Let me know if this sounds like a situation you’ve been in; you are making the connections in your directing career that you think you need to get to the next level, but you’re having trouble pitching your ideas both in commercials and entertainment.
Sound familiar? It happens to everyone starting out. Sometimes, the best way to get your ideas out is to put them on the page. That requires writing. And we all know writing is not easy.
Plus, what should you write? What do producers expect? And what kinds of writing, other than a screenplay, can get you noticed?
Second to that, what if you’re trying to book a commercial and want an advertising agency to know your vision for the product and how you’ll showcase it on the screen? The answer lies within the director’s treatment.
Today I want to go over film treatments and commercial treatments, and talk about why they are so valuable for directors. I’ll also give you some tips when it comes to writing your own treatments for various filmmaking ventures. Let’s dive in.
The Basics of Writing a Director’s Treatment
A director’s treatment is a multi-page document written in prose, that tells the story that happens in your project. It is a synopsis, with action, a few lines of sparse dialogue, and works as a guide for the advertising agency, producer, or studio.
You’re basically breaking down all the elements of the story/commercial, and even including a brief paragraph where you talk about why it will connect with audiences.
This breakdown should make the idea simple and easy to visualize in your imagination. It all depends on what level of detail you want to go into for the audience.
You can use treatments to get a job directing commercials or film and TV.
Who Do You Give a Director’s Treatment To?
A director’s treatment is an incredibly useful document. You can hand it to agents and managers to help them brainstorm and disseminate your idea to producers. You can also hand them to producers, who can in return option or buy that idea for you to direct. They even work within the commercial setting, encouraging directors to get their ideas for advertisements out in the world.
You don’t even have to hand it over to anyone.
A director’s treatment can be part of your process. You can use it to write out ideas to see if it’s worth your time to write an actual feature-length screenplay or organize your ideas for any creative endeavor.
If you want to work in the commercial world, treatments are your gateway into showing advertising agencies your vision behind the product, the kind of tone you want to strike, the gear used to shoot, the budget, and the way you plan to execute your vision.
They’re also great for hashing out ideas before entering a draft, and to see if that kernel of inspiration is worth pursuing as your next project. Check out the Creatives Offscript podcast episode with the worlds #1 commercial director, Ian Pons Jewell to learn more about the process of writing a Director's treatment.
Another thing that you can appreciate about director’s treatments? They do a lot of the heavy lifting when you’re trying to figure out the tone of your project. Are you humorous? dramatic? Horrific? Show us on the page. It’s like a dry-run. And it can be fun to do it, too.
In the video below, Matthew Owen gives an excellent breakdown of how to structure and write treatments, along with visual examples.
Treatments for Commercial Directors
One of the many jobs directors do is working not in film and television but in the commercial space. Directing commercials is lucrative and steady work.
To get those commercials, you have to hand over treatments to the companies thinking about hiring you so that you can express your ideas.
Treatments help you establish trust between yourself and a well-known brand. They can read your director’s treatment and see your vision for their service or product.
Create treatments that take us through what happens in the commercial. The opening, the images, how we get the taglines for the products in and how the visuals will support what the product does and what the story of the commercial will be.
If you’re a working commercial director you will write dozens of these every year, so get good at them!
The Structure of a Commercial Treatment
A commercial treatment contains the following parts:
An Intro: Tell them who you are, sum up your resume, and why should they be excited to work with you.
Why You: What can you bring as an individual to this story that no one else can.
Highlight the Product: What does the audience need to know about the product?
Casting: Who do you foresee starring in the spot? Anyone famous? Are there comparative names of people you’d like to find? Is it diverse? Which gender does it skew toward?
The Story: What happens inside the spot? How long is it? What emotions are you trying to communicate?
Tone and Style: What kind of tone will you use to film the commercial? To edit it? Are there other films or commercials you will draw inspiration from? Reference them.
The Gear You’ll Use: Are you shooting on film or digital? What kinds of cameras? Lens package? What’s the look and tone you’re going for and how can you get it using the aforementioned gear?
The Budget (Optional): Break down the cost from the number of days shooting, rentals, and how much the edit will cost. Will there be lots of VFX? They need to know how you’re spending the money.
Outro: This is where you sum up the vision and express why you’re perfect for the job again.
This is just a starting point, but you can layer in as many sections as you want. Other examples could be wardrobe, art direction, music selection and more.
Commercial companies and advertising agencies want very specific answers to these questions. They want to know you will be in control, stay within budget, and deliver something they’re excited to see. You need to be visual, bold, and unique.
The video below gives a breakdown of using treatments and moldboards to help bring a commercial to life.
How Long Should my Director’s Treatment Be?
As a director, you might read a lot of screenplays that usually range from 80-120 pages long, but your treatment’s length will vary.
Treatments will be as long as you need them to be. When I write my treatments I usually try to keep them around 10-12 pages. The same goes for commercial and film treatments.
But other directors may have different approaches. James Cameron is a pretty great director, certainly in the conversation of being one of the best of all time. Cameron is known for super detailed scriptments – treatments almost as long as a screenplay. He writes every single scene that happens in the movie without the dialogue. Afterwards he’ll adds some snippets of dialogue into it.
But you don’t have to be James Cameron and you don’t have to be me. You need to be you. Decide what level of detail, which scenes you want to show, and if you want to put in any dialogue at all.
So what have we learned? Treatments are organizational documents that help get your ideas out on the page. They’re useful for directors when it comes to handing them over to agents, producers, or even commercial companies.
They can help get you work and help you decide if an idea is worth pursuing. Now that you know about director’s treatments, it’s time to put your nose to the grindstone and get down to it. Stop reading and put that pen to the paper. Go write your director’s treatment!