Yes, 1st 10 pages is alive (and well) – I could go on, and on about how not a second to spare my fall season has been – but of course I’d have to force you to commit to pages of non-disclosure b.s. that would in turn, kill you.

What I can share is that in 2012 I’ve been asked to write more treatments than there are ailments, I’ve touched on the fact before that there are no good sources for writers to go to when they are faced with the task of writing a treatment.

I’ll back up for a minute and say, no matter what type of storyteller you are you will someday be required to formulate a treatment regardless of whether it’s called a beat sheet, a synopsis, cliff notes — whatever.

There’s a popular writer’s site that offer an online class on how to write a treatment – when it first came about, I bought it at it’s discounted rate to see what they had to contribute and immediately asked for my money back (to which they quickly granted).  The issue here was they sold it as a 30 + page instruction on treatments but in actuality it covers all kinds of stuff like loglines, titles and such… so less than 10 pages focused on treatments and the ‘value-added’ sample treatments of well known films were written by the instructor in a very non-engaging manner.

Here is the line describing a portion of the incredibly emotional opening of UP: To Cheer her up, Carl Begins a Paradise Falls Fund – but over the years, life happens, and as soon as the money is saved, it is spent.

Dry as toast as is the rest of the 10 pages or so for the film.  Same with samples for THE EXORCIST, INCEPTION, PULP FICTION and more — each a heartless, pace-less rambling of non-emotional details – no act breaks no escalation in tension – nada.

There are one or two craft oriented sites for screenwriters that get it a little closer to right – The incredible Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s wordplayer site has some good advice and there is this sample of a film never made but it is engaging (the links are at the end)

The thing is, there is no right way – there is no structure dictated as in screenplay formatting – the problem is it’s not just a screenwriter problem.

It’s a story problem – whether you are writing a marketing brief, a comic book, a novel, a stand up routine, a speech or a screenplay – you need to know how to boil it down to a treatment to sell your material and that treatment whether it be 5, 10 or 20 pages had better tell a good story; a story with emotional highs and lows, a story with a set up, a journey and a pay off, a story that paints a visual and sets a tone for the larger work.

Comedians and journalists (true journalists) do this well and to some extent songwriters – because they have no time to waste – or the audience is out of there.  Let’s take little pumpkin head’s Treat me right; in her case (and with most songs) it’s basically the first act of a larger story…

Songwriters: COZINE, ROGER / PATTERSON, TROY

You want me to leave, you want me to stay
You ask me to come back, you turn and walk away
You wanna be lovers, and you wanna be friends
I’m losing my patience, you’re nearing the end
One of these days you’re gonna reach out and find
The one that you count on has left you behind
Don’t want to be no martyr, I know I’m no saint

Oh my, my baby, before it’s too late

Treat me right
Treat me right
Open your eyes, maybe you’ll see the light

Do you think I’m a fool, well you better think twice
I’ve had enough baby, it’s time you realized
That you can’t have it both ways, it’s no way to live
You’ve done all the takin’, it’s your turn to give

One of these days you’re gonna reach out and find
The one that you count on has left you behind
Don’t want to be no martyr, I know I’m no saint
Oh my, my baby, before it’s too late

Treat me right
Treat me right
Open your eye’s, maybe you’ll see the light
Ooh, ooh, treat me right

You want me to leave, you want me to stay
You ask me to come back, you’re turnin’ love away
You wanna be lovers, and you wanna be friends
I’m losing my patience, you’re nearing the end

Treat me right
Treat me right
Open your eyes, maybe you’ll see the light
Ooh, ooh, treat me right

Treat me right – treat me right
Treat me right – treat me right
Treat me right – treat me right
Treat me right – treat me right
Treat me right (fading out)

Treat Me Right lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music Publishing

I was going to post the mp3 but thought hey — we’re into words right?

You can thank me later for implanting that tune en su cabeza.  Onward…

Pilar Alessandra has a terrific book on writing with just 10 minutes a day – and what she boils the development process down to is similar to what Rossio claims should be on every treatment: Titles for the Acts or Sequences (Rossio and Elliot write in sequences that is how they split their partnership duties and how they are able to make sure every 10 minutes is cohesive and compelling.)

I think this is good advice, but depending on what your treatment is being used for it may just confuse the reader – for instance if you are Frank Baum, and pitching the novel for WIZARD OF OZ, entitling the treatment portion for your final paragraph of your manuscript, SHOWDOWN WITH THE WITCH isn’t going to make the sale, but if you are on a project in development at a studio and they want a treatment before the script stage then it makes perfect sense.

What I’ve learned, is that it boils down to organic storytelling that makes us human: when you’re out with a friend and you start with, ‘I didn’t tell you what happened when I so and so…’  and seasoned with a he said here and she said there, in his and hers unique voice.

In other words it’s natural storytelling that has your pal saying, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe he did that, what did you do?’

Or given the season; your drunk uncle Joe always has to tell about the time that he saved your cousin Tom from the killer squirrel – that one never gets old!

I’m a huge fan of the old face-to-face storytelling tradition; I did a documentary on The International Storytelling Festival years ago.  In a tiny little town in Tennessee, is the International Storytelling Center, and every fall and they put on a massive festival.  Here’s a snippet of one of the more popular tellers, Don Davis.  Now, put this 13 minutes on page and you have one hell of an entertaining, character-driven story. (his actual time is more because the set-up of the Amazon was edited for the doc.)

The only structure required for treatments that sell, comes naturally; your set up and ending are usually proportionately the same, and your middle is about the size of both together, the same structures as any logical so called 3 acts.

As for why you need to be able to write a treatment it boils down to these things:

  • It shows you’re a good storyteller
  • It helps you hone your larger work before you write it, OR if written, it helps pinpoint pacing issues.
  • You will need to learn how if you want to be a working screenwriter — it is part of the studio process, and if a novelist you will need it to sell your manuscript
  • If you are going the self-made route, you will need it for funding pitch packages
  • It just makes sense.  Take for instance my dear friends who had a feature film storyboarded, on reels for the 3rd time, and one month from stepping into production from development, when the large studio they were under contract with went belly up – had all funding pulled with NO NOTICE. These highly experienced guys had to burn up the phone wires trying to get funding to buy back the rights to the project they created.  What did they need? A treatment.  You never want to have to create one on the fly when your computer is locked up and you’ve been kicked out of the building.  A Chinese conglomerate out-bid them in bankruptcy court — heartbreaking.
  • Treat your material right, and it will be yours for eternity.

My apologies for extraordinarily long post, and absence – I’m still crazed but a couple holidays gave me a rest and even though I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I will do my best to be more ‘regular’ in 2013 and I do twitter a bit more often (but even that needs improvement in the new year).

Best of all to you in the coming year, feel free to contact if you need more info on treatments.

The links:

Terry Rossio on treatments

A good example

Pilar with 10 minute writing prompts (great read)

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