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How to Write a Screenplay Treatment That Gets More Requests

7 Rookie Mistakes You Should Avoid When Writing a Script Treatment to Give Your Script the Best Chance of Being Requested

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by Script Reader Pro in Concept, Story and Theme
June 2, 2015 25 comments
screenplay treatment

How to Write a Screenplay Treatment That Will Get More Script Requests

In this post, we’re going to not only clear up some of the confusion surrounding the screenplay treatment and also how to write one that’s bound to impress an exec, manager or producer.

We’ll also look at how to write a screenplay treatment for your own personal benefit as you beat out the story during the early writing phase.

Finally, we’ll also lay out seven key mistakes we see aspiring screenwriters make when writing a script treatment, why you should avoid them and what you should do instead. So let’s jump on in.

Just What Is a Screenplay Treatment?

A screenplay treatment is simply the plot of your story written down in prose form.
However, in Hollywood, one person’s screenplay treatment is another person’s “synopsis,” is another person’s “outline.”

Overall, the terms are pretty interchangeable. In general, though, an outline usually focuses on short bullet point scenes, while a screenplay treatment or synopsis tends to be more prose-focused.

Why Write a Screenplay Treatment?

Screenwriters generally write screenplay treatments for two reasons:

♦  They want to get their story down in prose form before writing the screenplay to make sure it’s working

♦  They’ve been asked by a production company to send in a screenplay treatment for a script they may want to purchase

If you fall in the first camp, writing down your story before committing to the script is a great way of ironing out any plot and character issues. You can then show this short story to friends or family for feedback without them having to read a whole 120-page screenplay.

If you’re in the second camp, congratulations—people are interested in your work. The company will generally tell you how long the screenplay treatment should be and any other formatting requirements they may have, but if they don’t, ask them.

What Should Go in a Script Treatment?

A screenplay treatment generally consists of the following:

♦  A working title

♦  The writer’s name and contact information

♦  A logline

♦  Introduction to key characters

♦  The story in prose form, including all three acts and major turning points

There’s no “correct” length a script treatment/synopsis/outline should be either. It can be anywhere from three to thirty pages in length (or more), but most industry people suggest keeping them short and sweet.

Screenplay Treatment Examples

The best way to get a handle on how a screenplay treatment actually works and what it looks like is to check out some real-life examples.

Screenplay treatments can be hard to get hold of, but here are a few you can view online:

♦  Big Fish by John August. Read this screenplay outline here >>

♦  Investigation by Paul Schrader. Read this script treatment here >>

♦  Mr and Mrs Smith by Simon Kinberg. Read this screenplay treatment example here >>

 My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant. Read this screenplay treatment example here >> 

 Terminator by James Cameron. Read this screenplay treatment example here >>

screenplay treatment

The 7 Most Common Mistakes We See in Screenplay Treatments

Now we’re up to speed on what a screenplay treatment actually is, and when you’ll be writing one, let’s take a look at how not to write one.

1. Too Much Dialogue

“Courtney reveals that she is pregnant. Brad asks her if she is sure, and when she knew. She says that she has kept it a secret from him deliberately to see how committed he was to their marriage. Brad then says…”

The problem with this style of writing is that it doesn’t indicate what we’re seeing and hearing. It’s “reported speech” when in fact your revelations should come through action and what we see on screen, not exclusively from the dialogue.

A script treatment full of “she says” and “he retorts” has an uncanny knack of making the most exciting scene labored.

2. All Action No Character

“Going back to his apartment, Jack finds Sadie trying to steal the diamonds from the safe. He stops her with a kung-fu kick and knocks the knife out of her hand. He strangles her and dumps the body in the closet. Then a SWAT team bursts through the door with machine guns…”

Action sequences can be great in a screenplay treatment, but if there’s no insight, it’s all plot and no character.

A high body count won’t be dramatic if we know nothing about the characters being killed. Blow-by-blow accounts of fights leave the director and actors no room to be inventive, are quite often impractical and uninteresting on the page.

3. Casting Characters

“The charming middle-aged guy (Sam Rockwell, if we can get him) gets into an argument with the Asian girl (Lucy Liu, hopefully). Then a beautiful, Kirsten Dunst-type blonde walks in.”

Naming who you’d like to see in each character role in a script treatment is not really recommended. Leave this for the casting director.

4. Getting Too Specific

“Nick dances manically around the room in his Emporio Armani bathrobe to the James Brown number The Boss.”

Likewise, specifics like these can be left to the costume designer or composer. Always remember: if it’s not important to the story, it can probably be left out.

