Why the Treatment Plays a Major Role in the Development of a Movie

treatment story synposis feature film series
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Whether an author can write and tell a story for film, television or a TV series becomes apparent during the treatment. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff.

The treatment is the hinge between the synopsis and the screenplay. It’s often a little-loved stepchild of story development. And yet its function is enormously important.

You have to know that

  • The goal of a treatment is to define the plot of a film or series.
  • The film treatment, also called story treatment or synopsis, is a summary of your film and a precursor to the eventual screenplay.
  • It contains all the important scenes and plot developments that give your film its shape and characterize your characters.
  • What’s missing from the treatment is the dialogue and the specific form in which a screenplay is written. But the division of the plot into scenes is already there.
  • The treatment is written like a narrative, i.e. in prose.

What is the purpose of a treatment?

A film treatment has four important functions. These are:

  1. It is an important working basis for the author himself. Unlike the synopsis, it provides him with an overview of the entire film narrative for the first time. This also reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the plot.
  2. The treatment allows for a discussion about one’s own history. Be it with other writers, potential film production companies or a script doctor.
  3. It can also be written based on an existing script. This gives it the function of a tool for analysis. This is because the reduction also makes it clear where any deficiencies lie and what needs to be improved in the next step.
  4. The treatment is a milestone on the way to the screenplay. This allows us to estimate how much work still lies ahead of the author and how soon a first version of the script can be expected.

Thirdly, they are usually read by experienced professionals. These are producers, directors or actors with whom an interest for a later collaboration is sampled.

Most of the time, you’ll get an assignment for an exposé first. Or you write this at your own risk. If your film idea is convincing as a rough sketch, you will usually get the order for a treatment first. Only if this is found to be good, you will receive the order for the script.

How long does a film treatment have to be?

There is no mandatory length for a film treatment.

If you’re writing a treatment without an assignment, you want to keep it short. The right length for this is about ten pages. To do this, choose a normal line spacing (not 1.5).

If you’re writing on assignment for a production company or even a TV station that wants a TV movie, there’s only one correct way to determine length: you ask how many pages are expected of you. The same applies if you are entering the treatment for a grant or screenplay competition.

To summarize:

  • A length of 1-10 pages is ideal for a first impression.
  • 10-20 pages are enough for a detailed treatment.
  • Anything more than 20 pages is considered extremely detailed. Here you need to think carefully about whether you want to impose this wealth of detail on your reader.

James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic among others, usually writes his treatments with a length of 70 pages.

How do I write the treatment?

You should always write in the present tense. Imagine your movie is a short story and you’re telling it to someone. To make the story work, you will logically mention not only all the characters, but also all the plot twists. Likewise, you’ll choose your narrator voice to perfectly reflect the mood of your story. Nothing else you do when writing the treatment.

There is one important exception to this. In order for the reader to easily grasp the potential of your narrative, you leave out the subplots of the plot in the treatment. Or at least you simplify it if you can’t do it without it.

What you definitely want to show in the treatment is the development of your main character, the story arcs and the challenges your characters have to overcome on the way to their destination.

A treatment is excellent when the reader can see the story in his mind’s eye from the first sentence. It helps to avoid clichés or empty phrases. It is better to work consciously with the language. Even deliberately placed gaps, paragraphs and leaps can combine to form inner images.

What is part of the content?

The scope of a treatment can be freely determined in a similar way as the length. It is customary for you to list the following:

  • Title or working title
  • Your name
  • A subtitle (called a tagline) that sums up the story in one or two sentences.
  • Notes on genre and implementation (optional)

As for the content, basically everything that is needed to understand the story and love or hate its characters belongs in the treatment.

Not in a film treatment belong too detailed descriptions of the characters too detailed explanations of the locations and generally all things that distract too much from the story. PROHIBITED is the use of dialogue. At most, you may “arrive” at a line of dialogue. The best way to do this is to use indirect speech.

Also pictures, the use of different funds and endlessly long text deserts without paragraphs have no place in this document.

The difference to the exposé

The synopsis “only” describes the outline of a story, its length, and the genre. The task of the synopsis is to give the reader a sketch of how the film or series could be realized.

Examples for treatments

The treatment “ID Theft” by author Craig Mazin was later adapted as a screenplay under the title “Identity Thief / “Voll abgezockt”. The feature film was a worldwide success with box office takings of around €157 million.

Treatment ID Theft by Craig Mazin

The second sample treatment comes from authors Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Her film idea for “Sinbad” was not filmed.

Treatment Sinbad by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

Why producers and agents love treatment

Anyone whose job requires them to read film material on a daily or weekly basis is glad for every page they don’t have to read. A treatment of ten or 20 pages is better received than a screenplay of 90 pages or more.

For what does the reader want in such a case? Firstly, to be able to assess as quickly as possible whether the material is interesting and worthwhile. Second, don’t find out after 1 hour of reading that the author can’t come up with a convincing ending for his plot. Thirdly, if the work for the treatment is compensated, invest as little money as possible in something whose quality cannot be estimated in advance. Even if the work on a treatment is as time-consuming as that for a screenplay, the usual market compensation is significantly lower.

Especially because you will have to deal with many readers, it makes sense to focus on the text as well. A treatment should be a pleasure to read. Rhythm and change of perspective in the writing, a lot of heart and soul, your very personal perspective on what you want to bring closer to the reader all help. What makes your personality as a car.

Disadvantages of the treatment

The treatment, as the preliminary stage of the screenplay, lays the tracks for the later narrative. If you work on the script on the basis of an approved treatment, you are bound to its content to a certain extent. This can make improvements more difficult because you don’t want to lose the deal and, for example, you can’t just swap out the figures anymore. There are authors who find this annoying or even limiting.


The importance of treatment can only be stressed again and again. It’s a very important step because this is the first time you tell the whole story from beginning to end. This is the point where you put your plot and storyline on the table in front of you. And unlike the synopsis, with a treatment you can’t say, I’ll solve this problem later.

The treatment is always a moment of truth. In terms of your skill as a writer and in terms of the future for your film story.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Gabriela Weingartner
About Gabriela Weingartner 24 Articles
Gabriela Weingartner ist überzeugt, dass der Autor Patrick Süskind recht hat, wenn er sagt: »Man muss gescheit sein, um in der dummen Sprache des Films eine Geschichte klug erzählen zu können.«

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