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- TREATMENTS – WHAT’S THE POINT OF THEM?
- INTERESTING STUFF
Well we all know it’s freezing, and moisturizer sales have increased, and comfort food is on the menu and salad is now an anathema – so I won’t go on about the weather – suffice to say, it’s A NEW YEAR and Winter is settling in nicely here at Script Advice Towers. There’s ice over the bird bath and I feel like a Mrs Mean if I forget to break it so the blue tits and the very fat bullfinch that live in our Forsythia can have a drink. I have recently also discovered a very good use for ordinary salt – I thought you had to have the posh stuff for this to work but you don’t – sprinkle your bargain basement Saxa over your icy drives and pathways and banish ice completely! Ours is the only drive that is still free from snow, even though we have had several repeat dustings over the last couple of weeks – crunchy underfoot yes, but not slippy!
And for those evenings when you really just want a cup of hot milk and an early night – I would recommend curling up with LOUIS DE BERNIER’S latest – NOTWITHSTANDING – which is a collection of lovely, tightly observed, moving and funny short stories loosely based on his recollections of his rural childhood.
TREATMENTS – WHAT’S THE POINT OF THEM AND HOW TO WRITE ONE WELL
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are part and parcel of the writing experience for all committed, serious, trying-to-make-a-go-of-it writers. The reason they are so important is primarily because unless you want to write scripts for yourself and maybe read them out after Christmas dinner around the turkey carcass, you will need to sell your idea to someone who can make it happen on screen for you and this is a sure fire way of getting your idea, your voice, your message, your talent and your craft across. Convinced? Hope so because this business of treatment writing will not go away and if you are, like a lot of writers, not the best at tackling them, here are my tips to writing better treatments.
Incidentally, these tips focus on my work and experience which is in television treatment writing and selling, but apply the same principles to your film project and you won’t go far wrong.
1. BE SUCCINCT
I run workshops about how to write better treatments; there’s one coming up in June at the NFTS ( Storyline Plot and Development – see details under Interesting Stuff below) and for the first part of the workshop I spend a bit of time talking about what this word means. Succinct, brief, concise, pithy, to the point, sound bite, morsel, nugget, anyway you cut it this treatment writing business is about getting to the point and sticking to it. Avoid at all costs, extraneous, superfluous description and rambling in general. In this document, you will be presenting your idea as pared down as you can get it and as in the art of perfumery, you will be condensing the essence of your idea and by doing so, you will be revealing the best bits and tempting the reader to want more. Less, in treatment writing like in so much else, is More.
2. BE VISUAL
Astonishing I know, but very often I find myself reminding writers that we are working in a visual medium and so by the very nature of what we do, we must be visual at all times. In this treatment, you are not only drawing in your reader (who may then become your buyer, your audience and ultimately your critic) by the use of words and your ability to present a tempting tale, you are also encouraging them to visualise with you your story, your characters and the world you create in microcosm. So, every image you present in the treatment must be the right one, the only one and the very best one to do the job you give it.
3. ENJOY THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Here’s another odd revelation in regard to the craft of writing; some writers need to be reminded that we are in the business of communication. So, enjoying, exploring and experimenting with our Mother tongue and the way you in particular express yourself, is key to getting your script right and therefore, should be central to writing the seminal treatment. Treatments are about description, imagining, underlining and highlighting the best story elements of your intended story, the best characterisation and the ‘feel’ of what you intend to develop in your script. So taking control and mastering the art of enticement by deft use of our descriptive, romantic and arresting language will result in an open, alluring treatment that grips from the start.
4. BE ENTERTAINING
Commissioners and Producers can be a jaded bunch – I speak not only from general, but also personal experience of this! So be as entertaining as you can in the writing of your treatment. We are in the business of communication, education, distraction and entertainment so make your treatment sing in all of these areas.
