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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On The Treatment

On the treatment

The treatment is a very difficult document to write.

As often as you will hear “hey, can we just get a few pages on this?” you’ll notice the executive asking isn’t raising their hand to do the writing. And by the way, if they do, and you see it? You’ll probably cringe. It makes a cheat sheet look poetic.

They’ll also add in:”and make it just as exciting as your pitch/the book/the comic we’re ralking about so that anyone can understand it even if they haven’t seen it before.”

Great. Anything else? Make it out of liquid metal and have it’s own independent intelligence? No problem.

So you sit down to write, and realize that the treatment is a very difficult document to write. I’m trying to write one now, as the first step in a contracted feature deal.

Because there’s a good reason not to write a treatment if you don’t have to. The moment you put anything down on paper, it gives more reasons for they buyer to say “no.”

How do you avoid that?

Stay in touch with what excites you about your idea. That energy must go into your treatment. But on page 50 you may realize you’re being a little too detail oriented. Time to prune.

Drop extra visuals, drop dialogue, drop cute “c” and “d” storylines. Be clear on your character and only the large arc of the story.

So you’ll want to include the situational reality: your hero starts at point A – and in the next five pages take him to point Z.

And the emotional reality: the hero is a shy, buttoned down opera singer who will arrive at a new emotional reality (an outspoken opera singer?) by the end of the five pages.

Show story flow, the drive, the major obstacles, the villain and his plan, the hero’s low point, and the conclusion.

Give an artificial boundry to keep your pace – you want to talk about four acts of your story, each with a midpoint, give yourself a page to talk about each. Very challenging. Then do it again and give yourself half a page. Don’t sit too long in any one section or you will unbalance the whole thing.

One of the reasons the term “beat sheet” came about, I’m sure, is that Hollywood needed a way to get writers to shorten their treatments and just highlight the “beats”. Because ironically, Hollywood doesn’t like to read.

That’s pretty much your job here, a treatment needs to
Use your dramatic tools to keep it alive, bright and interesting.

Good litmus test: A treatment for a comedy should be funny. A treatment for a drama should be dramatic.


Blogger Melville said...

jeah. writing treatments is a difficult task. I think, what thrills me most about it is that ist a) has to be short, but b) the reader should nevertheless emotionally undergo the story.

otherwise he will not be assured about the story.

think writing treatments really sharpened my style (well, I hope at least). for expample, the olique speech problem. *shiver*

forgive my english. hope you're well.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006  
Blogger A. M. said...

A treatment for a comedy should be funny.
Finally some clarification on that topic. I remember someone soliciting input on a romcom treatment. It read like a drama. I pointed that out b/c I thought it was odd. Yet several others stepped out and told me that the script was witty. I trust that it is - I hadn't read it. That ultimately puts me in the position of the treatment-reader, I thought. Yet I kept my thoughts to myself b/c who am I unproduced-as-the-others to suggest that a romcom treatment should reflect the flavour of humor found in the script?

Glad we've got some pro input for a change. ;)

Philip said: "Each reality has it’s own arc. How do they intertwine? All this on the next post." I was really waiting for that next post. Did I overlook intertwining realities in the treatment-post?


Thursday, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

AM: well of course every story has dramatic structure, right? The only difference is tone. So if your treatment doesn't carry the tone of your story, you're not really conveying your story completely, I feel. This was hit home to me when I was taking around a pitch with high level producers to studios in town (a comedy) everyone agreed it was funny, but no one laughed during the pitch. We finally had a discussion determining this was the problem. A comedy needs to be funny in the telling. More on intertwining next.

Friday, March 17, 2006  
Blogger A. M. said...

Thanks, Philip. Glad the Blog is up and running again!

Was there less pressure to put in a laugh(-out-loud moment) a minute for some years in the past? Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, Meg Ryan & Co. were not ROFLMAO-funny. Perhaps this reflects more my personal taste re: tone?

It didn't even occure to me to view Wedding Crashers as a romcom b/c the romance wasn't all that romantic (Didn't Vaughn's char's romance happen mostly off-screen? I felt cheated, the ending was not satisfying re: the romance). I loved WC as a buddy comedy - no doubt about that :)

Next thing we know, the screwball slapstick (rom)com will be back presumably to satisfy male as well as female audiences.

