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Writing the dreaded Film Treatment…

FilmmakersWe’ve just written our first full application package for funding from iFeatures, who are in conjunction with Creative England, BFI, BBC Films and National Lottery. They have a great scheme where they take a filmmaking group (writer, director and producer) who are ready to make their first feature film and help them with training and ultimately a £350,000 budget.
Only three teams will get that money though so the competition will be really stiff! To filter out the wannabies from the big boys, they have made an application process that is pretty damn hard. They are looking for:
– A ten page treatment for your proposed film
– 500 word statements from each team member and a group statement
– Examples of previous work
– Biographies for each team member

So there’s a lot to do. We only had a month to do it as well, so the pressure was on. We’ve finally completed and submitted with much relief. So I thought I’d tell you about our writing process and what we did to make our application the best it can be. After all, if you are planning on applying for funding, these are the types of things that will be required and be great skills to have. We’re no experts though, so feel free to ignore everything I’m about to say!

Writing HelpA treatment is the full story of your film from the very beginning to the very end. The reader must know every major plot point and all of the character development throughout the film. No cliffhanger endings to make the reader want to know what happens at the end. They want to know you can deliver a full story from start to finish.

Not only does the reader need to know what happens in the film, but they also need to be able to visualise the film when they read it. So you need to describe the settings, and the situations in the scenes. If something stands out about specific characters you need to tell it.

Also the way it is written needs to fit with the genre of film you hope to make. If you’re planning a horror then your treatment needs to be tense, unnerving and scary. If it’s a comedy then you want to try and make people laugh.
It’s a difficult task as you’ll only have so many words/pages to use, as specified by whoever you’ll be sending your treatment to. Therefore every sentence has to be planned carefully. Don’t rush through it, but don’t drag it out too much either. Once you’ve got the pacing needed to tell the story, it needs to flow naturally and be easy for the reader to follow.

One of the things that is easy to slip into is the ‘He did this’ and ‘She did that’ scenario. No one wants to read a list of what Bob did or said as this will quickly bore a reader to death. The key is to find clever ways of telling your reader what Bob did. And of course beware of too many spelling or grammatical mistakes. One or two will be passed unnoticed but too many will make you seem amateurish.

Ultimately, what will sell your treatment more than anything else is a great story. If you still feel like your story could be better then you are not ready to send it anywhere!

If you can master your treatment then you should be unstoppable. Of course even the perfect treatment doesn’t guarantee success. Be sure you have researched into who you are sending it to first. Check that they are interested in the type of film you are sending them or don’t already have anything too similar in their back catalogue. Also a lot of luck is involved. Luck that it gets to the right person at the right time. Give it your best shot though – the worst that can happen is they say no!

You will usually have to submit statement’s from at least the writer, director and producer of your film (if you have them on-board). This will require you to write a piece (you’ll be advised how many words) about yourself, what you can bring to the project and how you will work alongside your team members.

WriterIf you’re the writer then obviously your written statement has to be well written. Really well written. This is your chance to prove how clever you can be with words and sentence structure and grammar. Mistakes here will cost you. You also need to find a way to prove to the readers how you are connected with the story. What made you think of it? Why do you need to tell it? What were your inspirations? Also a bit on how you work as a writer would be helpful. They need to have confidence that, not only are you good at what you do, but you can also get the job done and not abandon it halfway through. Show that you’re a team player too and that the input, advice and critique of others is important to your writing.

DirectorFor the director, you need to show why you want to take this film on board. Ultimately this is going to be your vision so how are you going to make that happen. How can you use your skills and your life knowledge to bring this to the screen? Why do you feel compelled to? An understanding of the story, the characters and the themes and messages you are trying to tell is a must. You need to show how passionate you are about this film and that you will sell your own Grandmother to get it made! They also need to know that you are good at what you do. Links to previous work is a good idea.

Producers have to be just as committed to this project as the writer and director. It is becoming encouraged more and more for the producers to understand the way films are made and to have some creative input, so show what you know about film. What will your background bring to the project? You also need to convince the reader that you are the perfect person to sort out the budget, organise locations, actors, equipment that might be needed. You are the man/woman to go to when stuff needs to get done. Prove it.

Now I’d never say to lie on these things, but exaggerating or embellishing on the truth slightly is something that all of your competitors are going to be doing so you need to do it too. As long as, if asked, you can back it up. Don’t tell them you’ve written a best-selling novel if it’s obviously a lie.

Most importantly, have fun with it. At the end of the day, most people watch a film for entertainment. This is your baby, your story, your film. If you cannot be entertained by it then how will anyone else?

Good luck with submitting your ideas to the world! I look forward to watching your film!
Written by Joseph Monahan – Writer/director at Berry Productions – @josephmonahan

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