Revised 3/5/2015. Copyright 2015 by Jim Krause. No parts of this document may be used or reproduced without the author's permission.

Treatments and scripts are important tools used to pitch and produce films and TV programs. Proceeding on any sizable production without them is akin to trying to build a house out of a pile of lumber- without a blueprint. While they are both printed documents, they have differing and very specific purposes. So whether you want to sell your next screenplay, produce a training video, or design the cut scenes of a video game, it's important to understand the construction and application of both treatments and scripts.

Treatments

Major motion pictures are routinely pitched with treatments. They describe the action and story development in the briefest terms possible. Because of this, you generally won't find much dialog or specific production information (like camera shots) in treatments. In addition to allowing us to quickly describe the story, treatments are particularly useful development and revision tools.

A treatment serves as the blueprint for a script. It's much easier to make changes in a 5-page treatment than a 40-page script. So it's wise to first develop a treatment and then to revise and refine it. Once you (and your producer or clients) are happy with it, then write a script based on the treatment.

Scene-based structure

Scenes are the building blocks of film and video. They can be thought of as mini-stories in that they have a beginning, middle and end. Scenes should push either the story or character along. (If a scene doesn't do either cut it out!) In preparing a scene-based treatment, number and title each scene. Describe the scene with a few sentences or a paragraph. If writing for broadcast or theatrical release, don't forget to consider and address your act structure.

Once you've finished, you'll have a document that clearly and succinctly describes the story and its development.

Scripts

Without a script, it would be impossible to know what shots to shoot, how many actors and actresses are required, and what they would say. Most importantly, we wouldn't know what to blow up or who gets to kiss who.

"What's in a script? How do I make it? What format should it be in?" The main thing to keep in mind is the script's overall purpose: to serve as the roadmap for the production. From the script we derive dialog, storyboards, shot sheets, graphics and other essential production material.

Formats: there are many different types of script formats. For in-depth explanations of these I'd suggest reading Zettl's Television Production Handbook. The two most frequently used formats are the single-column "drama" (also known as "master screenplay") script and the two-column "TV" or "Documentary" style script.

"Drama" or "Master Screenplay" scripts are well-suited for fiction or storytelling. Here is a drama script example from cybercollege.com. This style of script focuses on communicating action and dialog, not describing specific shots. This is because in film and TV dramas, art directors and cinematographers are the ones who specify what we see, not the writers. Describing the visual elements is best achieved through storyboards, which illustrate composition along with talent and camera blocking.

"Two-column" scripts are the best choice for news, documentary, commercial, and industrial video production. These scripts contain two columns of information. The left-hand side contains video information with audio on the right. Every single visual and audio element should be specified with full descriptions in the appropriate column. Here is an example of two-column script. The nice thing about this style of script is that at any point in time you can determine exactly what audio goes with what visual. It also allows for much more visual information than the drama style script.

Scripts usually go through a number of revisions from the initial draft to the final copy. It's a good idea with either style of script to include a title and date or version number.

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treatments & scripts