Master the art of ‘The Treatment’

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A lot of writers dive into writing a script before they even have a fully constructed plan. Treatments are widely used in television to pitch a proof of concept idea before committing to writing the full film or episode. A lot of film writers neglect to write a treatment, often early in a writers career he/she will write pages and pages of work that never see the light of day.

So could using a treatment help you prioritize and organize your workload better?

Well the simple answer is yes.

A concise, well written document outlining your writing project helps you in a number of ways. Firstly it gives you a clear blueprint of your story and can tell you if your story is hitting all the right beats. Secondly it can help you see how to get from A to B and prevent you getting lost in story tangents. Thirdly it can also help you find some of the weaker elements and plot holes in your story. Finally it can help get your script into the hand of a commissioner or a producer who could get your project off the ground.

Television Pilots and Series

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I’ve seen and heard conflicting things about how a treatment should look. If you have done some research you’ll see that some writers recommend that you stick to the rules:

  • White plain paper
  • Black ink
  • Calibri 12 point
  • NO ILLUSTRATIONS.

These rules are fine to follow if you’re submitting to a production company who have asked you to follow these guidelines. If you’re pitching a pilot or series, ignore all of these rules.

The best treatments have illustrations, images and photographs. A treatment should serve as a visual aid in helping a commissioner see why your project stands out. You NEED your project to get picked up and looked at and most importantly, be remembered.

Ensure you write passionately about your project and write in an active present tense. Stick to the main story and avoid going into subplots in the initial treatment.

 

Three things a writer should ask every day

There are so many different things that you need to think about when writing a script, whether that be a short, a feature or even a TV series. It can be especially hard to follow every piece of advice out there in books, online or blogs. So forget formulas, rules and characters arcs (okay don’t forget them completely but do so for now!) What are the three fundamental questions you need to ask yourself as a writer before you write?

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What is the point?

No this isn’t a hopeless quote intended to make you give up on your dreams of screenwriting. I want you to seriously have a think about the point of your story. Having read many first drafts of scripts, you realise that writers go off on a million tangents.

A script should be succinct and allow room for manoeuvre from your director; you can bet that almost all you write will at some point be completely re-written. A feature-length script should be the right amount of main story and side story to create a balance of character development and story progression. A great example of this is the classic film; Forrest Gump.. Even with the many side stories going on around the main character, you are still always following the main story, and you can see each character arc follow through and complete itself.

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Do you really need that?

Another point that I would love to highlight is that there can be such a thing as too much detail. As I said in my previous point, you need to be as concise as possible. As soon as you have finished the first draft of your script, CUT IT DOWN! At least 50% of your script should probably be cut out. I do not need to know that someone is wearing a pair of black jeans and white socks, what their favourite song is or if they have a mullet. Unless, that information is impediment to the story just cut it out. If you get your script professionally edited, the first thing to go will be all those details that just aren’t necessary. So, save your money, and do it yourself.

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Be hard on yourself

My final and probably most important piece of advice is to get as much criticism as possible. If this is your first script or one that you have been writing for a long time, you can fall in love with your own writing. It’s natural, and all writers do it. However, just because you love it, doesn’t mean a producer will, and you have to get as much criticism as possible.

It’s hard to hear and sometimes hard to ask for, but if you get honest and open feedback on your work, it will only become stronger. I often send my writing to others out there that I know in the same creative industry as me, and will get my script back full of red lines and x’s on the pages. But all of that, coming from people that I know are only trying to help me, allows me to edit my mistakes, fix my words and not allow myself to waste a producer’s time.

If you can’t manage to send it to someone, I would tell you to read it aloud and record it. Honestly, if there’s one thing to get right, its dialogue, and you can really tell if it works by doing this method. If it’s a long script or you require multiple voices to talk over each other, put up an invite for local actors to do a read through.

