• Wondering which camera, gear, computer, or software to buy? Ask in our Gear Guide.

treatment What I learned from the frustration of (re-)writing 2 page treatments

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I'm working on a ghostwriting project that's about to (I think, hope, & expect) move to the next phase within the next few days: writing a rom com feature for a production company. Since the earlier phase is wrapping up successfully, it seems like a good time to share a little about the experience.

The production company requires a two page treatment that thoroughly describes the story, including LOTS of details about the 2nd act - which is where we all know screenplays go to die :). The first 5 versions all came back with notes that, in one way or another, said: give us more detail about the 2nd act without losing what you're telling us about the 1st and 3rd or going beyond 2 pages (and no, you can't change the type face or margins). The 6th version looks (from preliminary feedback) like it will get us the greenlight to write the screenplay itself.

I'm sharing this because I learned a lot from this about creating a VERY tight but well-written treatment, including cutting out everything that isn't essential. This included descriptions that I love and considered essential to the reader "getting" the story - but really aren't. My sister is an English teacher & tutor who also works a lot with high school seniors on their college application essays. She was telling me recently that her mantra has become "think Hemingway not Faulkner." In other words, sparse language and tight sentences. I found that echoing in my head as I worked on these treatments over the past few months.

It's been a useful exercise that I'll try to repeat for myself going forward.
 
Last edited:
I'm sharing this because I learned a lot from this about creating a VERY tight but well-written treatment, including cutting out everything that isn't essential. This included descriptions that I love and considered essential to the reader "getting" the story - but really aren't.

This strikes a chord! Specifically, with reference to the episode that I described in a previous post:

This line of thought was partially prompted by a group exercise that I was part of last year, where we were asked to describe "as succinctly as possible" our most satisfactory professional experience of the last year. As each student's samples were read out - the first ones being 500-1000 word essays :eek: - the course tutor did a great job of explaining how so much of it was waffle and could be stripped away to leave a gripping core message.

I don't know how widespread it is internationally, but as I worked my way through various subjects at various levels of education, the emphasis was almost always on quantity. "Write 500 ... 1000 ... 2000 ... 5000 words on - - " was a regular instruction, regardless of how many words were needed; and I remember English classes/teachers being the worst for this. :grumpy:

When it comes to writing something that's destined to be read by a specific audience, is it harder for the "truly creative" - rather than "engineers", like me - to remove words and phrases that have been lovingly crafted to express an idea?
 
Me too - my fav of the last 20 years or so is The Holiday

It's a genre of always been interested in writing, so that's another reason this has been a good learning experience.
Yes, this was very clever way to make the usual rom-com story interesting by sort of doubling the plot. I like "While you were sleeping" because it also deviates from the traditional one line rom com by introducing the brother line, which ultimately switches the story to his side, while the original setup turns out to be fake.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
is it harder for the "truly creative" - rather than "engineers", like me - to remove words and phrases that have been lovingly crafted to express an idea?
I try not to be TOO attached to my words, phrases, and characters. I always have my screenplays critiqued by multiple people whose opinion I value and cut/change a lot.

But it's definitely hard for me to write an exact amount. My approach was to write what I thought worked, then cut cut cut. It taught me how many words can be cut without losing meaning - and I'm ALL about the story.
 
I don't know how widespread it is internationally, but as I worked my way through various subjects at various levels of education, the emphasis was almost always on quantity. "Write 500 ... 1000 ... 2000 ... 5000 words on - - " was a regular instruction, regardless of how many words were needed; and I remember English classes/teachers being the worst for this. :grumpy:
In one of my screenwriting classes, the Professor is always giving us a maximum word count. He is kinda brutal about infractions as well. If you go over his maximum by 1 word, he will delete your entire assignment. Every class, we have to write a pitch for our story that encapsulates the entire narrative, without giving away the ending, in 200 words or less. After having this professor for two consecutive terms, I have finally come up with a pitch he likes.
 
I find it helps to walk away from my script for a day or two before getting in there to do some rewriting. Perhaps it's just me but doing this helps flush out all the noise in my head I have accumulated during a writing session. No matter how hard I try at the moment, I simply end up going in circles, adding no improvement to what is already on the page (or making it worse).

It is only after I have stepped away for a day or two that I can return to my script...look at it and say "what the hell is this crap?" and make the obvious corrections and it is instantly better.
 
Last edited:
For me, I find, if I attempt to rewrite too soon, I still know what I was trying to say, so I miss things that should be tweaked (or cut altogether) as well as typos. I will usually work on the next project while I let the most recent one cool off. I generally have five or six stories working at any given time.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
A brief update on this subject: my client has a DIFFERENT company interested in one of the 2 page treatments, and now it's a mad rush to write the first draft of the screenplay - which they want in 10 days. Fortunately when I re-re-read the treatment that they like, I realize that I like it too. It's a bit wholesome for my taste (that's what they want) but a nice story. We'll see what happens :)
 
Top