THE GENERAL LAYOUT OF A TREATMENT:
Title: I love titles. Make yours really sell your idea by being the best you can make it. Favourite Titles? ‘Strictly Ballroom’. ‘A Matter Of Life Or Death’. ‘Call The Midwife’. ‘Roger and Val Have Just Got In’. Sometimes, it’s better that the title describes what’s in the tin so to speak, but also being succinct and summarising either the plot content; ‘In The Line Of Fire’ or giving a sense of the tone and style of the piece; ‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Being’ works better. And a title from my own stable? ‘Full English’ – a comedy drama about running a B and B in Cornwall.
Is your idea A Comedy Drama? A 4 or 6 or more parter? Is this is a serial or a series? Is it a one off or Single? Action, High Concept, Character driven? Say so here to give the reader a clear idea of what to expect straight away.
There’s a lot on the Net about the difference between series and serials and you may get conflicting opinions on this one, but the definition for me and how I have used it in my career of 20 years (so far!) in television, the definition stands as I set out below:
SERIES: A drama that is open ended. A core cast of returning characters. The backdrop remains the same and is returned to each week. There may be several stories per episode which are resolved, but the series storyline; that which is carried by the core returning cast, remains open ended. Eg: Holby City. Coronation Street. (all of the Soaps in fact) Hustle. Merlin. Spooks.
SERIAL: A drama of more than one or two parts, which has a serial element; a core cast of returning characters and an over-arcing storyline, but in this case, the storyline is ultimately resolved. Eg: Jane Eyre. State of Play. A Passionate Woman. The Lost Prince.
In a word, summarise your idea as entertainingly and as succinctly as you can – here to focus your mind a bit and because I found it also good reading, is a website from a writer who focuses on the job of selling to Hollywood but what he says here about Loglines is true in our domestic UK market as anywhere. http://www.writersstore.com/writing-loglines-that-sell
One Paragraph of tasty description setting out the world:
Here the job is to be as descriptive and evocative as possible – imagine you are writing in prose, what the reader will ultimately see on screen – so take us through perhaps 2 or 3 key scenes written as if you were writing your script as a novel.
Make these as tasty as you can. I like to add a quotation from each character under their name; something they are most likely to say or something that alludes to their particular storyline. Eg: In a treatment I wrote ostensibly about The Eternal Quest For Mr Right entitled ‘A Man For All Seasons’ (another not bad title!) I created a character called PLUM; her quotation was ‘Plum is looking for a man she can spar with; so far, she has only dated those that shop there’.
In each character biog, give a suggestion of the over arc of their storyline across the number of episodes or across the span of the script you are intending to write. Make these people live on the page.
I think this is self explanatory – but be exacting and succinct in your language whilst being as interesting as you can in your outlay of the storyline. Give the main thrust of the A (or the main) storyline with the smaller, B and C stories if you have them, running parallel.
Main Story Arcs:
Each character has a journey and here you outline what that is in story terms. Again, pithy, evocative language is what we are looking for.
The Central Message:
This will be alluded to in your pithy Logline at the top of the treatment, but here you can extrapolate a bit more and dig a bit deeper.
Throughout the writing of your treatment you must also pay attention to the style and tone of your writing and as much as possible, evoke for your reader the flavour of what they will ultimately be seeing on screen when your Must Have Drama is produced.
Here is Charles Harris Charles Harris; experienced award-winning writer-director, founder of ScreenLab and a director of Euroscript – more about them here: http://www.euroscript.co.uk/ and his take on writing treatments – he focuses on the business of treatment writing for film scripts, but the essence of treatment writing is the same for television or film scripts – I will let him take over where I left off…..
Three Tips for Writing Treatments
Writing a good, compelling, readable treatment is tough. It’s difficult enough to write a cinema or TV script – but then to boil the whole thing down from 90+ pages to one or two…! However this is a crucial part of a screenwriter’s job.
A treatment is just another word for outline or synopsis and I’ve written hundreds in my career. They all demanded 100% of my attention and pushed me to the limit of my writing skills. However, as a result I not only became a much better writer, I started making more sales.
So here, from the sweat of my brow and the depths of my experience, are three of my top tips for getting that treatment to work for you rather than against you.
