writing a film treatment

What Is a Film Treatment and 7 Powerful Reasons to Write One

It’s far easier writing a film treatment than an entire screenplay since it’s only a few pages… but what is a film treatment?


KEY – Treatment, Outline and Synopsis are terms that are often used interchangeably


Historically a treatment was a document created by writers when adapting a novel into a screenplay. The practice got its start back in the late 1920’s when writers were employees of a studio. A producer would bring a novel for which the studio had purchased the screen rights to the ‘writers building’ on the studio lot. He would assign the task to two or more writers. The treatment was a lengthy document which showed how writers would treat the novel as a screenplay. Often times they were writers who specialized in treatments if the novel were a love drama, comedy or historical fiction. In those days through to the fall of studio system it was common to see treatments which exceeded 90 pages.

Today a film Treatment or Outline is essentially a 3 to 5 page version of your story written in a regular prose format.  Because it is 3 to 5 pages is why it’s a great idea to write an Outline for your movie ideas. There are several other great reasons to do so which I will cover.

Most screenwriters, both aspiring and professional, have so many story ideas that there is no way they can write them all as screenplays.

KEY: you could take on writing many more as treatments.

If you’re working a full-time job and it’s not screenwriting, you’ll be lucky to complete two screenplays a year or even three every two years. It’s simply not realistic to do many more than that in your spare time and develop them to be strong, well-structured stories with interesting characters.

The question is how could a writer do so when they may have so many great story ideas but don’t have enough time?

My one word for you as a screenwriter:  “Outlines {Treatments.}  Writing Outlines {Treatments} is how to optimize your writing time if you have more great ideas than time to write screenplays for each idea.

treatment is a 3 to 5 page narrative of your story.  Essentially, it’s like writing a short story with only the important things in it.


Here several reasons for writing a treatment or outline first instead of just jumping into writing your screenplay.

  • Writing a treatment helps you develop the broad strokes of your plot, characters, structure and theme before you get down into the weeds of individual lines of dialogue.

Since a treatment is so much shorter than a screenplay, you have to really think through what the main aspects are of plot, characters, structure and theme so you can fit it into just a few pages.


  • When you start with a treatment for your movie, you can figure out if you can make the overall story work in a much shorter time.

When you write a treatment and really work on the key elements mentioned above, you may find that you can’t make the story work as you had planned. If you have to make a major plot or character change, it is far easier to do in a treatment than in a 100-page script.

It’s also easier (and cheaper) to have a treatment evaluated and then rewrite 3 to 5 pages a few times than it is to have your screenplay evaluated and have to re-write 100 pages multiple times. I offer this service from $25.00


  • A treatment will help you be far more focused on writing scenes that will stay in the script.

By writing a treatment, you will save yourself time on writing individual scenes that may not fit in the big picture.  When you jump straight into writing the screenplay, you will inevitably writes scenes that you’ll end up deleting.

Even with a treatment, you will likely still remove some scenes or portions of scenes along the way, but it will be far fewer if you write without a treatment.

Benefits of Writing Treatments in Marketing Your Screenplay

I have presented the benefits of how treatments help you in the craft of screenwriting, but there’s another set of benefits of writing treatments for your movie scripts. Benefits of writing Outlines {Treatments} as it relates to marketing.


Having multiple treatments ready will help you maximize your marketing efforts.

If you’ve ever tried to sell your screenplays, you’ve certainly been told “no, not for us.” If you were in close enough proximity to the reader at that point, they may have asked you if you had anything else.  If you’re like most writers, you probably had another script or two or three, but it’s likely that they were “not ready.”  Or maybe you couldn’t decide which would be the best to offer the producer/agent/ /reader.

If you had a treatment for each of your scripts or even for stories for which you hadn’t yet written the script, you could offer multiple options.

  • It’s much easier and faster to polish a treatment before sending it to them than it would be to polish a 100-page script.

For that matter, if they agreed to see something else from you, you could write a treatment from scratch in one night on an unfinished script you’ve been working on and send it to the reader the next day.  You could then get feedback on whether the idea is worth spending the next one to five years on writing it as a screenplay.

  • You’ll also be more motivated about your screenwriting since it’s much easier and more fun to work on multiple stories when you’re writing treatments.

Sometimes working on a different script will even help your creativity. Switching between stories can give you fresh eyes on the one you’ve been working on tirelessly.  Not to mention it will add to the fun and create more product for you.

  • You’ll be able to test your ideas much more quickly to see if there’s interest.

You could spend years on writing and polishing an entire screenplay only to find out its not marketable material.  If you write a treatment first, you can test out your ideas in a much shorter learning curve compared to writing the entire screenplay.

If you are like most writers – aspiring or pro often screenwriters don’t like to write treatments because they say they see a scene in their head and want to get it on the page.  Other writers think writing scenes is simply more fun.

Try looking at it this way: Work on the treatment and simultaneously write some of your scenes in your script writing software as you see fit.  This way you get the benefit of focusing on developing your structure but also have fun writing some of the scenes and dialogue. Getting really good at writing Treatments/ Outlines will help you select in an effective manner which ideas are better and more powerful. You’ll be far more efficient with your time. And you’ll be able to better maximize your marketing efforts by having a fuller slate to offer prospective producers or agents.

If you are serious about selling a screenplay or having a screenwriting career, you can’t afford to spend time writing a screenplay that has inherent, unfixable issues.


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Next time with advanced screenwriting tips:

7 critical steps for writing an Outline/Treatment