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DOCUMENTARY TIP #7: Writing a Strong Treatment

Treatments are an invaluable tool at any step of the way in the filmmaking process. They are a succinct and descriptive way to get across the elements of your film to others. They are usually 1-2 pages and contain only the essential information about your project. (Sometimes a treatment can go up to 4 pages, and then would include a longer narrative story summary, and more character information). The writing should be well-organized, grammatically correct and exciting and tantalizing to read. You want to hook your reader and get them interested in your project so that they want to know more and so that they become a supporter of the project.

It’s essentially a marketing tool that is helpful in fundraising, distribution, and many other steps of the filmmaking process. Writing a treatment can also really help you sharpen your own ideas and concept of your film.

Your treatment should contain the following elements:

-Synopsis – a short (1 paragraph) description of the broad themes of your project, and its place and time, as well as a short description of what happens in the film.  Usually the Log Line is contained therein.  The Log Line is a one line description of the action in your film, i.e:

“Twenty male inmates in a Kentucky prison rehearse and perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest over the course of one year.”

-Main Characters – Who are the main characters and why are they interesting?  What do they go through and how do they transform?  What do we learn from them?

-Story Structure – a brief mention of how your story will play out structurally, and include any interesting or unique elements of storytelling that you plan to implement.

-Style – How will this film look?  What’s your style?  Be specific, use descriptive adjectives and references.  (Do this throughout the treatment)

-Format and other production information:  What format will you shoot on?  Film, video?  Are there any interesting aspects about the location, timeframe, etc?

-Production Schedule and Timeline, if relevant

Spell check! Have someone else who is a good writer (it doesn’t have to be a filmmaker) read your treatment before you send it out to anyone.  Make sure it makes sense and flows well, and piques their interest. This is your chance to get someone excited about your project.  Don’t blow it with sloppy or vague writing.  Revise, revise, revise.  Give it all you got!!

For more tips on Developing your Documentary Ideas, check out our Documentary How To video tutorial, which goes over the legal and creative steps to developing your ideas to the fullest in order to get funding underway.