Writing The Treatment — Part 2 of 2

Finishing The Treatment

Last week, we looked at the essential parts of the treatment and discussed how they are a reaction to the brief. With your concepts selected and developed, it’s time get some visual references in there and submit the treatment for review.

Visual References

A really helpful (though potentially dangerous) thing to do is provide a reference picture with your treatment. Helpful because it can clarify what you intend to do, but dangerous because if done wrong you’ve thrown the reader way off the path. A good reference explicitly states what is indicative about the picture and what is a bad steer, such as: “This shows the colour palette but is not a compositional reference.” This kind of selectivity of thought is really helpful to break down this problem to a manageable and inspiring task — looking through pictures with a narrow criteria can really open your mind to unexpected observations and inspiration.

The flip side of references is that people want to see a picture of something that, if your idea is more than a derivation of existing work, doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, there’s just no winning this argument, but we do have a virtually endless supply of images to peruse online, and Photoshop to help concoct a mock–up if it’s just not out there. I’ve often created low–resolution illustrative images that serve as a sketch to explain what I’m after or generate interest, and recommend doing the same.

These serve as a mood board to the client that express all manner of things that would either take too long to explain or would dilute much of the character that you’re trying to convey. References are especially useful to convey key moments in the concept, casting ideas, the setting, the lighting, framing choices, styling, pacing, colour relationships, or pictures that convey a mood or serve as tonal inspirational.

Similarly, online links to existing videos can serve in the same function, though for the sake of the treatment it’s a good idea to put in a reference frame to provide a reminder of the video as well as a brief paragraph of justification to clarify the context as we’ve discussed. I’ve also made video reference mock–ups before to demonstrate something specific, which help me work through the process of how to accomplish it and demonstrate to the client that I’m the right person to accomplish the job.

Sample visual references

First Submission

Now it is ready for submission. Feedback should indicate which concepts to develop and which to drop, so you will now develop them to the next stage. Depending on the complexity of your ideas, it may be worth putting in a section that gives a detailed synopsis of how each concept plays out. This should be a prose description of how the video works. Lay out the series of images and sounds that we’ll see in your video as if you are watching it in the other room and telling me because I can neither see nor hear it. This will reveal a lot about the pacing, how interest unfolds in different areas, and give a vivid and engaging story. You may want to resubmit the revised synopsis or continue on to the script, but the synopsis is extremely helpful at figuring out exactly how the script should take shape.

Now it’s time to write the script. Finally. Before we discuss that process, however, we’ll discuss the final elements that can appear in the treatment, shot lists and storyboards.

Shot Lists and Storyboards

Not always required, shot lists can be prepared by the initial creative but are likely to be modified by the director. Go through the script and determine all of the perspectives that visually make up the story in the most compelling way. I’ll usually read through the script and make notations each time the camera position should change from a wide shot to a close up or reverse shot, then I’ll list these out and imagine how the flow works going between each. It’s not necessarily an exhaustive list, as at the directing stage this will be revisited, but I’ll question whether there is anything else that is worthwhile looking at during that moment to consider options, and then compile these into a list.

Sample marked up script and shot list

Reviewing the list, it will be obvious that something is wrong if the number of shots doesn’t correspond to the duration and pace of the video. A regularly paced commercial–style video, for example, will have a number of cuts but not one per second, so a shot list of 30 setups may be excessive and 4 setups too little. This obviously depends heavily on the particular job at hand, but it is a good idea to make sure that you try to keep this list to what is really needed to put the script together as you don’t want your crew both spending valuable time on unnecessary shots and having less time for the shots that really matter.

Another likely appendix to the treatment is the storyboard, though again this will not necessarily be part of your process. Some companies send the script to a storyboard artist who sends over whatever images they see fit, but I dislike this process as it renders the storyboards a useless indication of what could possibly exist in some parallel dimension. Storyboards should be a useful document that is indicating to the production team (from pre– to post–production) what the sequence of setups should be to comprise the video. They should serve as a tool for guidance in framing and what is important within the frame. This requires the participation of the director — or a creative that is heavily leading the director — otherwise you are misguiding your client and team, and can very easily cause a scenario where the production team is being held accountable to something that was never intended to be used. If you don’t need them, don’t do them, and if you do them, make it a useful thing.


  • Writing The Treatment — Part 1 of 2
    Writing The Treatment — Part 1 of 2
  • Essential Terms — Distributing A Medium–Form Genre?
    Essential Terms — Distributing A Medium–Form Genre?
  • Towards A Creative Process — What Was The Question?
    Towards A Creative Process — What Was The Question?
  • Short Ideas: Writing for short form media — online and mobile video
    Short Ideas: Writing for short form media — online and mobile video

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>