How Do I Write a Treatment?

I received this email today:

I am trying to pitch a movie. My question: Is there a specific format for an outline or treatment? Is there someplace I could get a sample of either or both?

Unless you are an established screenwriter, or are teamed up with a well-connected movie producer, there is no point in writing up an outline or a treatment. No one will ever read it or meet with you. You are better off writing the script…or the book… and trying to sell that to the movies.

On the other hand, if you are an established screenwriter or aligned with a hot producer, you still don’t need an outline… a simple, punchy, two-page  "leave-behind" after your verbal pitch will do.

If they want an outline or a treatment, they can pay you for one.

That’s my advice, any way. Then again, most of my experience is in television, not feature film. You might visit screenwriter John August’s blog and pose the same question to him.

UPDATE: For details on how to write a series treatment, click here.

33 thoughts on “How Do I Write a Treatment?”

  1. Writing a treatment or an outline is definitely a good idea to help in the writing process. But as an unknown working on spec, you’ll need the finished script in order to make a sale.
    A treatment is simply a narrative telling of the story of your movie, written in the present tense with little or no dialogue. It should be concise, active and hopefully vivid. The format isn’t particularly important, other than that, though.

  2. Dear Mr. Goldberg:
    Congratulations you’re a google result. Anyway, I have a situation where a broadcast entity claims they want to hear my idea for a boxing series or made for TV movie. The characters belong to my family from a comic drawn by my father.
    Do you suggest me writing a treatment for them to read, or as is suggested on your site a simple two-page narrative? If a narrative is they way to go, what are the key points to include? Do I go as far as dialog and cameas shots and locations or simply text with main characters CAPITALIZED? Advice requested and appreciated.

  3. Dear Mr. Goldberg:
    Congratulations you’re a google result. Anyway, I have a situation where a broadcast entity claims they want to hear my idea for a boxing series or made for TV movie. The characters belong to my family from a comic drawn by my father.
    Do you suggest me writing a treatment for them to read, or as is suggested on your site a simple two-page narrative? If a narrative is they way to go, what are the key points to include? Do I go as far as dialog and cameas shots and locations or simply text with main characters CAPITALIZED? Advice requested and appreciated.

  4. You should have at least two scripts for writing samples. That’s as much as I was willing to invest, but getting someone connected to read them is another matter. I had an agent that made feeble attempts to sell one but they couldn’t get through. Then they went out of business.

  5. If a narrative is they way to go, what are the key points to include? Do I go as far as dialog and cameas shots and locations or simply text with main characters CAPITALIZED? Advice requested and appreciated.

    A series treatment and a TV movie treatment are very different. A series treatment sells characters and the franchise of the show…the relationships and format that will generate stories week after week. A TV movie treatment sells the story.
    If the studio is already familiar with your Dad’s comic, I don’t know why they need you to come up with a series treatment…the strip itself sells that or they wouldn’t be interested in the first place.
    A series treatment isn’t about telling a story…it’s about describing the characters, how they interact within the unique format of your show. Who are they? What do they do? And how will who they are and what they do generate 100 interesting stories?
    For a TV movie treatment, you’re selling the characters and their story. At this point, you’re trying to sell the broadstrokes…they can pay you to work out the rest. Write up a punchy over-view of what happens in the story, as if you were writing a review of a great movie (only minus the praise). You want to convey the style and tone of the movie. But don’t go into great detail. Keep it short, tight and punchy.And whatever you do, DON’T include camera shots or dialogue.
    Don’t fixate on treatment format, because there isn’t one. Tell your story in the style that works best for you. Don’t worry about whether the character names are in capitals or not (it doesn’t matter). Concentrate on telling a strong story.

  6. I don’t have a clue. That said, I read an article in the trades recently (last week?) talking about how the reality field is tightening up considerably and that the networks are only buying shows from well-established producers.

  7. I am in the process of writing a reality series treatment. I have done a lot of research for this pitch in terms of target audiences, advertising, and the whole structure of the show. I am just stuck on writing it. I have never written one before and dont know where to start. Any ideas? Do you know of any sites with example treatments?
    Thank you

  8. Mr. Goldberg,
    Find your site very useful and interesting. I am currently trying to write a script. It’s based on a story that been festering in my head for the last 15 years or so. About the only thing I’ve read and heard is that you can’t get an agent if you’re not connected. And you can’t get connected if you don’t have an agent. I’m not looking for the meaning of life but what can an outsider do to get in. Please forgive me if I asked the one question that you’ve heard a million times.

