Writing the treatment (or book)

Posted on August 30 2010 by James

I’ve been very busy these past few days completing the treatment for Act 1 of Shocking the Donkeys.

When you read a screenplay for a film, you’ll find it’s rather like looking at the script for a play. It’s full of dialogue, and descriptions of what the characters look like and do.

Before reaching the dialogue stage, most screenwriters will produce a treatment (some film people call it the book). This reads more like a novel. It’s a detailed description of every moment of the film, but with very little dialogue.

Imagine, for a moment, you are watching an old silent movie with someone who is completely blind. The blow by blow description you give is, in effect, a treatment. There’s no dialogue – just lots of description of what you see on the screen. So good advice to beginners is to write a treatment by imagining you are describing your movie in much the same way.

Why bother?

When writing a treatment you can let your ideas flow, unrestricted by time and space. You enjoy the same freedom as a novelist, whilst keeping to the proper structure for a movie.

Once the treatment is completed, you can re-write, rebalance one scene against another, and make all the necessary changes. Crucially, you’ll know how much time you can allow for each scene. If one scene needs more, another will have to have less. All these choices can be made before you start writing dialogue.

Imagine painting the Mona Lisa only to be told after it’s finished that it’s too large and the canvas needs to be cut down.

Cutting down the dialogue of a fully written screenplay amounts to much the same thing. Much better to start painting on the right sized canvas in the first place.

Working out the treatment first ensures you know before you start writing scene 34 that you only have one minute (which is one page of script) and you can discipline your writing accordingly and make every line count.

Comments are closed.