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Monday, July 14, 2008

Fava Beans and Treatments: Long Lost Cousins?

By PJ McIlvaine

It has come to my attention that treatments, synops, one-notes, whatever you choose to call them, have come back into vogue, like bangs and maxi dresses. This is a subject I have a very strong opinion about, like religion, politics and Ted Levine.

Let me be blunt: I HATE TREATMENTS. And I hate them for one very simple reason: way too often it’s used (and misused) as an excuse not to read the script.

I’m not talking about a treatment or outline you do before writing the actual script. That’s fine. No quibble with that. Personally, I feel if you’re going to take the time to write a lengthy treatment, you might as well take the plunge and write the damn thing. But whatever floats your boat. Ain’t gonna hassle with you. You guys can stop reading now and go watch THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

No, I’m referring to a situation where you pitch a project in a logline, and the response is, “let me read the treatment first and if I like what I read, I’ll request the script.”

Humbug. Pure and simple.

A treatment is like a book report: it’s supposed to condense your masterpiece into easily digestible bits. It’s pablum. You’re supposed to hit the highs and lows, the beats, and write it in such a way to make it more appealing. But pabulum is pabulum. It’s tasteless baby food. I don’t eat baby food. Therefore, I detest treatments. I spit them out like beets.

We want them to read the script. We don’t want them to read a treatment. A treatment is just an easy way to say no. Why should we make it easier for them to say no? It’s like when people were beheaded in King Henry VIII’s court. The custom was for the condemned to pay their executioner for the privilege of chopping their heads off. Think about it. Your last moments on Earth and you have to grease the palm of the guy who’s about to decapitate you. No harm, no foul! Here, take some coin to relieve your conscience, if you have one. They called it consideration. I call it ghastly. I don’t want to pay someone to behead me.

It used to be that I rarely---very rarely---ever got asked for a treatment on a script I’ve already written. On ideas I’m trying to pitch without having a completed script, yes. That my puny little brain can assimilate. But lately, more often than I care to admit, I’m being asked for these damn treatments and I don’t understand it. Quite frankly, they’re a pain in the butt, but I do it when requested because I’m a nice lady and I’m accommodating. Plus, I can’t bring myself to do what some of my pals do: ignore the treatment request and simply send the stinking script.
Terry Rossio in his superb column on treatments ( raises some excellent points, all of which I agree with. Most of the time you write the damn things, and they mean absolutely nothing. Yet we agonize over them. We waste time, energy and brain cells that could be spent doing better things…like writing scripts. But why should we write scripts if all they want are frigging treatments?!?

So I write the treatment, I send it off…and then they argue with the treatment. Yeah, you heard me. One page, two at the max, and they question my story. I had one exec say to me, “I don’t know if emus are funny.” Well, you know what, lady? Read the darn script and find out!

I’d say more about how much I abhor treatments, but I checked my e-mail, and I just got a request…for another treatment.

Anyone in the mood for fava beans?

*The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of The Wave-inatrix and um...PJ has been sedated and is resting comfortably.

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PJ McIlvaine said...

Will somebody bring the Chanti? Please? The people here in white coats won't give me any.

Morgan McKinnon said...

I must say that I am thoroughly impressed with your post.
As a new gives me hope.


Christian M. Howell said...

Aaaah, the treatment. Four to twenty pages of utter condensation. The bane of existence. The slayer of story. The crucifier of imagination.

Wherefore art thou treatment?

Anonymous said...

Hey PJ and Christian and Julie,

I disagree.

I read the treatment for movies like Transformer(s), Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Terminator 11 and Aliens etc....

It is not the slayer or story. It is the key to enticing these producers or God-like directors. James Cameron wrote some of the best treatments when he was on the top of the film industry.

The script must be as good as the treatment. No "ifs" or "buts". The whole package must be exciting.

The trick is not to bore the reader or the producer or the director. Write it visually with exciting "trailer like prose". Master the art of technical writing and novel writing. It helps.

I read Treatments where the writers got big bucks, cause, simply, they made it an exciting technical read.

If your script is exciting, why is it so difficult to write an exciting treatment?

Lastly, Shane Black has an exciting treatment of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang...

Take a look.


Morgan McKinnon said...

Why are Writers constantly fed crap from the Hollywood crowd?

When will they get fed up?

I’m writing my first script.

I took the time away from my family to construct a LOGLINE.
Just “twenty-five” measly words. HOURS!

Stacks…of yellow pads of research, for just ONE character (not even my hero.)

MONTHS…of research into the mind of my hero (who is also ME) to make him real (not tv) to make him someone that a reader will want to spend 102 pages with.

YEARS…(spending hard earned dollars and purchasing first off) of studying every book on writing from ARISTOTLE…to STC!

Oh my goodness…do I dare mention WEBSITES…where you,

Slosh through every single syllable of the professionals’ trying to learn how to write a script only for them to turn around and tell you that the very words you have learned to write are crap and not worth the time to take to read…only a mere skim.

And then to be told (WITH ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY) that your script (with which you labor) is a piece of shit. (“Granted I haven’t read it…I just know.”)

That’s interesting actually because from what I’ve learned of most readers, they aren’t paid enough to consider reading a script as it clearly demands to be read.

From what I understand…readers are just trying to pay the rent, therefore, for them it’s simply a matter of…”I read the script, IT SUCKED, where’s my check?”

And new writers are led into this “valley of death to the writers”, script in hand…

Why do writers continue to tolerate this this this…bullshit!

It reminds me of the same stank bullshit about “sowing wild oats” that men have succeeded in stuffing down the throats of women over the centuries. (Go ahead. I left it open. Intentionally.)

Well guess what gang?

You’re smart I’m sure you already have…

Fuck the bullshit. I’m not taking it.

And I will sell my script.

And that’s the truth.


Julie Gray said...

Ah...thank you Morgan. I think. Love your passion.

That said I do not consider the Rouge Wave "crap" or from the "Hollywood crowd". Rather, this blog is based on my experiences and those of my peers. Nothing is written in stone; that there are no rules in Hollywood is a well-earned truism.

However, your take on readers is uninformed and honestly, quite patronizing if not insulting You need to walk in their shoes before passing judgment. If you could qualify for the job.

Keep up your passion; love your spirit and determined nature but you might want to temper your words just a little bit until you've had a lot more actual, hands on experience with screenwriting, readers and the "Hollywood crowd" - whatever that means. I think you mean those who are actually in the trenches, working hard, making connections and paying their dues. Why would that "crowd" feed you "crap"? We welcome new members and we do it by passing along some of our experience and wisdom. Take it for what it's worth.

Anonymous - I noted in PJ's post that I may or may not agree with her views. In fact, I don't really agree; I'm on your page with that, actually. That's why that post was filed under "opinions".

Luzid said...


No, you won't - not with that kind of attitude.

You are utterly clueless as to what readers actually do. They exist to analyze quickly, but they do in fact analyze thoroughly.