This week I’ve written my first treatment. Previously I have been so eager to get writing the script I have forgone these stages of script documentation which are both methodical and sensible steps to take in planning a story. And it has meant that I’ve dived head first into a script where my understanding of where I am going to take my characters is sketchy at best. This time I am very sure I have a structure for my story. I know, in the main, what is going to happen in each scene and that feels exciting and liberating because now I can place my characters there and let things play out. I feel that if I am not worrying about where this is going I can think more about how it gets there – the details, the bits that make it feel honest.
I’ve shown my treatment to several friends (okay, not the most critical audience) but I wanted to ensure that the visuals of the piece worked. Everyone has come back saying they had a clear image of who the characters were, the environment they lived in, and how the story played out.
It’s interesting to think what this short might have looked like as a scenario from the era of Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la lune. I don’t think the complexity of the human drama would have been effective, so the nuance of the story as I see it would be lost, but the fundamental events would be clearly communicated, and easily demarcated within a simplistic scenario.
In the future it would be good to see the screenwriter being an active component of the film set in the same way that other creatives are; in the same way as playwrights are. Able to edit and respond to changing creative landscapes, input on casting and location, perhaps to have greater influence over the end product. A Writer/Director already has this ability, but the traditional model is that the Screenwriter hands over to the Director and thus it becomes the Director’s work. Which seems a shame given the collaborative nature of the film making. Yes, the writer’s work must be done predominantly before production begins, and I suppose there is some crossover – some arena for conflict – when a writer and director, both with strong ideas on how the film should look and both invested in its success, are both heavily involved in a project through production. In creative advertising the writer and art director work as a team, develop ideas and see them through to fruition together. It would be great if film could evolve the role of the writer to emulate that.
One thing I am becoming aware of is the ambiguous nature of screenwriting documentation. Different people have different definitions of the same document, or a different name for something which is essentially the same. For some, a treatment is a scene by scene, prose version of the story. I have also seen this described as an outline. I’ve also seen the treatment described as a document which should be produced after the writing of the script, as a tool to explain your screenplay. Even scripts are not standard. Some shows have a specific way they want their script formatted.