The Film Treatment
Although a logline is great way to get a potential reader and/or buyer hooked onto the idea of the story, it is simply not enough to persuade them to actually read the script. Yes the logline does hook them but now they must be reeled in and the best way to accomplish that is buy using a film treatment. A film treatment is essentially a short story version of the script. The treatment gives all of the important details of the script without the use of dialogue. Everything including the plot, the theme, the characters, and even the mood of the script should be in the treatment. Also remember to write the treatment in three acts like the script. It is important to have all of the vital information of the script within the treatment but it must also be concise. Remember that these are all busy people who are ready to pass on anything if they feel it will drag out. The shorter it is the better but do not forget all of the vital information that is within the script. On top of that try to avoid using phrases like “In this scene…” or “We open with…” because this strays away from the short story style. The treatment should not read like a scene that is being described but instead flow like a prose in literature.
It is entirely up to you on whether to write the treatment before or after the script is completed but I prefer to write it before. The treatment provides a solid structure of the story and it also provides a better understanding of the direction it is going. If the treatment is well written then chances are that the script well be on par. However, regardless of when the treatment is written, it must receive the same focus and dedication that the script will. The treatment will be the first time someone will read the story and if it does not capture their attention then the script will not have a chance at all.
Although the focus on here is mostly film; the value of a treatment reaches far beyond just film. The use of a treatment can be applied to every aspect of media. It is something that is used on TV shows, music videos, short films, video games and even commercials. Therefore learning and mastering how to write a treatment will be beneficial to a person regardless of what area of media they decide to work in.
The link below has a treatment written by James Cameron for The Terminator. It is a good example of what you would want your treatment to be like.
The Logline Revisited
The importance of a logline to the development of any script goes without question. Not only will the structure of the script suffer, without a proper logline, but the possibility of selling the script will diminish significantly. Therefore whenever a screenwriter starts a script it would be best to have the logline prepared. However writing a logline may not be the simplest of tasks. So it is important to keep certain things in mind in order to write a good logline. The first thing a logline should do is introduce the main character or protagonist. The logline should also introduce the antagonist. On top of that it should also set up the catalyst for the protagonist. And lastly, upon reading it, the logline should inspire a mental picture or vision of the story.
The first job of the logline is to introduce the main character of the film. The main character is the driving force behind the story and it could be anything the writer wants it to be. However it is crucial to introduce this character in the logline and it is also crucial that the writer describe the protagonist. Take the logline for Finding Nemo as an example.
“After his son is captured in the Great Barrier Reef and taken to Sydney, a timid clownfish sets out on a journey to bring him home.”
This logline introduces the main character and it also does a great job of describing him. In one line the audience knows that the protagonist is a timid clownfish who is also a father. All of that is vital information to the story. Another job of the logline is to introduce the antagonist. In the Finding Nemo logline the open sea acts like the antagonist to the clownfish. Since the clownfish was described as timid, it is easy to see why a voyage into the open sea would pose as a problem. But the clownfish must face his fear and swim out into the open sea. Which brings up the third goal of the logline and that is to give the audience a catalyst. The protagonist of the story must be taken out of their comfort zone. The catalyst is going to force them out and put them in a possession where they must face a conflict. Again, the logline for Finding Nemo does a perfect job of setting this up. The timid clownfish does not want to go out to sea but his son has been taken away from him and in order to get him back he must face his fear. Lastly but certainly not least, the main goal of the logline is to incite a mental picture or vision of the film. If the audience does not see the story play out in some way within the mind’s eye then the logline has not done its job. It is important that whoever reads the logline gets lost, if only briefly, in their own imagination. If this does happen then the logline has done its job and hooked them. Therefore once a logline is ready you should test it out and measure its effect. Tell friends and family but also do not be afraid to tell random people that you happen to meet along the way. A stranger’s reaction will be the best indication on whether or not the logline is doing its job. If you could get a stranger interested with that one line, then the logline is a success.
Making a film can sometimes be a daunting and overwhelming experience. It is easy to get lost in the multitude of ideas that run through the mind when first starting to make a film. All of these ideas can make it difficult to begin writing the screenplay or script. That is why it is important to sum up the story one wants to tell in one-line. This one-line, or logline, is crucial to the development of the script because it keeps the story centered on one concept. If writing a script is like being a ship in the middle of a fog, than the logline is the lighthouse that will guide the ship in the right direction. So what exactly is a logline? A logline is a brief summary of the scripts plot in one sentence.
“A robotic assassin from a post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to eliminate a waitress, whose son will grow up and lead humanity in a war against machines.” The Terminator 1984
“After his son is captured in the Great Barrier Reef and taken to Sydney, a timid clownfish sets out on a journey to bring him home.” Finding Nemo 2003
“A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.” Brick 2005
These are a couple of examples of loglines for movies. Each one is able to capture the plot of the film and it is easy to see how important each logline is to the structure of the film. But not only do these loglines help to structure the story, they are also there to entice the audience.
This audience includes everyone from studio executives, producers, agents and even the people that will hopefully pay to watch the movie. This is another good reason to have a logline. People are often busy and they do not have the time to sit and listen to a long dragged out summary of a story. Therefore it is important to have a logline to hook them in. If the filmmaker cannot break the story down into one line then they will lose this audience. Think about the many things that can distract a person on a daily basis; TV shows, sports, video games, books, the internet, family, jobs, school and on and on and on. The logline will be able to catch their attention even if it is for a split second. Sometimes that’s all you need. So before you start jotting down a million ideas and planning the shots that you want to get, stop and figure out what the story is about and write it down in one sentence because without that lighthouse you will just be lost in the fog.