  9. Great blog! I attended ScrExpo4 in LA last week, and pitched 8x. 1 asked for the script (which I have written), and 3 or 4 asked for a 1-2 page treatment. Noticed your comment about a treatment for a TV series. Sounds a lot like the sensible advice I got from one of the pitchees (about pitching, not about the treatment). Thanks for reinforcing that. Will help me rewrite the treatment.
    Albany Lawyer Warren Redlich

  10. Mr. Goldberg, (The “Dear” is overrated.)
    What if to enter a National indie film competition (I’m entering the Cinemalaya from the Philippines) you have to submit a treatment along with a synopsis? This is kind of what I had to pose to you. Your cynical point of view when it came to newbie writers is refreshing, though not entirely true in the Philippines.
    I would have appreciated the help if you had actually posted what your blog topic promised. However, you did give me some advice I could use in the future when I’m not a 13 year old novelist-dinkus and actually in college studying mass communications and scriptwriting. Your help was greatly appreciated.
    Please drop me a line at my blog (featured above) whether cynical and vicious or patronizing. Any reply to my rude and presumptuous comment is appreciated, very much so.
    And BTW, your list of authors who blog also helped. More feedback for the writer girl who has no teenage social life due to her word processor.
    Frankie Torres
    Metro Manila, Philippines

  11. How about treatments for television? How do I write one for a show idea I have? What do they expect? Your advice is greatly appreciated.

  12. I understand that an unknown has little to no chance of getting a script read much less a treatment. However, what are the chances of selling the treatment as an idea to a writer, etc? Any money in that?

  13. I wanted to send the question you answered in the beginning of this page. Thank you. But, what you will do if you have four published novels, and more then 30 stories?
    In serbian language which is so small market that there is no money to make a TV series or movie? At last, you have strog filling that your ideas have more freshness than any you are watching on screens? Thak you again.
    Radmilo Andjelkovic, Beograd, Srbija, Balkans

  14. Well, damn if that is not discouraging! I am not going to pretend to over acheive or going to “beat the odds”. Just readily admit there are millions of awful, so-so, good, and profitable stories swimming around in the minds of people who do not know anyone on the “inside” of the entertainment industry. Stories that will not be told to anyone but a PC. So, how did it happen that you are 1 in a million?
    You are an amazing sucess- Wishing you well and may your voice be heard for years to come.

  15. Hi,
    I have a story in my mind, and I think it would make an good 2h – 2h30 movie. I have it in my mind, and I have 90% of it. The question is:
    A) Should I submit a script, a treatment, or both?
    B) Do I submit it directly to let’s say Warner Bros or Comloumbia pictures, or do I go through an agent?
    C) Any ideas of having my idea stolen in the process?

  16. I have a show in mind which will be limited to a few networks and similar to a talk show. Do I write a treatment, a script or both?

  17. I don’t believe that writers with no history should just accept no. I have written a pilot and have got it into some really good hands. Turn every no into a maybe, stay away from people like the guys who say give up, it will never happen etc. Rely on yourself and no one else. Heres to your dreams that no web page or person can take from you. Cheers

  18. hey i just wanted to know how the writers of home improvement shows such as the ones that appear on HGTV would write a treatment for shows similar to those….do you even write a treatment for a show like that or just pitch the concept?

  19. Mr Goldberg,
    Hello, I’m working on a talk show like The Late Show w/ D.L.) write now with a student body running a production house and there interested in filming it. Only, If I can convince them it’s worth it. So waiting for our first meeting, should I write a treatment for them or just a general outline. The concepts and general ideas in my head though. It’s so hard to find scripts or even transcripts to to follow for further advice.
    Please Help, Thanks

  20. hey,
    my friends and i have a great idea for a reality show that we can send to a bunch of networks. what would we have to do after we have writen the treatment and legalized it by showing we were the first people to write the idea?

  21. Dear Mr. Goldberg:
    I have a couple questions and a statement:
    After sending out many many query letters seeking a producer, agent, production company and/or relevant entity, I received a few requests for my manuscript, however, after cheking with the WGA and other resources, I found some were fony.
    I also was requested to forward a complete package to…, Attn, Agent Maxine Thompson of Sheba Media Group; this company is very legit, and Ms. Thomas credentials are profound. Okay, they requested my materiaamy question to you is….
    Do you think they’re going to really read my screenplay?
    Do you think they’ll give my screenplay grave production consideration?
    Yours truly,
    Int’l Bleu
    P.S. additional articles you can check out: or my personal site…

  22. Hello, Thanks for this site!Ok…here goes..I have two very successful brothers in th acting and comedy industry.Another highly reputable actor got a network sold on doing a show based off the two of them with his idea. The network wants to release their show this fall. A script was delivered and the network didn’t like it, requested that they fire their writer and gave them a chance to pitch another script. Me, myself who is an actress/writer came up with another great storyline and characters for my brothers and they loved it and other close friends were thrilled about it. My brother asked me to write a synopsis so they can pitch it to the actor that got them the deal.Because my story is not so dated and fits them more. I’ve written a synopsis and I am working on a treatment. Should I submit the treatment with the synopsis or just the synopsis? Should I even write a treatment? As well as register it with the Writers Guild? How serious is this? I need all of the advice I can get! Thanks a million!

