How To Write a Treatment: Clear Steps With Examples

The odds are high that your chosen script exec/producer/director will want you to write a treatment for the show at some point (alongside a great screenplay for the pilot episode).

Opinions differ wildly on how to write a treatment, but if you follow this page by page guide you can’t go too far wrong.

Your treatment will contain:

Title Page 

(One page)

This has the title of your show, your name, and your contact details.

If you must use an image you can, but make sure it’s a brilliant one.

Summary Section 

(Preferably one page, definitely no more than two)

Start with the title of the show at the head of the page.

Then tell is about format and length of episode:

eg “6 x 60’ Returning Series” or “2 x 45′ Serial”

Give us your logline. (A one or two sentence summary of the entire show.)

Eg: The true story of Amerian Lydia Atlas and British aristocrat Lady Marion Moray, THE LADIES CLUB explores the lives, loves and battles of the two women who set up an all-female wrestling troupe amid the female wrestling craze of 1902, and in doing so changed the landscape of sport forever.

Then write these paragraphs:

PARAGRAPH: INCITING INCIDENT:
What starts the series running? You’ll need to give us a sense of the lead character, their world, and how the inciting incident creates a clear trajectory into battle.

PARAGRAPH: WHAT HAPPENS?
The whole story of the series – and with the punchline at the end of the first series. It’s probably going to be an expansion of the logline above in some way. And yes, I mean a single paragraph!

PARAGRAPH: WHY DOES THIS GIVE US DRAMA?
What is it about this world that is interesting, and is going to lead to endless dramatic stories?

PARAGRAPH:
Quick description of the lead character, bringing out an internal contradiction or two and how they will come into conflict with the other lead character(s)

PARAGRAPH:
Quick description of another lead character. Ditto re internal contradictions, and show how they will come into conflict with the other lead character(s).

PARAGRAPH: (Optional)
Quick description of another lead character. Ditto, and show how they will come into conflict with the other lead character(s)

PARAGRAPH: What is the single most interesting thing about this show? Why will people be desperate to switch on?

Preferably get all the above onto one single page. If you get this page right you don’t need any more detail than this.

Two pages for this section absolute maximum

A little more detail on the contents of the show

(One page)

This is a new page, on which you go into a little more detail about what the show looks and feels like:

  • Give a list of really cool things about the series that is going to entertain.
  • Mostly make this list full of examples of the sorts of conflicts we’ll see
  • Think showman – think about the spectacles on screen, get yourself into the mindset of a carnival barker selling your show
  • Make each conflict seem powerful, and emotional – you are writing a list of Really Cool Things that make the reader feel emotions.
  • Make the list bullet points, short sharp, punchy, vivid, powerful – no more than a line or two each

You want a good few of these bullet points – maybe up to ten

Your list needs to impress with a sense of vivid abundance – the reader wants to feel you have loads of ideas

Let’s go with The Ladies Club, that show about Edwardian women wanting to become professional wrestlers.

So this page would look like:

THE SERIES

Amongst other things, THE LADIES CLUB contains:

  • Two strong women clashing and uniting as they chase their dream of becoming professional wrestlers
  • The men around them falling out over this dream. Some actively supporting, others simply mocking – and still others working to sabotage.
  • Romance, sin, and revenge, as Lydia’s love for a married man stops her noticing the perfect husband right in front of her.
  • How the women form a travelling troup of wrestlers, and give exhibitions, issuing challenges to ‘any lady under ten stone’, or even male lightweights.
  • How the death of his beloved daughter drives Lydia’s boss, the tour manager, to seek revenge on Lydia.
  • Women from all ends of the social, political and sexual spectrum finally coming together in camaraderie in and out of the ring.
  • Etc – 8, 10, 12 of these Really Dramatic Things

Then close this page with a strong restatement of another reason why this show is simply must see:

THE LADIES CLUB explores how these extraordinary women lived exceptional lives, defying convention to make history and change the future for themselves and generations to come.

Format section

(One page, maybe one and a half pages)

Use this section to describe the show format.

You need to tell us what the show will feel like to watch, how and why are we going to care.

Tell us what the world is, what it feels like, what our interests in the show will be, and the sorts of emotions we’ll feel.

Tell us why the world of the show is interesting, and rarely seen.

Or, if it’s a world that is frequently seen then tell us why your angle on it is so interesting and never-before seen.

Explain what kind of story balance we’ll see. Lots of stories of the week, one single story broken into 12 episodes, or a mix? Are they big, primal stories? Are they small, simple stories? A mix?

Riff a little more about tone, the conflicts, the single, powerful thing linking your lead characters in battle.

Don’t repeat what you’ve already written in the opening pages, but illuminate and amplify.

