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March 2, 2022

How To Write a Film Treatment in 5 Steps: Examples Included

Writing film treatments - also known as a film pitch deck - isn't the same as a synopsis or an outline. A treatment in the film industry is utilized for a variety of reasons and can be an essential part of the process of developing an idea. So, what is a treatment or pitch deck, how do you write one and why are they important?

What is a treatment in screenwriting?

The film and television industry doesn't have a standard definition of what "treatment" means. For example, if someone asks you for treatment, they could mean a two-page overview concept or a thirty-page document, basically the script without the dialogue or any detailed logline.

However, film project treatments are generally defined as a summary of a TV show or film. A treatment should contain all the essential elements of the story, including scenes, themes, and the project's tone. Film treatments can also be referred to as story treatments.

As you approach writing a treatment, for any reason, here are a few tips that will help in creating your slides.

You should approach writing a treatment as if it were a film pitch deck. You're trying to win over executives, producers or agents as if they were investors and your film is an invesement, which it ultimately is.

Six critical elements of a film treatment

While each treatment may differ a bit, generally, your treatment should contain:

  • Title of story
  • Name and contact information of the writer
  • Logline
  • Key characters 
  • Summary of the story
  • Additional information about the themes and tone of the projects

Now that you know the generalities let's dive into the details.

Why are film treatment pitch decks necessary?

Learning how to write a film treatment is essential for the emerging screenwriter. Often, producers and executives want to check out your story before signing a contract with you.

That is understandable since a lot of money is at stake. It's much more money than is at stake than, for example, in a book deal or a commission for a newspaper or magazine.

Film treatments are an excellent way for you and producers and anyone in the creative time to save time and energy on projects. Thus, being able to write an excellent film treatment that executives can understand from a visual perspective could be what stands between securing you a job, without having to commit to writing the screenplay.

Having said that if this is your first screenplay you are advised to polish and write your script first as executives are likely to expect this so they can get a sense of your writing on top of a pitch.

So, how do you write a film treatment?

How can you make sure a film treatment pitch deck is engaging?

There are some key steps you can take to make sure your film treatment pitch deck is engaging.

Decide on the type of treatment or pitch deck you're creating

Make sure that you understand your goal in creating the treatment. For example, is it to serve as a pitch document for others? Or is it so you can explore the story you're prepping to write out as a script?

Having a solid sense of the target will help you decide what the treatment will look like. For example, a treatment for others may need to spell out a bit of the feeling or mood that you would otherwise keep in your head. However, a treatment for yourself may not have to be as precise, so long as you understand what you meant when you refer back to it.

How long should a film treatment pitch deck be?

Largely determined by the decision mentioned above, knowing the length will help dictate how you write.

A one or two-page document can be great for producers and execs to get a sense of the project, but it means you'll have to paint pretty broad strokes.

A longer document can get into the details, but of course, it will take longer for others to read. And sometimes those details themselves can get in the way of the purpose of the treatment, where all you'll see is trees but no forest.

Deciding on the length ahead of time can give you a target to aim for. You may be a little off in the end, but that's okay.

How much should you include?

There's a reason that the treatment isn't the script. It can't include everything, and it isn't very smart to try. Sometimes this means little bits that will show up in the margins of the scenes getting cut from the treatment, but other times it will mean whole subplots.

When deciding on what to include and what not to include, ask yourself if evaluating is essential to understanding the protagonist's journey. If it's not, it may be best to leave it out of the treatment.

That being said, as you're first drafting your treatment (and yes, I said draft, because just like a script, you will revise this!) when in doubt, include it. So it's easier to trim something out if it's there from the start.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith film treatment excerpt
An excerpt from the film treatment for Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Should you write in proper prose?

This may seem like an obvious point but your pitch should be complete sentences unlike screenwriting format which is not proper prose. While this is helpful for what we do in scripts, it can sometimes feel a bit like the scraps of a language that isn't fully codified. By sticking with correct grammar and syntax and the like with your treatment, your technical writing will have a stable base and allow you to focus on what's crucial in the treatment: the story.

Screenwriting isn't just telling what happens but also how we see (and hear) what happens. A treatment isn't supposed to worry about the latter, which is why writing it in proper prose is a good idea. Additionally, it's easier on readers.

Should you just tell the story?

Writing a treatment, regardless of the reason (for you, for others, for fun), can bring up as many problems as writing a script. So, for example, if you think about the treatment as simply telling the story to friends around a campfire, it can help get you out of your head.

The best thing you can do while writing your treatment is to write without the delete key. It is always easier to edit a written document than a blank page.

BONUS TIP: don't include dialogue

If you include lines of dialogue, even a few, it can start to blur the line between treatment and script. It's best avoided.

Save that masterful dialogue for the script itself.

Film treatment examples

To help give you more of an idea of what professional film treatments look like, let's take a look at a few different treatments.

Mr & Mrs. Smith



The Terminator

The Shining

Additional reading: "scriptments"

Scriptments are a hybrid between a treatment and a script. Once they have written their treatment, some writers want to add more information, such as snippets of dialogue. 



Battle For the Planet of the Apes

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How To Write a Film Treatment in 5 Steps: Examples Included
David Wappel

David Wappel is a feature writer. Recent work includes the screenplay for Long Gone By, now available on HBO. He was named a Top 25 Screenwriter to Watch in 2020 by the ISA and is the 2019 Stowe Story Labs Fellowship winner. He is an avid Shakespeare and Tolkien fan.

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