You have an idea for a film, and you’re eager to write a screenplay. But it can be hard to sit down and write a script without a plan. A film treatment is a screenwriting tool that helps you organise your story. It’s a detailed synopsis that allows you to present the story idea before writing the whole script.
Even more, a film treatment can help you apply for development funding and production financing. So, whether you are a writer, director or producer, creating one might be worth the effort. Below you will find a quick breakdown of the whole process including a few film treatment examples.
What is a Film Treatment?
A film treatment presents your entire screenplay idea on a couple of pages. It includes information on the title, genre, main characters, and a three-act structure synopsis. You don’t need to have a treatment when you make a film, but many filmmakers create one.
The treatment serves two significant purposes in the film industry. First, they allow the screenwriter to test out an idea, and many writers rely on them to help write the script. Second, they can help encourage financing. This could be development funding for the screenwriter or production financing. Many financing opportunities, such as applying for tax incentives and government grants, ask for treatments.
The length and style of a film treatment can also vary per project. Most are short (3-5 pages), and financing applications will have guidelines.
However, some filmmakers choose to write a very detailed treatment. A lengthy treatment example is James Cameron’s Terminator (1984) which sits at over 40 pages long. You can also find more examples of film treatments below.
If a detailed treatment helps you write your screenplay, then do it. However, if you plan on other people reading it, then keep it short. If you are submitting your treatment to financing, there may be rules and regulations on length.
What’s on a Film Treatment?
Even though treatment varies, the format is the same. Its purpose is to communicate all the essential scene elements of your story to a reader.
Additionally, it should not include any dialogue, images or distracting fonts. Keep it simple, and make sure to get feedback on the first draft.
Below you will find more detail on what should be included in your treatment, including examples of film treatments.
- Title – working title followed by your name
- Logline – a sentence summarising your film
- Synopsis – summary of your story in three acts
- Characters – major character breakdowns
Your first step is to make sure your script has a good title. It doesn’t need to be set in stone – a working title is fine. If you are struggling to develop a title, a good technique is to refer back to the script’s genre. A good title will also help your script get read by a producer. For example, the title ‘Die Hard’ screams action film and ‘Psycho’ horror.
Next, you need to write a logline. This is a one or two-sentence summary of your film. You find these within the marketing for cinema listings and on TV guides. For a logline film treatment example, look at the descriptions of movies on streaming platforms. This can be used throughout film marketing and can also help hook interest in a script.
- American Beauty (1999)- Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis, decides to turn his life around after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s friend.
- Finding Nemo (2003)- When his son is swept out to sea, an anxious clownfish embarks on a perilous journey across a treacherous ocean to bring him back.
- Stranger Things (2016) – When a young boy disappears, his mother, the police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.
The synopsis is the main chunk of a film treatment. As mentioned, this can be any length, but shorter is best. An easy way to write your summary is to break down the three-act structure of your script (beginning, middle and end). Then write a paragraph or page on each set-up.
You should mention the main characters and any vital scenes that drive the story forwards. Think of this as a short story version of your film and narrate what happens using the present tense. You can find a more detailed synopsis treatment example below.
- Beginning – The set-up introduces the main characters, location and situation. The first act should also have a hook that grabs the reader and kick starts the story.
- Middle – The conflict is where the bulk of the story happens. What is happening to your characters on their journey, and why should we care about them.
- End – The revolution, how does the film wrap up and is their room for a sequel.
It’s also a good idea to list your main characters; this includes a physical description and their personality. Start with their name and age, then flesh them out. Character descriptions are another way to entice the reader and potentially gain funding for a project. They should only be as short as one paragraph per each main character.
American Beauty – Lester Burnham’s character description by Sam Medes.
The protagonist of American Beauty. Lester is married to Carolyn, with whom he has one daughter, Jane. Lester works for an advertising agency, lives in the suburbs, and “enjoys” all of the trappings of modern, middle-class existence. At the film’s beginning, he is deeply and fundamentally unsatisfied with his life, but by its end, he has rediscovered an appreciation for the beauty of human existence.
Examples of Film Treatments
Big Fish (2003) by John August
A first act breakdown to help organise the script scenes.
Sinbad (1994) by Terry Rossio
A character breakdown within a Hollywood film treatment.
The Dead Zone (2002) by Michael Taylor
A synopsis breakdown of drama series single episode.
Batman (1992) Produced by Eric Radomski
A synopsis scene breakdown of an animated series single episode.
Free Film Treatment Template
If you are making a film, be sure to check out our other free film production forms.
To sum up, a film treatment is a story roadmap for the writer. It’s not essential but can help you get all your ideas out in one place. So, next time you write a screenplay, why not try to organise your thoughts on a page or two.