This is like the bit in the meeting where they are interested and leaning back and giving you room to tell them more about the show and why it’s really great.

Characters Section

(Several pages)

This is where you tell us about the characters in this show.

Begin by giving us a page each on the lead characters, whoever they are.

If you are writing a single drama, or a closed serial, this could be the protagonist, followed by the antagonist. If you are writing a returning series this could be the two lead characters in a buddy show.

Basically pick out the two or three characters who we will think about most when we look back on the show.

Don’t give us more biography and backstory than we need – remember, you’re really trying to convey a sense of their energy.

Again, make them each character human, vivid, full of interesting internal conflicts, with at least one strong external desire and internal need that will generate lasting conflict within the character, and then try to show how they will naturally fall into conflicts with other characters.

Then do a section on:

Supporting Characters

(About a third of a page per character) and

Tell us about all the significant characters in your drama.

Again, mix a little biography, energy, and conflicts (Internal and external) to make each character come off the page.

Story Section 

(Multiple pages. As long as it takes.)

Pilot episode story

Firstly tell us the story of your pilot ep in two or three pages.

Make sure it sings along, is never boring – and ends with a bang and a twist and a really great hook. Ending big like this is key – don’t rush it, don’t graft something on – getting this right is a huge part of the battle.

Then, if you have a serial story, tell it now:

Serial Story:

Again, you can take two or three pages over this if you want.

Make sure there are lots of twists and turns. You can indicate episode breaks if you want, or you can group the story into sections so the breaks are implicit.

And finally, if you have guest stories, you need this section:

Guest Stories:

Write single paragraphs on each of the guest stories you could run.

The idea is to show the fantastic fecundity of this world for stories, so I’d make sure you have at least ten story ideas here. You want to let them know you have an endless fund of emotionally affecting stories.

Length

If you do all this in detail your final treatment could run to over well over fifteen pages.

Crazy long some people might say, but I think it’s not too long if it stays interesting.

I worked on a treatment in exactly this format, that ran to 21 pages, and it sold to the broadcaster in question without its feet touching the floor.

We were lucky – the commissioner loved the subject, and we got the tone exactly right so it was a brilliant energetic read.

If you’re worried about length I’d probably try to get buy in with a shorter, two page version before hitting them with such a long read.

Just use the first two sections from above: ‘Summary’ and ‘A little more detail’

The Goldmine Tribe

This information comes from one of the many exercises we do with writers in the Goldmine Tribe.

Tribe is our flagship screenwriting and networking program. We take promising new writers, and make them work alongside script editors from many different production companies to fast-track getting an agent and selling their scripts.

Read more about the Tribe.

PS – General To Do

Know your customer

Be sure you can answer this question. ‘Who’s going to be reading this thing? And why?’

Get the context right if you’ve already been talking.

If you are submitting a treatment to a specific director or producer, then make sure you’ve done your research.

At the very least you need to have looked them up on IMDB.com, and ensured your pitch is at least in the same ballpark as the stuff they have already made.

(Obviously people look around for new directions every now and then, but it’s just a waste of everyone’s time sending a script for, say, ‘Porkies 19’ into, say, a heavyweight political filmmaker. Or vice versa.)

If you’re submitting to a production company but you don’t have a name to target, make sure that you have seen some of this company’s output. Different production companies tend to have very different in-house styles, and you can go a long way by tweaking your treatment to reflect that.

Connect!

The short cut to having to do all this research is to get a copy of our own research!

We research this every spring by calling every production house and every relevant agency in the UK and checking which of them are actively reading unsolicited scripts right now.

Those that tell us they are looking for new writers we compile into a printed booklet called Connect!

You can get more details and order a copy here. We send it by first class, signed for post, so, depending on what time of day you are reading this, it could be with you by tomorrow lunchtime.

Make it look right

A4 paper in the UK.

White plain paper, black ink.

No illustrations, no photos, no postcards – nothing but text.

Something simple, clear and unfussy. Calibri 12 point?

Don’t forget, your treatment could be the ninth or tenth submission the script reader has had to face after a very long day in an airless office. If it just doesn’t look right, you’re starting off at a big disadvantage.

You may be lucky and have a stunning logline that they just can’t ignore, but if you’re the last one on the pile that day, will the script reader be willing to work with you? (Clue: Nope, they will expect you to work with them.)

Use the spelling and grammar check button on your computer if you have to. Or get a friend who can spell or who knows grammar to read your treatment.

And crucially, get the thing proofed. Which means at the very least that you print off a copy, take it away from the computer, and read it through with a red pen in your hand. It’s way too easy to overlook typos on screen.

It’s better to get someone else to proof it if you can find a willing volunteer.

Leave a comment