Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to Write a Script Treatment

If You Need to Write a Treatment, Use This Guide to Write One that Will Get You that Assignment!

Before The Script

For many writers, the desire to write the Great American Novel has been replaced by the desire to write the Great Hollywood Screenplay. Writing for the movies is already the subject of dozens, if not hundreds of books. You can search for Linda Seger, William C. Martell, John Truby and scores of others whose books will take you from premise to finished script.

What many of them don't cover though, and something many new writers ask quite often, is how to write a treatment. Though the likelihood that you'd ever have to write one is rare, it does occasionally come up. Some years ago, I was a Hollywood Script Consultant. At times, writers asked if they could send me a treatment for evaluation of concept and structure. At other times, they were asked for a treatment from a producer, and were clueless as to how to proceed. They wanted to know if they had a story, characters, structure, etc. before they committed weeks/months and 120 pages to it. And I can tell a lot from a good treatment.

How You Can Write A Great Treatment

All the treatments I read are done the same way. Present tense; tell the story in a narrative with little or no dialogue. The number of pages varies so greatly that I couldn't offer a ballpark figure there.

The best treatments are those in which you eschew dry "this happens then that happens" and instead demonstrate your talent for weaving a good tale, still making it an enjoyable read. You tell a story that someone will enjoy reading, it's as simple as that. Make sure the basic ingredients are there, meaning the main and important secondary characters, the major beats of the story (structure is usually evident in them) and the major obstacles, reversals, barriers that affect those beats. Act Three and the climax have to be included. This is an account of what's involved in the story so it all has to be there.

It should also reflect the personalities of the characters, what they want and what they need. And it should show us your unique style, as well as can be done in the form of a treatment. Don't get fancy. You aren't writing a short story that needs to stand alone. Try to find a balance that works for the treatment form in the genre your script will be.

It needs to be free of typos and misspellings, and the grammar should be correct. Watch your punctuation. The usual things. You're judged on everything you submit, including presentation of the materials in a professional manner.

So, if you can do that in three pages, that's fine. If you need thirty pages, that's fine, too. On the other hand, if a producer asks for a treatment in five pages, do it in five. As I said, this is rare. They'd rather see if you can write the script itself and a treatment won't tell them that, but if they ask for a treatment, you can deliver it if you follow these guidelines and whatever the producer particularly requests.

And take the time to rewrite it, just as you do your screenplay, until it shines. It has to be a good read. Do whatever you have to do to make it just as much a page turner as your script will be. If a producer has asked for the treatment and it's a good read with all the right story elements, it could lead to an assignment and that Great Hollywood Screenplay might soon be a box office hit!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Too Young To Die At 98

I originally wrote this in 2007. Fae McCoy. 
I miss her still. Here she is in her early 90s.

On April 22, 2007, I received a phone call telling me that my dear friend, Fae McCoy had died. It was quite sudden. She just dropped to the floor and was gone. I'm in shock and feeling her loss so deeply.

I met Fae in 1989 when I moved into a small apartment building in Burbank CA. She lived directly across the yard from me. She came right over and introduced herself. At 80 years young, she was still walking, running, practically skipping across the courtyard to my front porch that day. I remember her tiny figure, her silvery hair pulled back in a wonderfully messy bun and the permanent sparkle in her clear blue eyes. And that smile - it could light the darkest night.

We soon became good friends. There was one large tree in the center of the courtyard and it offered cool shade on those hot summer days. We used to sit under it most afternoons and talk for hours. I found her to be incredibly intelligent and articulate. And funny. Her take on whichever politicians were occupying the White House at the time always had me chuckling. And her religious and philosophical beliefs leaned more to the metaphysical than traditional, which I admired incredibly. She was different and I loved that about her.

When I moved away in 2002, we still kept in touch. She never got a computer (it took me a decade to convince her to get cable tv) so I printed letters in large print (although her body stayed strong, her eyesight was failing - her only complaint about getting old) and sent actual photos of our new house, our new dogs, etc. Then I'd call her and we'd talk about them and about her.

