folks receiving your work are in California. One of the most vital services an agent or attorney can provide is simply forwarding your work with their cover letter. You're creating a paper trail, in case you ever need it.
TREATMENT CHECK LIST: . Always write in present tense . Large spaces between change of locales or time lapses . Make it look as interesting as possible . Stay concise and to the point . Use an absolute minimum of dialogue . Write in a normal, conversational manner. Make it sing! If you don't enjoy writing it, no one will enjoy reading it. . Not shorter than 5 pages, nor longer than 10, with 8 being the ideal. . Pages are numbered either in the bottom center of the page or in the upper right hand corner, one-half inch from the top, one half inch from the right edge of the paper. . Fastened with a staple in the upper left corner . Always include a cover sheet with the title centered over your name. Include your address, phone number, your e-mail address, and the registeration number issued to you by the Writers Guild of America.
TIP: When most people write a treatment they wring the life out of their story. A treatment must be so juicy, so flavorful, so full of energy, that the reader just HAS to ask to see the entire script. Make their mouth water for MORE!
INSIDER STUFF: A treatment doesn't tell someone THE story ... it tells them ABOUT the story.
(Excerpt from "Tools of the ScreenWriting Trade", Chapter 2: "Puppies and Papers" Step #1". Copyright Esther Luttrell, 2002)