Honing your Ideas - Part Two | Print |
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Writing the Treatment

We've come a long way from the original idea. By asking the right questions, we've developed a potentially viable concept. We understand it in terms of:

1.  to whom the video speaks,
2.  how the video will speak to them, and
3.  what the video will say.

Now we can write a treatment, which will help us pursue our project without los­ing sight of our concept. By clearly defining our direction in this way, we can hold true to our original vision for the project.

Depending on the complexity of a production, its treatment may be long or short. Some in-depth treatments resemble scripts; others simply document mood changes and/or visual effects, with techni­cal annotations along the way. Regardless, the treatment should always move the reader chronologically from the beginning to the end of the program.

There's no established manuscript for­mat for a treatment. Just try to tell a story in as readable a way as possible. The treat­ment for our car maintenance video might begin like this:

Project Name: A Young Woman's Guide to Minor Car Maintenance.
Statement of Purpose: The main goal of this project is to provide information about basic car maintenance to female college students under the age of twenty. These young women face the full responsibilities of car care for the first time in their lives.

In the interest of hooking and keeping the attention of the target audience, we'll present this information in a series of three music videos. Cuts will be as short as pos­sible. A different actor/musician with a distinct personality will demonstrate each automotive maintenance task.

Most important, the tasks will not be overly technical in nature. Our audience needs to understand only the basics of car care: how to check belts, check the oil and other fluid levels, change a tire, fill the radiator, replace a burned-out fuse and so on. The frequent use of common­sense metaphors will remove any feelings of intimidation this subject may arouse in viewers.

The video jacket layout resembles that of an album cover rather than an instructional videotape. The songs contained in the program will be remakes of popular rock-and-roll songs, with lyrics pertinent to the mechanical tasks.


The opening credits emulate the digital­animated effects common to music video TV stations. These lively visual effects are choreographed to heavy guitar and pow­erful drums. The monolithic CTV (Car Television) logo vibrates in time with the music.

Cut to a perky female vee-jay who says, as if continuing a thought from before the latest station break, "We'll hear more of the latest tour information soon, but first let's take a look at this new release from J eena and the Jalopies .... "

Cut to close-up of female lead singer in the middle of a concert. We hear the giddy cheering of a large crowd as she introduces the next song. Her tormented expression prepares us for a tale of love's cruelty; but when she speaks, it's about how her car has done her wrong. The hand-held cameras circle like vultures on the fog-drenched stage. Her dead-earnest performance mocks the lyrics, which seem comically out of place.

Cut to a dressing room interview with Jeena. "Yeah," she says, "almost every song I write is taken from my own life. I hated that car." (She takes a drag from her ciga­rette.) "And I loved it. Know what I mean?" Music from Jeena's live performance fades up as the camera holds on her face.

(Music continues.) Cut to Jeena standing next to her car, a late model import. She wears the demeanor of a child instructed to shake hands with an enemy, but stub­bornly refuses to do so. She casts occa­sional guilty glances at the camera, but refuses to look at the car, with which she is obviously quite angry. "MyoId car wasn't like this," she claims, shaking her head. "I could see the dip stick-easy. Check the oil and be done with it. So, you know, easy." Video dissolves to a memory sequence of Jeena opening the hood of an older automobile.

That gives you an idea of how the beginning of our treatment might read. It paints a much more complete picture than the words Car Repair. This video will probably be around 30 minutes in length; its treat­ment will run about ten pages, typewritten and double-spaced. If that sounds like a lot of writing, compare it to the amount of money and work required to reshoot even one minute of video.

More Treatment Tips & Tricks

Some productions, like our car main­tenance video, will involve fairly hefty budgets financed by outside investors. The treatment then becomes a sales tool for communicating the project's value to potential investors.

Depending on the type of video you're producing, other uses for a treatment include:

1.  seeking client approval,
2.  giving a "big picture" of the program to the technical and creative staffs and
3.  making sure that you can arrive at your destination.

Perhaps the most important benefit of writing a treatment comes as a result ofthe writing itself. In moving from the general concept to the specific steps to develop that concept, your treatment will pass through many incarnations. Problems will crop up at this stage of the video's devel­opment; you'll solve them by revising the treatment. In overcoming each of these obstacles on paper, you will save yourself from facing them later on the shoot itself.

Production Planning Tools

Videographers have traditionally used several tools to help them navigate the cir­cuitous pathways of production. In film­making, there's the storyboard, a comic book style layout of sequential drawings that tell the visual story of a movie. Some videographers use storyboards as well; but for many low-budget productions story­boards prove too expensive a luxury.

This is certainly true for our car repair video. For this production, our treatment must do the storyboard's job-by creating compelling, descriptive images with words. The treatment must clearly map out the avenues we'll travel without nec­essarily describing every fire hydrant and blade of grass along the way.

A general rule ofthumb: gear the sophis­tication of your treatment to the purposes it must serve. If you need to impress the board of trustees at a major cable network and feel you are out of your league in terms of writing skills, hire a freelance writer to prepare the treatment. The earlier in the creative process you bring this person in, the more benefit you can gain from his or her experience.

Don't sell yourself short, though. If you feel reasonably sure that you can tell your video's story from the beginning to the end, in a readable way that your colleagues will understand, do it.

Planning Counts

The worst mistake: skipping these crucial planning steps altogether.

Even the simplest video can flounder if you neglect the proper planning process. The meticulous development of concept and treatment allows you to cut and polish your rough project. The goal is to move into the later phases of the work with a crisply faceted jewel that will withstand the rigors of scripting and production.

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