How To Write A Documentary Film Treatment

What is a film treatment?

Your film treatment is a narrative summary of your documentary films story and characters. It is written in a similar way to a script and has a high level of detail, description and strong visual and emotive energy.

The purpose of your film treatment is for the reader to be intrigued, interested and excited about your film. To feel that this is a film that has value and should be made.

And it can also reinforce those feelings and that energy for you, the filmmaker. Seeing your story come alive in this way can give you the clarity and direction that you’re probably looking for at this early stage in the process.

Writing your film treatment is an important first step to what will eventually lead you to your film script and documentary film proposal. It is your opportunity to fully immerse yourself in your film, or what your film will eventually be!


What is included in the treatment?

To write your film treatment you will need to visually create, consider and arrange your films potential main scenes, characters, story structure, themes and other key aspects. Remember, you are sharing and describing the story of your film and the integral elements that will be within it.

You will want to depict specific scenes and play them out in detail (including all sensory aspects i.e. sound, vision and score), which will not just give informational, but emotive context.

Ensure you create a written enactment of what viewers will see when the film is finished and try to create the feeling and energy that the viewers will feel when they watch your film. Make sure you include whatever you need to, so that these visual and emotive triggers are there.

You can include relevant and impactful statistics, but be sure to also capture the human element of the story. This is what will draw the reader in.


When to write it?

Writing a strong treatment for your film project is an important step in the initial phase of making it. Once you’ve had your idea and done your research, writing a treatment is the next step to complete.

Writing a treatment can be hard at first, but once you start to let the story and your imagination develop and awaken, you will have clairty and conviction in your project like never before!


What else should I know?

In terms of length, your film treatment can be anywhere from 4 to 10 pages.

In terms of content, ensure that what you are presenting is realistic and factual. You want to create and describe an enticing story, but you must also remember that it is your intention to actually make it in real-life!

Ensure you write your film treatment with conviction and assertive language. This is not the place for self-doubt or indecision (even if you are feeling it). Also, write it in the present tense.

And finally, please know that your film treatment will evolve as your film does. You are setting your film on a course and that clarity and exploration is so important in these early stages, but as we know films can morph and go to places we could never have considered. Be open and flexible as your film evolves.


Good luck with writing your film treatment. If you need any further help or advice you can head over to The Documentary Life Community group where we’ll be happy to answer any questions.


Producer and Content Creator, Stephanie Vincenti

Stephanie has worked in the narrative and documentary feature film industry for over 12 years. She is also a producer and content creator for The Documentary Life.

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