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Premise and Treatment

Contributed By Glen Berry

Development of a project begins with a completed script. Although everyone will agree this is the way to go, few actually adhere to this rule. Most filmmakers are eager to get a camera in their hands and spend little time thinking about why they're making those images. Although describing the script-writing process does not fall under the scope of this article, you should come out of that process with three things: a premise (or logline), treatment and a completed script.

Reducing your completed script to a 2-3 page summary provides you with the basis for your treatment. Do the math: 24 scenes at 4-5 pages per scene make a 96-120 page script. 24 scenes at 4-5 sentences per scene leads to a 2-3 page treatment. If you developed a scene outline during the script-writing process, comparing the two should not define too many differences. The biggest stumbling block for many writers at this point is understanding that ALL of the subtleties of the story can't be described in your treatment. This is an opportunity to put your creative writing skills to work crafting an essay that pulls the reader inexorably from paragraph to paragraph, drawn against their will through the enthralling twists and turns of your story.

A premise is a 2-3 sentence description of your plot. It's the opening to your pitch and the most important part of your entire project. Many neophyte writers balk at the idea of reducing their masterpiece to a TV Guide blurb but it ought to be viewed as a creative challenge, not an affront to art. Keep in mind your premise is your one shot to capture the interest of your private investor and spark their imagination with a few well-chosen words. If that puts you under some pressure, don't worry. Crafting pitches takes time and experience. If you're serious about getting your film made, you'll have plenty of both to hone and refine your pitch. Develop a half-dozen pitches and try them out on cynical friends and colleagues. You don't want to walk into a meeting with a pitch that's less than perfect. You need one that rolls off the tongue like golden honey. You may have to swallow a lot of bile to produce that pitch but that's what the game is all about.

Do not compare your film to other films, or describe what you intend to do with your film. Your goals are not important at this point. If a producer or investor finds your concept interesting, they'll ask you about that and many other things later. The premise is simply a means to draw potential partners further into your project. The objective is to entice them to read your treatment. The objective of the treatment is to entice them to read your script. It's a process to draw them further and further in until the time is ripe to sell them a piece of your project. In next month's column, I'll discuss that next step when we dig into the business plan.

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