Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Getting the treatment

It is entirely possible that a movie treatment is the most tedious and boring piece of writing it's possible to do. I'm not going to say I hate doing them, but it's hardly exciting.

A treatment is a reduced version of a script without dialogue. It can be best imagined as what you would say if you were telling someone the story. Let's say you went to see a film, then got home and, in your excitement, you told a friend what happened. That's a treatment.

Some people say that two pages is good for a treatment, well you can do that, you can even do one page. The trouble is that there really is no hard and fast rule. Personally I prefer the "one page = 10 minutes" approach. So for a typical movie you're looking at 9-12 pages.

My fave reader Lucy at Bang2Write has not been overly impressed by my treatments of the Blockbuster project. The trouble is, and apparently this is common, that writers tend to write treatments as a series of visuals. This is hardly surprising from one viewpoint, after all, I imagine (and I hope) that we "see" what we create in our imaginations (I know I do).

But visuals are the director's department. What we really need to do is communicate the character and the emotion, along with the sequence of actions. Clearly, concisely and not boringly.

As usual the real (and only) crime any writer can commit is to bore the reader. You can't afford to do that. Ever. Boredom is no emotion and contains no motion. Almost every other emotion contains movement, they are good, you can have those, just not boredom.

So, I'm writing this treatment after prevaricating for four days (well, okay, I'm prevaricating now but I thought you might wonder where I'd gone, honest) anyway I've written nearly 4 pages this evening -- 40 minutes of the movie.

This kind of schedule and timing allows you to see whether your movie is appropriately structured too: has life become unsettled for the protagonist by the time you've hit a quarter of the way through? And so on.

I suspect the main reason that writer's dislike treatments so much is that they'd rather be writing the actual script. I don't need a treatment to plan, I use other tools, so a treatment feels like a waste of time.

Unfortunately it's necessary.

What's on the turntable? "Oh Wow, it's you" by Steely Dan from "The Roaring of the Lamb"

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