Pitch, Beat Sheet, Step Outline, TreatmentComplications Ensue
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Saturday, June 09, 2018

Q. Do you have examples of great treatments you could send me?
I don’t. I will read a great script, but I don't read other people’s treatments. Most pro writers will tell you that a treatment isn’t really a thing they like to write. It’s a step in the WGC contract, but it’s not really useful.

There are two things that look like treatments:

a. pitches
b. beat sheets

A pitch is for selling. It tells the story of the movie in 3-8 pages. Shorter is better. The idea is to get someone to pay you to write the movie. Or, if someone is saying they only want to read an outline, this is what you give them. There’s a fair amount of handwaving in a pitch. You don’t have to work out every last detail. You should put lots of sizzle in a pitch. Make sure the reader knows how cool everything is. Don’t put in dialog.

A beat sheet is for the writer to write the script. Mine are usually 10-12 pages single spaced. There’s usually about 40 beats in a movie. A scene can have two beats, or a beat can comprise several scenes, in the case of an action sequence. A beat sheet can include the emotional heart of a scene, if you think you might otherwise forget. If you have much more than 45 beats, you probably have too much going on in your movie.

Once you add sluglines (EXT. IAN’S FLAT - DAY) it’s a step outline, which is just a more detailed beat sheet.

Almost no one except writers and a few directors can read a beat sheet. Producers think they know how, but they don't, and giving a beat sheet to a producer usually results in tears. It is often unavoidable though. Producers will complain that a comedy beat sheet isn’t funny, or that a horror beat sheet isn’t scary, because beat sheets don’t express style or tone or pacing or emotional well. Beat sheets are the skeleton you hang scenes on. Never give anyone a beat sheet if you can avoid it, without first telling them the story in person over lunch.

Some producers and funders (e.g. Telefilm) are now requiring a 20-page “just add water” treatment, with indicative dialog. This creature is an abomination before the Lord. To get to this thing, you have to basically do all the work of writing a script without getting paid for a script, and without any of the fun. No writer I know considers a just add water treatment to be a useful step in writing a script. I have literally written the script first and then boiled it down afterwards, because writing a script is easier and much more fun.

The best way to write a pitch is to tell the story off the top of your head, without looking at the script. Just tell it the way you’d tell a friend the story of the movie. Then punch it up. Feel free to move events around if they sound better that way.

The best way to write a beat sheet is to tell the story to anyone who’ll listen, for three months, until you’ve worked out all the kinks in your story. Then write it down.

The second best way to write a beat sheet is with index cards, on the kitchen table. That way you can move things around easily.

I’m not sure looking at other people’s treatments is useful, except to see how different they are. The key point is to remember whether you’re writing a pitch or a beat sheet. If you’re writing a beat sheet, it doesn’t matter how you write it, because it’s just a long aide-mémoire for yourself (and your writing partner if you have one). If you’re writing a pitch, it’s a sales document, so just make your movie sound as awesome as you know how.


Am still struggling to grasp what a beatsheet really means,as for a pitch, it is a marketing document.

By Blogger Unknown, at 8:24 AM  

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