Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ten Steps To Great Treatments


Darling ones,

this most excellent seminar was presented to us by Simon Van Der Borgh. Now, he was preaching to the converted somewhat as I am a big fan of Chris Soth's Mini-Movie Method and Simon's approach follows a similar model being essentially an eight sequence model of filmmaking based on the old Hollywood eight-reelers.

Sequences 1 and 2 comprise the first act.
Sequences 3-6, the second act and sequences 7 and 8 the third act.

Simon made the point that there are essentially two sorts of treatments.

One is for yourself as the writer before you get down to the script where things may alter radically. Then when you've finished the script, you write another sort of treatment that sells the script to a potential producer.

THE PREMISE
THE LOGLINE
ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS
FOUR PAGE OUTLINE
EIGHT PAGE TREATMENT
12-15 PAGE TREATMENT

All these can be used as a tool at the development stage and afterwards as your selling documents.

THE PREMISE
What is it about?
What it is REALLY about - the underlying theme?
What is it trying to say?

EMOTIONALLY
Why should we care?

PHILOSOPHICALLY
What's in it for you (the writer) and us (the audience)?

THE LOGLINE
This should be simple and straightforward to sum up the premise.

Who? What? How?

Who is the main character?
What is their problem?
How will they deal with it?

What are the fundamentals?

ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS
1. To start with have three sentences for each of the three acts.
2. Describe the characters.
3. What kind of story is it?

4. Reduce the answers to questions 1, 2 and 3 to 25 words each and there is your first paragraph.

'Movies are real life with the boring bits left out'.
You don't have to include every little detail. Nail the theme of the story in that first paragraph.

Summarise the story in the present tense and be clear about the conflict which should be resolved in the final act. Always name the characters. Lead the reader through the story but with clarity and always INCLUDE THE ENDING. Simon was very specific about this.

FOUR PAGE SYNOPSIS
Each of the eight sequences can be flexible, around 10-15 minutes.
Each act has its own dramatic tension expressed as a question for the character.

This can then be expanded to an EIGHT PAGE TREATMENT
Keep to a sequence a page.

Simon then talked about BEAT OUTLINES.

These are structural.
40-60 key story beats.
Allows analysis of story from three perspectives:
- Writer
- Character
- Audience

Underneath in italics outline the significance of the story beat.

Who knows what and when?

TRANSFORMING THE BEAT OUTLINE INTO A TREATMENT

Remove the italics and you have interconnecting paragraghs that make the story active and logical that establish WHY we should CARE about the characters and also WHAT'S IN IT FOR US. This will be the essence of your treatment.

So, in a treatment of 12-15 pages:

1-4 will be act one.
5-11 act two.
12-15 act three.

The narrative form will be closer to that of a short story and should ideally provoke an emotional response, display true conviction and original insight. Easy eh? Well, no. But for me, a useful companion approach to the Mini-Movie-Method.

4 comments:

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

good post. Writing a treatment is even harder than writing a full screenplay. I don't know why, but it just is!

Elinor said...

Thanks DIMA! Gotta nail that treatment, then the rest is easy...

Jon Peacey said...

Simon was one of my tutors at Uni (one of the two I credit with getting me through the MA).

I went along as a refresher and it was as good as before- not least because of his abilities as a raconteur- it's that whole actor-thing going on. I still use an 8 sequence template I made from the first time he tutored me.

The thing I always found most useful was the breakdown into stages- Premise, Logline, etc. it removes any potential daunt or tyranny from the blank page. Not that I really experience that as such (which isn't meant to sound as smug as it probably comes across) but as I do everything on physical sheets of blank paper first and just fling stuff down at random I probably jut by-pass that 'terror' stage.

The strangest thing I've found about the documents as he's described (1 page and treatment) are how different they can been from those as described by others including some of my other tutors on the self-same course! I trust his versions though.

Thank you for writing this out for me- it means I don't have to translate my ofttimes illegible handwriting!

One minor thing I think I recall he said was: do not include dialogue. (I think Julian Friedmann reiterated this later on in the week.)

Elinor said...

You're welcome Jon.

Thanks for the reminder about dialogue, though sometimes I include that in the treatment for my eyes only, then expunge it later.