5. Revealing the Twist

“Kaitlyn, who will later turn out to have been an alien all along who’s designed to mimic human behavior, pours herself a glass of wine.”

If we’re not going to find out until the end of the screenplay treatment that Kaitlyn’s an alien, tell us at the end.

Major twists and reversals should be introduced at the point in the script treatment when characters and/or the audience would encounter them in the film, not before.

6. Lazy Character Descriptions

“Vincent, a boring Wall Street broker, meets with Ruby, a typical waitress.”

Describing characters as “typical” or “boring” in a screenplay treatment suggests an unwillingness to think up interesting characters. It’s your job to make sure that none of the characters come across as boring.

If they’re that dull, would a manager, producer or exec want to read about them? Also, there’s not really such a thing as a “typical waitress” or any job description, so try to describe the characters as vividly as you can instead.

7. Name Dropping

“Just like in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Mike has a crisis of conscience and becomes racked by guilt. He goes to see his rabbi, but can’t confess his crime.”

If you’re sending the screenplay treatment off to someone in the industry, it’s not a great idea to name-check your favorite writers or directors. People want to feel the story’s in the hands of an original talent, not someone who’s reliant on another filmmaker’s vision.

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Avoid these 7 key mistakes when writing your script treatment and you’ll be head and shoulders above the average aspiring screenwriter. Keep it concise. Keep it story focused. And above all keep it entertaining.

Aim to get the story as tight as you can in your screenplay treatment so that any manager, producer or exec who reads it knows they’re dealing with a serious screenwriter.

Check out our screenplay treatment Story Analysis service if you’d like us to review your story before you start on the script.

Screenplay Treatment

Enjoy This Post? Read More on How to Write a Screenplay Treatment and Nail Your Concept…

How to Write a Script Outline That Will Save You Months of Rewrites

How to Use a Script Analysis Worksheet to Bulletproof Act 1

How to Write a Screenplay That’s Unlike Any Other in 6 Steps

[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

25 Comments
  1. Liz says:

    This is super helpful. I’m going to return to my treatment now and put all this into practice.

  2. Julia Boniface says:

    Thanks guys this was really useful. I’m just trying to write a treatment for my script at the moment.

  3. Brian W says:

    I wrote a script about a man who wants to be a writer but gets writers block and asks for help from God who sends an angel who writes the script for him. Can I send it to you guys? I can’t afford to pay as much as you ask though as I’m out of work at the moment.

  4. Lucie S says:

    Thanks for the information script guys.

  5. Matías says:

    Game of Thrones revient the genre for TV. My script will do the same mark my words.

  6. Lou says:

    Do I always have to write a treatment? Can I just start the script?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, you can just start the script. Some pro writers do this too, but it’s definitely a riskier approach.

  7. Rayyan says:

    Very useful points on writing treatment. Thanks you.

  8. Goshtasp says:

    I have a script treatment that is the best thing u will read this year guranteed!! Where can I send it?

  9. Ingrid says:

    It’s a shame you don’t have more screenplay treatment examples. I find this is the best way to learn.

  10. Delly says:

    Very helpful.Thank you

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Delly.

  11. I’m in. I am working on getting my email newsletter and send out my first one.

  12. EZECHINYERE EKPO says:

    Your site is a treasure trove!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks so much 🙂

  13. Farzin Youabian says:

    Screenplay ” Restless Time ” Farzin Youabian film . Hi this is Farzin Youabian and thank you for your email . I think the first page it has to be perfect Outline of the movies action and dialogue combind in half and half in my script the log line and synopsis has to click and must be short .Sincerely Yours Farzin Youabian writer and director.

  14. Rod says:

    LOL I had already written six scripts before getting into this side of things. Having searched around a little this comes across as quite handy info! I have seen so much contradicting info about screenplay writing on the net! Many thanks!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Rod. That’s what we aim to do – clear up all the confusing waffle that’s out there about screenwriting!

  15. Roberto D says:

    I am not suгe how to write a screenplay treatment .. Can you help me?

  16. Wyatt Lamoureux says:

    Good advice. Thanks mainly for the examples – I learn well from these!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks a lot, Wyatt!

  17. Mahesh Seelvi says:

    Last year, I had written a synopsis and sent it to some competition but my story was not approved. After reading your articles, I could understand that a synopsis or a treatment to film can make your treatment unique. Now this year i will send it again.
    thanks and regards

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for reaching out, Mahesh. Good luck with it!

  18. Jeff Chan says:

    I have been endlessly confused by the difference between a screenplay treatment outline and synopsis. This really helps so thank you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad the post helped, Jeff!

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