Yes, you need a treatment before script.
Begin with a preliminary treatment, a page or so of prose describing what your production will be about. I do this when a lot of ideas have been kicked around, or when the production is long and/or complex.
I don’t use a preliminary treatment when my clients and I have made a lot of progress in the script meeting – there seems to be a meeting of the minds, or perhaps there is one approach that everyone “sees.” Instead, I send an email with a paragraph describing the approach.
Once you’ve all agreed on the preliminary treatment, proceed to the treatment. As in all other stages, make sure you and everyone closely involved signs off at each step. That way, everyone takes the project more seriously. You have buy-in.
Spend 75 percent of your creative energy over the entire project on this stage. Defined, a treatment is a brief but fairly detailed description of your projected program. It is written in lay language without a script format, so it’s easy to read.
A good treatment describes your production from start to finish. Not each shot, perhaps, not the actual narration or other sounds, but how the production will appear and feel to your viewers. It describes the shape and form of the content that will be presented, not each individual fact.
I’ll say it again: the treatment is your grand plan, from which your blueprint, the script, will be designed. (Remember, your script will hold no surprises.) Make sure now that everything you need is there, and that there’s nothing there you don’t need.
If you don’t have a plan before script, you’ll run into trouble. Almost always. You always need some sort of treatment before script.
I’ve worked with clients who’ve made the mistake of not including all important parties in the treatment process. This can raise costs when rewrites are needed to accommodate these other points of view. If the president needs to approve, make sure he or she reads and signs off on the treatment.
A treatment includes:
- what will actually happen in the video or film
- references to locations and visuals (footage, maps, pictures, and so forth)
- who appears in the video
- the script’s essential story line
Take out your original list of objectives and check off where they’re met in the treatment. Yes, it’s that simple. In a good treatment—as in the final script—there is no extraneous writing, no unnecessary visual. Every scene—in fact, every action—accomplishes something. Make sure it’s what you want. If an objective is missing, or perhaps not strong enough, now’s the time to speak up.
There are instances when a treatment cannot be exact in every detail—generally, when your final product involves news-in-the-making. The treatment can still allow for these grey areas and allow you to move forward.
List all concerns in writing. Have other staff members do the same. Discuss every item on every list at your next meeting and combine the lists into one.
Ask questions. Feel free to make suggestions concerning the writing. However, it’s better to approach your writer with needs rather than possible solutions you may have for them. A good writer will solve the problem in the most efficient and cost-effective means possible. That’s what you hired a writer to do.
Review the schedule. Make sure you can attend all of the meetings indicated on the schedule, and that others understand the importance of these meetings. Try at all costs not to cancel these meetings at the last minute (or at all)—it’s bad for morale, sets a poor precedent for the rest of the project, and ultimately delays project completion. Any rescheduling should be agreed upon at least a week ahead of time.
Sign off on the treatment. As with the proposal, everyone involved should sign off at key stages. Your production liaison can handle this. You normally don’t need to see a revised treatment in order for the treatment to move into the script stage. Just make sure your comments are clear and preferably in writing.
Ask for another treatment if you need it. You and your scriptwriter may not hit upon the perfect solution in the first treatment. If you need a new approach, ask for one. But remember that the scriptwriter is working from your objectives. Are you sure they’re still correct? Warning: the number of treatment rewrites is not unlimited. The contract you have signed with your writer probably contains a clause for rewrites—both treatment and script—beyond a certain number, usually a couple. That’s why your input at meetings is critical and also why having minutes is a safeguard. If you’re careful about what you ask for, and make sure it’s there in the next treatment, you’ll avoid “going back to the drawing board.”
Keep in mind you’re working with a professional. Although you must do what your needs dictate, you should also remember that you have hired a professional who has worked on dozens—perhaps hundreds—of projects. You’re paying for that experience. Any good writer will do everything possible to give you the best product.
When you agree to a treatment. A treatment is the basis for the final script. When you agree to a treatment, you’re consenting to:
- framework (the “plot,” if you will, of your video)
- number of actors
- number and nature of locations
If you’re uncomfortable with any aspect, speak up now. You’re the expert on the message this video will impart, and if you’re confused or uncomfortable with it any part of it, you can be sure the viewer will be. Keep notes when you have questions, and make sure any revisions answer them. It’s that simple.
Send the treatment out for bid (see Chapter 5). Remember, if your treatment is precise, a producer can give you a good ballpark figure for production. However, any substantive changes later on (more actors, different locations) can add dollars to your production. Wait for these estimates before proceeding—if the cost comes in consistently too high, you’ll need to trim locations, actors, and special effects.