She'd go on and on about her visits to the senior center (she didn't really like it there - too many old people), which neighbors still lived in the building, and her trips to the grocery store every week. She still did her own shopping and loved to share recipes for healthy organic meals with me. In fact, all our conversations eventually turned to food. She always wanted to try something new but was nervous about strange foods. I'd tell her what I had found or tried or discovered and she'd put some of those things in her grocery cart the following week. I took her to her first sushi restaurant. She even used the chopsticks that day. Her first California Roll and she quite liked it.

She read my first novel and loved it. She was as proud of me as a parent would be, though we weren't related by blood. We were related by our love for one another. I think she thought of me as one of her daughters sometimes (there were 30 years between us) and I was honored by that love and acceptance from her.

I called her every three to four weeks. My last call was just a month before she passed. We were joking about planning her 100th birthday party the following year. I can hardly believe she's gone.

On each August 13th, I celebrate for her. I know she'll be somewhere watching and smiling. Her smile lit up so many lives while she was here. She had been a teacher, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and great grandmother. And she had been one of my dearest friends. She was a great lady and will be sorely missed.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Tempus Fugit, Carpe Diem. WTF are you waiting for?

Why We Need to Seize the Day!

We Think We Have All the Time in the World to Do All the Things We'd Like... But We Don't

More than half my life is gone and I haven't done half the things I wanted to do. I'll be sixty-seven years old in the summer of 2014. Sixty-seven. I can hardly believe it. It seems like just yesterday I was a dewy-eyed twenty year old with my whole life ahead of me. Where have the last forty-plus years gone? If I made a list of the things I've done, it would seem like a lot: marriage, divorce, travel, college, etc. But it wasn't much at all. I got stuck in a rut. I worked very hard at my job but went nowhere. I thought I had all the time in the world.

Playing Catch-Up
My head is spinning with all the things I'm trying to accomplish now. I'm writing books and self-publishing because I don't want to do the agent/rejection/wait/wait/wait dance. Four books already written and more on the way.

I was learning Spanish on my computer from a CD course I bought years ago and never started until recently. Hola. Como estas? Estoy bien. Adios. It's challenging but I'm determined. I live in southern California. The Spanish speaking population is growing.

I was learning oil painting. Which colors to mix for a stormy sky. Which brushes to use for each different effect. Should I try to do realistic paintings, impressionistic or abstract? Actually, my early attempts might turn out to be abstracts. It's all art, right?

We also bought a little piece of land in the desert and built a house on it. We've lived here for a eight years now, but the work is far from done.

There's more, but this gives you some idea of how I'm desperately trying to cram a lot of living into so little time.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
I often ask myself why I wasted so many years doing nothing. I suppose it's a moot point. I did it, it's done, and now I'm trying to make up for it.

I look around me, to the young people who are working in my town. One young woman, a sweet girl, is so busy with manicures, pedicures and cutting hair that she hasn't even read a book since high school. Her free time is devoted to her boyfriend. I remember it well. I was the same. But will she look back, forty years from now, and wish she had done more? Experienced more? Learned more?

My nieces and nephews, their lives so filled with school and work and young adulthood; I hope they'll take the time to do the things they dream of and wish for. I hope they don't wait until their hair is turning gray and their faces are lined with the evidence of too many years gone by.

Our time on this planet if finite. Limited by frail bodies that age badly, even painfully, we're destined to spend our later years doing so much less than we'd like. We start life with hopes and plans and the mistaken notion that we have plenty of time to accomplish everything on our lists. Sadly, some of us pass from this mortal plane before seeing the first gray hair on our heads. Tragically, some leave us before they even have the opportunity to make a list of things to do.

Do It Now
Start today. Make that list and start to work on it. If you put it away, it won't get done. Do you want to learn a language? Travel to a distant land? Learn a new skill? Whatever you dream can come true if you start on it while you're still young. Partying with friends still has a place in each life, but shouldn't loom so large that it leaves no time for other things.

Don't find yourself at fifty or sixty or seventy looking back like I am now. Wishing you'd done it sooner, so that you could enjoy other things in these years. Other happy things. There's so much I still want to do. And tomorrow, something new might present itself. How will I fit it in? How will I manage? I have so little time left.

Again I say, our time here is finite. It is limited. When you pass on from here, will you ask yourself the questions? Why didn't I learn to play the piano? Why didn't I spend more time with my loved ones? Why didn't I...? You needn't ask those questions if you start now to do those things. Start now.

Find the time. And good luck to you.