People are still talking (and arguing) about the dynamics between the leads in Pretty Woman. Wedding Crashers? Funny as hell, yeah. But nothing to discuss.

Whaddaya think?

Friday, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

AM: Yes, blogger had a major meltdown for a day or so, but back in order. Pretty Woman was a spec, and darker then the final tone, it was lightened up and turned more "romcom" for the studio/Gary Marshall - the original may be on the web somewhere and is a good read, more edgy. I believe Notting Hill was an original script as well, so that's a different situation, as the buyer can literally read the tone. I think pitching has always been:"tell them story to make them laugh or cry." As to WC, no doubt it's a buddy comedy, period. No rom to speak of, which is fine really, but as the "gag" was these guys using women, then women needed to be their "undoing" in terms of who they were when it all started. So there is a superficial stab at romance, but only as required by the mechanism of their hunt, that's all. The 40 yr. old Virgin did this more successfuly by building a real emotional story for the hero making it a very funny movie with heart. As to PW, there's also the cineralla myth, orphaned girl marries a prince, which played innocenty against Gere's ruthless bankruptcy baron character, and as the piece plays really as a good drama with real characters at odds (the tension being blooming love where love has no place, and should be impossible), it then has bones, no doubt about it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006  
Blogger A. M. said...

One could argue who exactly the Cinderella was - Vivian or Edward? Yet famous last words-

Vivian: "She rescues him right back"

present a third possibility. (There is his fear of heights, shrink bills, lack of real friends, etc.)

It has bones, right. A film that inspires essays such as D. Soyini Madison's "Pretty Woman through the Triple Lens of Black Feminist Spectatorship" %~ (in From Mouse to Mermaid which looks at Disney films)......

Not sure, but I think it was Scott The Reader who called WC a romcom - to my utter surprise. I'm new to the blogosphere, still a tad overwhelming/confusing.

Saturday, March 18, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

AM: yes, it's not very "com" is it? But categories need to be filled I suppose. It's a romance, or a love story, or whatever you want to call it. When you feel overwhelmed take a step back and remember that you are your ultimate creative authority, don't give it away to anyone else.

Saturday, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous pd boy said...

Philip's bang-on about PW... there is a more edgy script out there. I believe I retreived one on Drew's Script-o-rama. It was a great read, a lot of tension that was absent in the film.

And Phil, I have to agree totally: 40 yr Old served as a much better rom-com than WC. Is it maybe because we develop a real liking for the protagonist in 40 and the guys in WC are just... well, kinda jerks?

If we care about the virgin, we go thru the journey with him and WANT him to succeed in finding true love.

I found myself not really caring about the two guys in WC, therefore I tuned out of their "journey" (really, beside the gags, I'm not exactly sure what the pupose of WC was...?)...

Saturday, March 18, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

melville - yes, you do the treatment right and you do go on the emotional journey, not an easy task - unless you know the steps of your character's jouney, ideally involving a "death of self" and a re-birth of self, for isn't that what we all go through whenever we go out for a cup of coffee? (Or try something emotionally new and terrifying in our own lives - )
pd boy: exactly.

Saturday, March 18, 2006  
Blogger ggw07 said...

"you are your ultimate creative authority, don't give it away to anyone else"- This is the meat of it all-

Sunday, March 19, 2006  
Blogger Andres said...

yeah, i'm trying to write what I guess could be called a treatment for a spec script for "The Shield" and it really is proving difficult. I'm definitely excited about the ideas i've come up with, but it's a rather boring and awkward read. ive got the main points somewhat fleshed out, but for me, what I write really comes alive when I start coming up with the dialogue. that's where I can start to see any flaws or loopholes (assuming I catch them). I don't know if that's a sign of bad storytelling or structure (I hope not).

i've written two unsold film scripts and the ideas in those have been taken mainly from my real life. this "shield" spec script is the first thing i've written that is completely original, which is the main reason I decided on going the route of the treatment first.

Sunday, March 19, 2006  

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