What’s the Difference Between a Film Treatment and a Synopsis_

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What’s the Difference Between a Film Treatment and a Synopsis?

So you’ve written an entire script? That’s an amazing accomplishment, and as a beginner, I bet you thought that was all you had to do in order to have your work considered for production on broadcast television, cable, or one of various streaming app like Hulu or Netflix. If that’s the case, you definitely thought wrong! Unfortunately, before your screenplay stands a chance to sell, you’re going to need a film treatment and a synopsis. 

Maybe you’ve heard of them? When it comes to synopses and treatments, the two words are frequently used interchangeably to describe marketing a screenplay or script. However, these terms are actually not one in the same in fact there are several differences when it comes to a film treatment vs a synopsis. 

So, what’s the difference between a film treatment and a synopsis? More importantly, why does it matter? How do each of these screenplay marketing tools help me get my script in front of, or sold to, the right audience? 

In short, a film treatment represents a detailed guide that reflects key elements of importance directly as they relate to the film idea whereas a synopsis is literally just a very short description of the concept or idea for the film. 


What is a Film Treatment?

The film treatment represents a more in-depth tool that you’ll use to hammer home the idea of producing your film. So, you’re going to use your synopsis to generate interest around your idea, and get your producer or agent fired up. Then you’ll use your film treatment as a means of hammering out any key data and additional details surrounding your film. The idea of the treatment is to give the producer essentially all the details.

The film treatment is going to be 10 pages or so. It could even be longer depending on the complexity of the film itself. The treatment, unlike a synopsis, is going to include a lot more details such as:

  • The beginning, middle and end of your story.
  • A theme that creates the overall narrative structure and a point for your story resolution.
  • A clear and concise main idea.
  • Detailed descriptions of the main character and other key characters within the film.
  • Key information on how conflict is resolved.

The treatment is certainly going to take more thought and preparation than the synopsis. Generally, the treatment is going to come somewhere before the screenplay has been finalized whereas the synopsis is actually going to come after the script is written and represents a marketing tool that you’re going to use to drive excitement around your story.

What is a Synopsis?

The script synopsis is an overview of your plot. Some choose to simply use their logline as the synopsis, which is acceptable, although a bit more may be asked by a manager in order to ensure they have a full understanding of what the idea is. When pitching your idea to a producer or agent, the synopsis represents the shortest possibly means of pitching to the potential client. Most of the time your synopsis is going to be somewhere between the length of a logline and about a page in total length. This really all depends on the complexity of the idea.

Think of the synopsis as a step above your elevator pitch. Where your logline is the elevator pitch, the synopsis is one step ahead of that. It’s how you get a producer, agent, or someone else excited about your film. The film synopsis should not be more than a page. It really should be just long enough to deliver the key concept of your story and what makes it great! 

Many screenwriters like to use the following very simple format when writing a synopses for their film:

  • Logline
  • Act 1 Description
  • Act 2 Description
  • Act 3 Description
  • Essential Notes

That’s really all you need!

What’s the Difference Between a Film Treatment and a Synopsis?

BBP FIlm Crew

The difference between a film treatment and a synopsis is a least 5-9 pages! That’s not the only difference between the two though. A film treatment is typically a high level, detailed version of what to expect from the script. It’s a more in-depth breakdown that includes an outline of the entire story, key characters, and other pertinent details whereas the synopsis is really just a short overview of the story. 

Generally speaking, the synopsis is about a page, or it could be less than a page. It could be just a paragraph or two. The synopsis can literally be as short as just a single logline that represents your idea. Likewise, a film treatment is an outline of your entire screenplay or script complete with up to 10 pages of detailed thoughts surrounding how your story will play out, who’s involved, and will essentially read like a short story. 

The treatment provides the capability to go into much more detail than is possible with a synopsis. Where a synopsis is really supposed to be short, the film treatment can be much longer. If you get to a point where you feel like you’re adding too much, or too many details on your treatment, it’s generally okay because you have flexibility that isn’t available when you  are working on just a synopsis.

Another key difference between the film treatment and the synopsis is that the treatment is going to come before the script is finished, but your synopsis is actually going to come after.  

So what’s the difference between a film treatment and a synopsis? Length and detail!