A treatment is a simple narrative outline of your film, written when you've completed the research phase. It presents much more information than your sketched-out proposal but is not yet as detailed as your shooting script. You are not required to do a treatment, and most of the time you won't bother with them, but they are useful exercises for sorting out

A dark castle broods over a lake.

your ideas when dealing with long, complex, political or historical films. You should also note that very often sponsors will demand to see a treatment after they've given you the go-ahead, and most foundations will ask to see a very detailed treatment once you've completed your initial research phase.

The treatment fleshes out all your first thoughts and is supported by all the ideas we've discussed in the last two chapters. Its length can be anything from an informal few pages to almost book size (required for some NEA or NEH proposals). Generally, the purpose of the treatment is to show and illustrate the following:

• The way the story develops your film thesis and conflicts

• The key sequences

• Who your main characters are

• The situations they get caught in

• The actions they take and the results for them or society

• The focus at the beginning and the end

• The main action points, confrontations, and resolutions

• The sense of overall dramatic buildup and pace

To illustrate what a really good treatment looks like, I've set out below a few pages from Perilous Journey. The treatment was written by Jon Else for a major foundation grant and is a description of how he saw the opening film in the series The Great Depression.


As we begin in 1914, this film appears to be a fond celebration of the partnership between Henry Ford, his polyglot assembly line workers, and "the great multitude" for whom they make motor cars; but nothing is quite as it seems.

Ford demands extraordinary control over his workers, both on and off the job; the agrarian America liberated by the Model T gives way to an industrial landscape of mammoth factories like Ford's River Rouge works. 1920s American nativism and racism begin to surface; the benevolent capitalist becomes the repressive autocrat, and his once meek employees resolve to demand control over their own destiny.

Finally, the center will not hold. The stock market crashes, and economic troubles of the 1920s come home to roost. With tens of thousands of autoworkers unemployed, the people of Detroit free-fall toward the rock bottom of the Great Depression; and we end in March of 1932, when marchers die in a hail of gunfire outside Ford's River Rouge factory.

This tragedy centers on the losing struggle to preserve an impossible past and on the lost opportunities of an industrial utopia gone sour. It is a story of power and powerlessness. What began with Ford's very real and extraordinary achievements, with optimism and absolute confidence in the American system, ends with rigidity, shattered faith, fear of revolution, and an industrial system in hopeless collapse. Through the eyes of those who manufactured and purchased Ford's cars and trucks, we reveal the nation's hopes, fears, and determination on a journey toward economic disaster, and we see in the wreckage a tiny glimmer of hope for the real potential of America.

Prologue: Series tease

The film opens with a five- to ten-minute overview of the Great Depression, relying heavily on music, anecdote, and strong visual images, drawing on material from all eight programs. The program will introduce the often-heroic ordinary people who form the backbone of the series and will give a glimpse of our main series characters: FDR, Joe Louis, Eleanor Roosevelt, LaGuardia, Upton Sinclair, Dorothy Healey, and men like Harry Hopkins, "who spent five million dollars in his first two hours on the job, and who put three million people to work in six weeks." We will introduce the major themes, the expansion of democracy and multiculturalism, and we will plant a few "ticking bombs" on the table: Can American democracy survive while dictatorship blossoms around the world? Can government respond to the crisis in time? Will rising awareness of race bring us together or rip us apart?

There will be familiar icons in a new light—"Okies" who turn out to be African-Americans, FDR standing with braces, surprising outtakes from Dorothy Lange's Migrant Mother, and some extraordinary contrasts in style (President Hoover vs. General Smedley). Most of all, the series tease will alert the audience that this is not the tired, depressing old "Great Depression" they think they know and understand.

Our narration makes it clear that these people on the screen are our parents and grandparents, our own aunts and uncles. In their

America, the America of the 1930s, something went terribly wrong . . . a bad dream . . . a nightmare or plague. Their world, their wonderful new modern industrial world, collapsed on them, and they didn't know why.

Out of work, out of money, out of food, they had nowhere to go and nowhere to turn but to their families, their communities, and the kindness of strangers. No one knew when it would end, or how it would end, or even if it would end. No one knew what to do.

But somehow, in the hardest of times, with America slipping away, our parents and grandparents found it in themselves to fight their way out. They came together in struggle and conquered their fear. Hope drove them to unknown levels of heroism, drove them to take hold of their own destiny, to take hold of their government and make it work for them.

It didn't always turn out exactly right; some people got left out, and there was unfinished business, but by the time it was over, they did better than just survive, they invented a new America.

Act 1-Fordism: 1914-1918

Seq. 1: Intro Henry Ford and Model T. Henry Ford is climbing a tree, shinning right up the birch like a lanky farm boy. These are home movies from the summer of 1914, filmed on a camping trip in the northern Michigan woods with Ford, his family and friends. Ford was born fifty-one years ago (the same week as the battle of Gettysburg), and he loves the simple, wholesome outdoor life of his farm upbringing as much as he hates big cities, Wall Street, disorder, and laziness. This shy, self-educated, "pure and simple Yankee mechanic" is a devotee of Thoreau, a vegetarian, and father of the Model T automobile.

Henry Ford has set out to "democratize the automobile" (which until now has been a plaything of the rich), and his simple, reliable Model T has gone down, down, and down in price until it now costs less than a team of good horses. We learn from retired farmers just how empowering the humble car is, how it frees the tillers of the land from dreadful isolation and physical labor. We discover from women who grew up on the plains how the Model T expanded their horizons, allowed them to go to school, and how it brought mental health and comfort to their grandmothers' fearful isolation, courtesy of Henry Ford:

We traded a horse for a Model T automobile . . . there were eight of us brothers and sisters went to school at the same time. But you had to work on the farm, you had your chores to do. To get it all done we drove to school; otherwise we would have just stay out there a million miles from nowhere. It was just wonderful. [Else adds in his notes that dialogue is from preinterviews and pilot interviews and in several cases is constructed from quotations in books and articles listed in the bibliography—A. R.]

In the old newsreels and publicity films, the Fords putt-putt their way through rivers and streams, forests and deserts, and up the steps of half the state capitols in America. We see Model T rodeos, Model T polo, Model T farming, and Model T camping. "The great multitude" can buy a Ford on the weekly purchase plan, and there are five thousand Ford parts in the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Henry Ford's motorcar is transforming America and has, almost by accident, made him the richest man in Michigan.

Seq. 2: Five dollars a day at the Highland Park factory. Now in her nineties, the daughter of a Ford worker tells us how Henry Ford announced that he would share the wealth. She reads the press release:

The Ford Motor Company, the greatest and most successful in the world, will on January 12, 1914, inaugurate the greatest revolution in the matter of rewards for its workers ever known to the industrial world!

Out of the blue, Ford reduces his employees' workday from nine hours to eight and more than doubles their income. . . . The next morning every daily newspaper in the United States heralds the news. . . . We see headlines, cartoons, and newsreels as the good tidings—the surges of hope—spread like wildfire.

And so this beautifully written treatment goes on for another forty-two pages. It reads like a very picturesque and graphic essay, and at the end, one is absolutely clear about the ideas and mood of the film, where it is going and how it is going to get there. The treatment also contains a bibliography and working notes that support the observations of the film. However, even after all this work, there will still be many changes in emphasis between this treatment and the final script.

Part Two


Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

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