  23. Hi Lee
    Ive never done tv productions before. the station wants budget. thing is, its already a tv network. they already have equiptment, studios, crew etc. HOw do I give them a budget if they already have the staff? Id be happy to write myself in for 10% as producer.
    Do they want a budget based on rentals and post work?
    thanks for your advise
    best, Phil

  24. Hey Lee, I know you hear it this all the time, but I have a very interesting story.
    I have over a half million people required about my documentary and book, which is base on a true story. The documentary will establish my creditability of knowing the truth, the book will tell the story into detail, which should bring talks about the making of the movie. I also have music that incorperated into the movie(sound trac). My question is what kind of deal should I be working on?

  25. I have developed a talk show idea and had been shown some interest by t.v. execs. I’ve pitched the idea verbally and they like it. They’ve asked me for me for 13 show treatments and I want to give them what they need. I need help to see a treatment for a talk show so I can observe the appropriate format. I cannot find anything on talk show treatment writing.

  26. I hate to say it, but most of the questions above come from people who can’t even spell…
    Seriously guys, there is no way you can call yourself a writer if you can’t spell the word ‘equipment’, or don’t know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’.
    As good an idea as you may think you have (and trust me, most ideas are not as original as you think), if your presentation isn’t meticulous, no-one will look at it twice.
    If you seriously want to become a screenwriter, make sure that your prose is faultless and compelling. Anything less and you’re selling yourself short!

  27. Mr. Goldberg this is the correct address for the Golf show treatment question regarding style and type of treatment for a regional golf travel show. Thanx…

  28. Mr. Goldberg, I have enjoyed perusing your website and blog.
    A friend pitched an idea to me that I initially thought would be very boring, (she pitched it to me because I am a writer, novelist, etc.), by the end of our two hour meeting I was on board. I have completed a synopsis/bible and the pilot script for a one hour single camera dramedy TV series with two subsequent scripts completed and several more roughed out. Our original intent was to make a low/no budget pilot and try to get that sold to a network. Being the nobodys that we are, the inanity of this is blaring. We have a former CNN producer wanting to: “take it to the next step,” (whatever that is), and a few marginally known actors reviewing it to offer their opinions.
    In your opinion: “where should we go from here?”

  29. I just want to say that I am navigating the waters of writing for film and TV, and there’s something important many of the people turning to forums like this should bear in mind: Of course the odds are raised when you’re wanting a career that rewards you for your craft and gift of insight, but really… the negativity and bitterness of so many of the writers I find posting to these forums is ridiculous. And, in my opinion, it only goes to create more negative expectations for writers wanting to make it work. There are no rules — that’s the crux of the whole matter.
    Read some scripts (because it’s fun and a helpful way to learn) — google drew’s script-o-rama for a slew of free downloadable film and TV scripts.
    Then write a script that means something to you. (Hopefully you’re writing because you can’t not write, so if it doesn’t sell you’ve still done something great for your own mind and soul.)
    There are plenty of ways to “get into” the network. You just have to have the chutzpah and some time to do it. Maybe nothing will happen. But if you listen too closely to some of these people who are determined to tell you how insanely difficult it is to be a writer in this industry, then you may very well end up like them. And believe me, I’ve met plenty of “working” Hollywood writers, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re any more fulfilled with life than you or I.
    You get what you put into it. Concern yourself with the details after you’ve written something you love. Then put your brainstorming cap on and think of every clever, unmapped path you can take to get your story read. That’s the way it’s always been done. Doing things the way the negative nellies do them is only really going to make you one yourself.
    And, truth be told, the way to get on the “inside” is to mingle with the same people. And they don’t live in ivory towers, and they go out to the same places everyone else has access to… They just happen to be almost entirely in LA, and occasionally NYC. Some writers aren’t very good at socializing, but if you want to tell stories by way of film or TV, you need to get good at being able to talk to people who do different jobs in the business. (Yet another reason so many of the negative nelly writers are so… negative — they’re just not that fun to talk to 😉
    If you want to get your story made, and it’s a great story, then you can get it made. But like it’s always been said: YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE.


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