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Guest Author: Selisha Alice Griffiths

Case Study: The Room – Learning from Mistakes

Become a master of disaster…

If you’ve seen or heard of The Room or even the recent film The Disaster Artist, chances are you have heard of the infamous Tommy Wiseau. Known to the world for making what is considered the ‘worst movie of all-time’. Personally I would say there are worse movies out there, some endorsed by major studios but that’s for another article!

moviegoers_The-RoomThe Room is a must watch for any filmmaker, writer or even any film lover out there. Made for what is believed to be around a 6 million dollar budget and making back a minuscule $1800 on release; surely it’s not worth talking about?

Receiving a cult following in subsequent years it’s even turned a profit and propelled Tommy Wiseau into becoming somewhat of a household name.

So why is The Room the perfect educational playground for film-making

It’s OBVIOUS!

The obvious flaws in this movie serve as an excellent reminder of what not to do.

For example random characters pop in and out of scenes nearly 80 minutes into the movie with no introduction or explanation. Generally it’s best to avoid throwing a mash up of unestablished characters into the mix this late into the story.

Read your dialogue out loud and re-write it. Otherwise you’ll end up with quotable lines like ‘Oh Hi Mark’ haunting your nightmares for years to come.

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Oh and plot twists? Make sure they lead somewhere.

#spoiler# ‘I definitely have breast cancer’…

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I could probably give the whole movie as an example in this section so I’ve kept it short!

It’s actually great fun to watch

The Room is actually not a bad film to watch; in fact you can watch it more than once and still find new things to enjoy. The Prince Charles Cinema in London regularly hosts midnight screenings of The Room where audiences call out quotes, sing along to the horrible music and even throw plastic spoons at the screen.

The spoons actually reference the awful and lazy production design in the movie. The main set in the movie is dressed with framed pictures of spoons ‘obviously placeholder images’ which have been left in. Another great example of why production design is so important to setting the scene in a movie. Think about what you’re showing the audience and don’t forget the details!

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It reminds us that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes can even be a good thing.

In the case of The Room, the success of the movie is tied to how much it failed. It serves as a humbling reminder that even with the best intentions some things just don’t turn out the way they were planned. Maybe your next fail won’t achieve the success of The Room, but who knows!

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How to Format a Screenplay

So you want to write a script but don’t know how to format it? You’ve come to the right place!

Whilst writing this blog post I stumbled upon an incredible document in The BBC’s Writer Room. It breaks a script down into every element and lays out exactly how a screenplay should look! Amazing right?

Here’s a link to the document as a PDF:

Screenplay Format

So you’ve read the document and you can see how a screenplay is assembled. Now what?

A lot of the scripts I’ve seen have been written using Microsoft Word, which can be okay but really you should be using a script writing program. The benefits of using a script writing program are that it takes all of the hassle out of formatting and makes it really simple!

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The top three script writing tools I would suggest are:

Final Draft

Pros: This is the go to in terms of screenwriting. Final Draft is regularly updated and is the industry standard of scriptwriting.

Cons: The only downside to final draft is it is quite expensive, but I would argue, a good investment in the long run!

Final Draft

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Adobe Story

Pros: A very impressive writing tool which is included with an Adobe subscription. It intergrates well with the Adobe software package, allows you to create schedules and has a lot of useful formatting tools!

Cons: Since the latest update it’s become a little less user friendly and you will need a subscription to access it.

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Celtx (Free)

Pros: I started writing screenplays using Celtx (I won’t tell you quite how long ago) but it’s a really neat little programe. The free version shows you everything you need in terms of formatting and it’s a very powerful tool!

Cons: Sadly Celtx has also started charging for some of it’s more comprehensive features, it’s up to you if you think you need them.

https://www.celtx.com/index.html

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Hopefully now you feel more confident starting that screenplay.

Stay tuned to our blog for more tips and tricks to achieve your screenwriting and film making goals!

 

Top 3 things a writer forgets when writing a screenplay

When you’re writing a script it’s easy to lose sight of some of the basics when you’re buried deep in your story. Remember these three points and you’ll be well on your way to writing a best selling script!

