I first figured out what a treatment was a few years back while living in Albuquerque. I was asked to come up with an idea for a music video and the band wanted a treatment from me. This was a very popular band that had made it out of Santa Fe and this video, if made, would get me some good exposure. I was really excited, yet I was a little unsure of what to do. I gathered some friends together, did some research, drank some whiskey and together we came up with ideas. We searched the net for images and “looks” for the video, shot some test footage and began putting a document together.
After a few long nights of drinking and meticulously crafting what we were convinced was going to be the next big music video, we sent out our treatment with fingers crossed. After what seemed like the longest two days ever, I received an email back with the band’s reply. A single line response, “A bit dark, don’t you think?”
While you can’t win ’em all — and, like me, you might not even get your first one through — treatments are essential for communicating your ideas to a client.
A treatment is a simple PDF document that summarizes your vision for the video using pictures and a written description including style, concept, budgets, etc. Not all treatments have to be formatted a certain way. Originality goes a long way and in the end it’s about hooking the client and reeling them in, so be creative and feel free to break the rules.
Below I walk you through what I consider as sensible, useful steps for creating a treatment. While I myself am still learning the art of the “pitch,” I can offer up some advice based on what has worked for me. Remember, there are more ways than one to make a treatment. What I’m presenting here is just one example of what you can put together.
To create the document, use software like Adobe InDesign or its free alternative Scribus. Programs like these allow for an easy way to create and combine text and images, and save/export to PDF format.
Inspiration: Get an idea!
I was having a beer with my friend Tim a few weeks back and we were talking about work and money in general when he asked me a question: “What kind of music video would you make if you had a million-dollar budget?” Being a little drunk and thinking about the freezing walk home on a wintry night in Berlin, I said. “Ferraris on Ice! You know, like synchronized swimming but with with Ferraris on an ice rink!”
Although it maybe wasn’t the most realistic idea I jotted it down anyway. You never know when inspiration will hit. Keep a notebook or a tape recorder with you. Who knows if one of these days my dream will come true and someone will give me a million dollars to put expensive foreign cars in harm’s way to the tune of a song … in the meantime I might as well write the treatment, “Ferraris on Ice.”
Section 1: Title Page
Start with a title page. Include the name of the band and the song. I also usually try to find a nice image of the band or artist if it fits with the mood of the video. You can also put your production company logo in along with the record label.
Section 2: Elevator Pitch
Explain your vision in a paragraph or two. (An “elevator pitch” is a quick description you could give to, say, someone who wants to give you a million dollars whom you meet in an elevator, giving you only a fraction of a minute to pitch them.) Use visually descriptive words, be specific, and paint a picture of what the video will look and feel like. Keep this brief, get them excited and leave them wanting more.
Section 3: Script
Some music videos get to be very literal when it comes to the lyrics of the song; some are completely abstract. However you decide to do it, this is the place in the treatment to go into detail. I like to break down the video into scenes and describe each separate scene in a paragraph or two and will usually add some photos as well.
Section 4: Moods / Style
Describe the feeling and look of the video. What format will it be shot on? Are you going for a stylized look? What kind of editing? Long cinematic shots or quick jump cuts? Are you doing any animated or CGI sequences? Cite references for the style; this can be anything such as films, paintings, books, celebrities, or photographs. Whatever best communicates how your video will look. Include 2 to 3 pages of just images.
Summary Section: Sum it up
Summarize your video in a few sentences reminding your client why it’s a great idea. Keep it short and simple.
Writing a treatment is fun. If you have any aspirations to do music videos, it is something you should do regularly. Opportunity can knock at any moment so you shouldn’t wait until someone asks you to pitch to have a treatment ready. Be proactive. If you hear a new song and have a great idea for a video, email the band or the band’s management and send them a treatment. You never know, they might just have you direct their next video.
I use treatments for pretty much all of my projects whether it’s a documentary, commercial or music video. It’s a simple, effective way to organize and communicate your ideas, and is an essential skill to have in the film business.
To add a quick note: I just looked up the cost of a Ferrari Testarossa and apparently they cost $196,000 apiece so I may have to adjust my budget a bit….
Images by Edie Everette.