Fenella Greenfield knows a thing or two about script treatments. Running the annual Euroscript Screen Story Competition for over 15 years gives you some insight.
During this session, Fenella was kind enough to give us some top pointers when it comes to condensing our script’s story into a short prose piece that’ll hook an exec into wanting to read the whole thing.
Think About Your Audience
This doesn’t mean the audience for the project, it means the audience for the treatment. Different people will want different things from you. Sometimes it’s a full page, or two pages. For Euroscript, Fenella asks writers to submit 750 words.
Think of it like a verbal pitch, you’d tailor that to the situation. In an elevator with insert-your-dream-producer-here you’d give a tight 30 second pitch. In a sit-down meeting, you’d maybe give 5 minutes and allow time for chat. It’s similar with treatments. Tailor it to who you’re sending it to.
If this is a cold enquiry then you’ll want a different tone to if you’ve already given the verbal pitch and they’ve asked you to send a treatment. If it’s for a competition, read the submission guidelines. If you don’t know what they’re expecting from you, simply ask.
Clarity Above All
It should go without saying, but your treatment should be easily readable! That means no playing with the fonts and margins to get as much into one page as you can. Stick to the default margins and a nice clear font that’s easy on the eye like Calibri. Keep your sentences short. If there’s a chance to use one (easily understandable) word instead of five, then take it.
Fenella said that she starts with a scruffy, note-filled mess that she writes up and refines, digging into every sentence and word to make sure they’re pulling their weight. Don’t fall in love with your own writing! Dense prose is off-putting, and you don’t want a reader to have to go back to read something again to understand it.
Another tip: Record yourself reading it out loud, or give it to a friend to read out to you. You’ll soon spot what doesn’t work.
Don’t List the Plot, Tell the Story
Don’t be boring! A crucial part of hooking the reader is engaging them with the story. Don’t just say that this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then it’s over. Hook them with your great story. Use active verbs (she runs, she escapes, she confronts).
Use language that reflects the genre of your story: if you’ve written a comedy then make the reader laugh, if you’ve written a thriller then keep them on the edge of their seat. Hint at what the vibe and world of the story will be, whether that’s epic, arty or indie.
Make the reader fall in love with your central character! Show your character taking action, making plans, making choices. When introducing them, give their name and rough age and a great short description – and if it’s not clear from their name, specify if they’re male or female or nonbinary. Again, clarity is the keyword. Fenella suggests imagining you’re pitching this character to a famous character: make them want to play it! When telling the story, introduce the crucial characters as they appear and drop any secondary characters.
Don’t gloss over Act 2 with a couple of short sentences, it’s the meat of your story! It’s essential to your character’s arc, don’t leave it out. Use it to show how the plot is affecting your hero.
Fenella’s session is available On Demand for 11 months, so dip back in for those golden tips before writing up your next treatment!