1. Go for broke
Most treatments are flat, uninspiring things. Writers are so worried about getting the story down in short form that they forget to use their literary skills.
Go for the very essence of the story – in a very, very few beats – don’t try to tell us everything that happens. Instead, give us the emotion. Develop a distinctive voice that reflects the characters and setting. Unfold the theme and the meaning (in a treatment you are allowed to tell as well as show! In fact you must).
2. Be disciplined
Don’t ramble: write to length. If the treatment is for someone else, then deliver the length that they want. You will need treatments of different lengths for different potential buyers. If two pages (as for this year’s Euroscript Screen Story Competition) then make it two pages – in standard font, properly laid out and spaced. No cheating by leaving out paragraph spaces, or using 1mm margins!
If the treatment is for you, as part of developing the script, then you still owe it to yourself to keep it short and crisp. You will learn far more about your story by being disciplined than by allowing yourself to go on and on.
I believe the best way is to start with a short paragraph and then grow it organically step by step (I go through this entire process with you in Exciting Treatments).
3. Keep improving
Keep polishing, revising and improving your treatments as you write each draft of the script and then keep doing the same as you start sending the treatments out. As you keep refining, so you learn more about the script itself – characters, emotions, theme – and so both treatments and script become sharper.
I always obtain paid professional feedback before sending out a treatment, even though I give feedback to others. Everyone needs another pair of eyes.
UPCOMING WORKSHOP ON CAREER DEVELOPMENT IN TV AND THE FILM INDUSTRY; Apologies for the long link – this from SCREEN YORKSHIRE – If you think you need some help getting a leg up or just some focussed attention on your career path, this could be the one for you – Northern Based Nicky Ball – Career Development Manager tells you more here: http://www.linkedin.com/news?viewArticle=&articleID=5573754948845310004&gid=2600652&type=member&item=94390465&articleURL=http%3A%2F%2Fcancareersleedsmarch2012-esli.eventbrite.co.uk%2F&urlhash=W-kv&goback=.gde_2600652_member_94390465
INKTIP – their strap line is ‘getting the right script into the right hands’ – impressive website full of really great links and ways to get your script out there and read by industry professionals. You have to register your work and become a member – I think it looks seriously impressive for screenwriters who want to get connected and get their work out there.
STEVEN RUSSELL – here, writer /producer /blogger and SCRIPT ADVICE WRITERS ROOM MEMBER Steven talks about how to manage that nutty and knotty problem of exposition in your script writing – a useful storytelling tool no doubt, but a hard one to control correctly: http://lovesmenotfilms.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/a-useful-use-for-exposition-in-your-script/
CHARLES HARRIS – is another experienced writer trainer and I am gladly promoting his fabulous website: http://chasharrisfootloose.wordpress.com/
PHIL GLADWIN – here I am promoting the opposition – but hey, the guy really knows his onions so I would recommend a good look at this very informative website and his book on screen writing could be a good addition to the bookshelf this year too…needless to say, he also is a member of SCRIPT ADVICE WRITERS ROOM..
SHORT COURSE FROM SCRIPT ADVICE AT THE NATIONAL FILM AND TELEVISION SCHOOL – STORYLINE PLOT AND DEVELOPMENT
Check out the details here for my course and others – this is a good place to hone your craft in screen writing and disciplines surrounding the business of writing great scripts. This is a 4 day course that I have designed specifically for the NFTS and I would love to see you there in the Summer….
Many of you will either know of, or be a member of SCRIPT ADVICE WRITERS ROOM on FACEBOOK, but if you haven’t yet joined, please do, it is a vibrant lively community of writers, trainers, learners, moaners, growers and doers and I would love to see you there! Here is the link again – so get clicking! http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=237330119115&ref=mf
I hope I can help you with your writing; be it a television script, short or full length film or screen play, treatment or outline, novel or radio play, I read and script edit them all and can definitely help improve yours. Drop me an email@ Yvonne.firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get working!
BYE FOR NOW AND HAPPY WRITING.
Copyright Yvonne Grace Script Advice February 2012