Engage your audience

Your audience need to be engaged and entertained. You might have to explain some very crucial plot elements in your story but try to do this in interesting and unique ways. A direct quote I remember from ‘Save the Cat’ was the Pope in the Pool Moment. If you haven’t read the Save the Cat series by Blake Snyder – I recommend you do so, it offers a lot of advice on screenwriting as a craft.

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‘The term The Pope in The Pool came from a script titled The Plot to Kill the Pope by George England. The story was a thriller and as such couldn’t afford a dull scene with people sitting around drinking tea (something Donald Mass warns against extensively in Writing the Breakout Novel) and dumping information. So, the writer came up with a way to relay the information while keeping people’s attention.

He put the Pope in the pool.

As Snyder points out, “We’re thinking: ‘I didn’t know the Vatican had a pool?! And look, the Pope’s not wearing his Pope clothes, he’s… he’s… in his bathing suit!’”

This keeps our attention while the important, dull information is downloaded to our brains. We walk away from the scene wowed and retaining the knowledge that we need for the rest of the story to unfold, while never being bored.’

Link: http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/2012/04/putting-the-pope-in-the-pool-adding-fun-to-boring-information/

Make your lead character suffer

This may sound a little harsh but a great story is built on the foundations of conflict. Without conflict a story can’t sustain itself. You need to make our lead character overcome hardships, struggle and graft to get to where he needs to be. The more obstacles you put in his way the more the audience will want to follow his/her journey and thus make for a more compelling story.

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The first draft is a first draft!

So you’ve finished your masterpiece you’ve stepped away for a few days and then re-read your entire screenplay. Chances are your first though is something like…This sucks! What was I even thinking! Or even worse, you’ve let someone else loose on your script and they have a list of ‘critiques’ for you. Your heart sinks and you wonder why you ever quit you day job.

But wait a second, because guess what, there’s still hope. It’s a first draft for a reason, a lot of writers fall into the trap of expectation, and their scripts simply don’t live up to it. Writing is re-writing.

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The Writer Prepares

Writing a screenplay can often feel like a very daunting task. If you are lucky enough to have an idea for a story your first impulse might be to rush out, write a script and make a film.

Before you even start planning who will play your leading cast I just want to remind you of a few steps all screenwriters should follow before even picking up a pen (or reaching for a keyboard).

Top 5 tips 

Read screenplays

So many writers don’t know how to correctly format a script. There really is no excuse to use Microsoft Word anymore.

Final Draft, Adobe Story and Celtx are some of the most popular programmes out there for screenwriters. If you are serious about your craft and your script you need to ensure you format correctly. Read at least one script a week to keep on top of how the pros do it.

Simply scripts is a great (and free) resource for you to find endless titles: http://www.simplyscripts.com/movie-scripts.html

Reading scripts can also be a really great way to inspire you!

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Watch movies

One thing I love to do is to read a screenplay then watch a film, it really does open your eyes to how a script translates on screen. Watching films is also a great way to look for inspiration, learn more about genre conventions and see what has and what hasn’t been done before.

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Know your genre

Whatever genre your story is, you need to know it inside and out. That means if you’re writing a horror you should read horror movie scripts, watch horror movies and learn as much as possible about what the typical conventions are. Some elements of a genre are so important that you can’t get away from them. In a horror movie there needs to be, well horror. Research this further into sub-genres and you can really start to see the patterns of a successful screenplay.

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Go to school

Even we adults still have a lot to learn, there’s no point thinking you know everything. Look for screenwriting clubs or courses where you can chat to other screenwriters about their methods or just to give feedback. Writing is often seen as a solo activity but the best way to get better at it is to collaborate with people you can trust to give you honest feedback. Always keep learning and honing your craft.

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Pick up a pen

One you’ve followed these tips now you can think about picking up that pen. Keep a notebook with you at all times and write down ideas as they come to you. Try to allocate time each day to write a little more of your screenplay, even if it’s just one hour a day, you’ll start to see a story take shape.

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