How to Write a Documentary Film Treatment

How to Write a Documentary Film Treatment

There’s a lot of information online about writing a documentary film script, learning how to write a documentary film treatment, and writing documentary proposals. In fact, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with how-to guides and resources that provide bits and pieces of the necessary steps required to write a winning documentary film treatment. But learning how to write a documentary film treatment requires more than just some vague resource guides. You’re going to have to plan, and execute!

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The documentary treatment is similar to your script. It’s certainly not something that you’re going to throw together overnight. You need to carefully plan the scenes, characters, story structure, and independent elements that will make up the documentary that you’re about to produce.

To help you write the best documentary film treatment possible we’ve put together this step by step guide.

What is a Documentary Film Treatment?

The documentary film treatment is essentially an outline of your script. It’s a non-technical breakdown of what the reader will see and hear as the story unfolds.

You should outline each scene, the characters and their details, and the individual elements of the story that will be important to the documentary unfolding in front of your audience.

Since the documentary film treatment is only a couple of pages, you’ve got to take your time to ensure that every word you write counts and there’s no fluff, filler, or unnecessary content.

A documentary is all about sharing a story that unearths the truth about a particular situation, scenario, or idea.

Thus, as you plan your documentary treatment you should be thinking about the following:

  • Why is your story important to the audience?
  • What will the audience learn by watching the story?
  • What elements will be shared in each scene to keep your audience engaged and encourage them to stick around till the very end?
  • How will you visually deliver the story and what word will be used to support the visuals?

Stay Engaged

Remember, your documentary film treatment will be short enough to keep your audience engaged to the very end. But long enough to include all of the important plot points, and key details that are required to sell your story.

What to Include in a Documentary Film Treatment

Learning how to write a documentary film treatment requires you to first learn about the various sections or elements that you need to include.

Make sure that you include the following elements in your documentary film treatment:

  • The title. This might change, but you should have a working title established.
  • Your name and contact information. If someone loves your treatment, they need to be able to contact you.
  • The logline. If you don’t know how to write a logline, read this
  • Act one details. Explain where the story takes place, what it’s about, who the characters are and why they are in the film. What’s the tone of the film and where is it set?
  • Act two details. Explain what forces characters to change, what the rising conflict is and what direction the story is going.
  • Act three details. Explain the resolution of the story and discuss the climax that is reached.
  • The summary wrap up. This should explain what happens to the characters in the end, what happens with the story, and whether there is an epilogue.

Only As Necessary

There might be other details that you wish to include in your documentary film treatment. Keep in mind that you want to include as much information as required to sell your story. But you don’t want to give everything away! 

Tips on Writing the Documentary Film Treatment

As you’re learning how to write a documentary film treatment it’s easy to get carried away with all the different tips, tricks, techniques and lists online. And to find yourself focused more on “how” to do it than on actually DOING it. You need to start writing your film treatment!

Once you have a treatment prepared, you can begin sharing it and, if you’re not getting responses you can ask for feedback. It doesn’t hurt to ask “Why?” Find out why those you have submitted to are not interested, and use their feedback to improve your treatment!

Before you write, consider the following:

  • Always use active voice when writing a documentary film treatment. You should also be in the present tense.
  • Be very specific with the details that you will include in your story. You should have information on location, characters, and data pertinent to your story.
  • Make sure you follow all essential formatting rules. 
  • Don’t discuss elements that are not required. Your documentary treatment should only focus on what the audience will see on camera. Do not include a shooting script, camera directions, or details for a Director.
  • Share, and ask for feedback always.

Seek Feedback

Learning how to write a documentary film treatment is an important step towards securing funding for your production. You might find that you have to write your treatment, edit, revise, and rewrite several times.

Before you are able to gain any real traction or interest from your audience. But that’s okay! Most importantly, you should be seeking feedback from those you submit to if they deny you or don’t respond this way you are able to revise your treatment.

And can submit it to others with the hopes of securing the traction you need to get your project past development and into production.

In Summary

Once you’ve got feedback, use the details that are provided to you to revise your documentary film treatment. Share it with a few close friends or industry accomplices first to get some initial feedback.

Then, after you’ve made your revisions, consider branching out to share with a few more professionals. Continue to revise making your treatment better and better with each revision.

Ultimately, you’ll wind up learning how to write a documentary film treatment that is exceptionally prepared to amaze your audience – and you’ll soon be on your way to production!

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