Turning a great movie idea into a script treatment

Published: 12th May 2009
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There are reasons for writing a treatment or outline based on your brilliant original movie idea. Simply put a movie idea or concept cannot be copyrighted. Idea theft isn't widespread in the movie business, but there is always that remote possibility some intellectual property thief hears your movie idea, loves it, and develops their own script or movie based on your idea. Not many aspiring writers, directors, or producers have deep enough pockets to get into a costly court battle over an idea. Writing a treatment and submitting it to the U.S. Copyright Office protects your movie idea.

It is possible to sell a script treatment, but usually that's reserved for Hollywood insiders or established screenwriters with a proven track record. Not for newcomers on the scene. Hashing out solid a script treatment greatly increases the chances for a tight well written script to be born. This article is mainly for those aspiring screenwriters that have a movie idea they are going to eventually write themselves.

A treatment is a full narrative description of the story. This happens, this happens, and finally this happens. It can include bits of dialogue or not. Length can vary from 1-25 pages or more depending how involved you want to get. I'm usually able to get a real good handle on my script idea within 6 pages of a treatment.

I myself do not write out scenes on index cards to follow as a road map for my scripts. I heard it works for other screenwriters, but I can't share with you a technique I personally do not use. I also do not write detailed biographies on characters to get into their heads. If I created them I better know what motivates them and what makes them say or do the things they do in the script. I use a simple script treatment to flesh out my movie idea into a tight story. Writing a shorter treatment is my personal preference. People develop their own preferences when writing a treatment. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll find yours as you go through the process.

At this point, if you've done a little reading on screenwriting you'll be looking at your treatment to make sure it follows the Three Act Structure as advised in many books. The First Act (the beginning), the Second Act (the middle), and the Third Act (the end). I respect the principal, but do not apply it as a hard and fast rule to my scripts. All good stories will always have a beginning that hooks people, a middle that keeps people interested in how the whole thing will turn out, and the end where you give the viewer the big payoff.

When you write a script trying to force your idea to conform to the Three Act Structure your story can lose zip. It might be your story has four or five acts to get to the end. When I look at my treatment I ask myself one major question; would I watch this movie? Movies, in my opinion, are for entertainment. If you tell a good story that will keep people entertained and watching you'll do fine as a filmmaker. With a treatment done I always feel more confident going in to write a full script. Think of a treatment as your road map of where you want the story you script to lead. When you're done with your treatment you're one step closer to making your movie, not just talking about it. Good writing!

Hopefully you found this article useful. If you want to read more about one filmmaker's story making movies please pick up my new book.

The First Movie is the Toughest is packed with no nonsense advice, help, and entertaining stories about making movies outside of Hollywood on limited budgets. This book is for aspiring Screenwriters, Directors, and Producers along with the casual movie viewer with their own great story idea for a movie. No hype. No bull.

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