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SCHOOL OF CREATIVE MEDIA, CITY UNIVERSITY HONG KONG
What is a Treatment?
• A written expression of your visuals;
• It conveys the ‘mood’ of projects;
• Always go for STORY over CHARACTER when writing treatment
• Use free-flow writing to write down all the things you like about your
subject before writing
• Should read like a short story, as though we can ‘see’ what is
happening while reading
• Doesn’t have to be exactly what you’ll end up with, but it is an exercise
in IMAGINING what you will get, based on your research and
• Only write a treatment once you have done most of your research.
Why write a treatment?
• Describe a project so that people involved
share an understanding of interpretation and
• Create a paper document that can help
secure funding, distribution, and other
• Provide guidance in the structuring and
editing of a documentary project.
• Get to know your subject better and really
work out what you plan to do
• Everyone wants different formats, so be
ready to write again and again in different
ways and lengths.
Treatment Elements: SUNDANCE
BRIEF LOGLINE In a concise 2-3 sentences provide a description of
your film that cites location, characters or subjects, mission and stakes
SUMMARY OF TOPIC (1-2 PAGES) Briefly provide contextual
information to acquaint the reader to the subject, advising why the topic
is critical and why such a film is needed now. Explain any global
relevance for the contemporary social issues addressed. Describe why
you are the best person to tell this story. Please be concise.
NARRATIVE SYNOPSIS (1-2 PAGES) Clearly communicate the story
your film will tell.
• Who are the characters and what is their journey?
• What might be different for them from the beginning to the end?
• What is the central question your film will answer?
• Consider narrative arc, point-of-view, and use of artistic elements.
Proposals MUST convey a vision for a finished film.
Development proposals that have not yet identified possible characters
or subjects, locations or are unable to unable to articulate the narrative
framework or the story’s central question will not be considered
Elements of Effective Treatment
An effective proposal will:
• Tell a good story
• Make human truths emerge through images—not just verbal
• Present a personal, critical perspective on some aspect of the
• Inform and emotionally move an audience
• Keep it Simple Stupid!! (KISS)
NOTES ON STYLE
• Active, present tense, i.e. “This documentary tells the story of Bruce
Lee” NOT “This documentary will tell the story”
• Use visual language
• Tell the reader what they will see and hear on the screen.
• Describe the story and introduce any characters.
Proposal presents its argument rationally through the following kinds of
• Length of work, format.
• Who is the intended audience?
• Goal or intended purpose(s) of the film
• Has any media work already been produced on this subject? If so, what is new, different, interesting,
engaging about your approach?
• Style (Any key stylistic elements in writing, shooting, audio, editing, etc.)
• What about the soundtrack? (Any music, narration, etc.—If so, who? what?)
• Who is working on the project? And what similar projects have they done in the past? (Credibility of
• How will this work be distributed? (Which markets, any distributor on board already?)
• Project history or current status of project.
• Historical background or context of the story
• Who, what, where, when, how, why?
“March of the Penguins”
Proposals vs. Treatments
• Didn’t do your research
• Lack of specific and visual language
• Making it too academic
• Didn’t find out other films already made on the topic
• Spell Check! And get help with English if you need to!
Example I: “Eternity”
Ruth Ridley is the strong and feisty daughter of the preacher
John Ridley. She sits in the studio before a beautiful, stylised
landscape of a sea at sunset. She explains the influence her
father had on Arthur Stace, who was later to become known
as ‘Mr Eternity ’.A photograph of John Ridley appears. It was
Ridley ’s sermon,’ Echoes of Eternity ’,which supposedly
converted Stace to Christianity in the 1930s. It was after this
sermon that Stace took a piece of chalk from his pocket and
wrote, in beautiful copperplate script on the sidewalks of
Sydney, the one word that would influence many for the next
four decades: ‘Eternity ’.
The image of Arthur Stace appears, recreated, as he walks
away from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, wearing a dark coat
and Depression-era hat.1920s archival footage of two male
swimmers, seen from overhead, lying on a cliff
face. The turbulent sea hits the cliff as the sea runs over their
bodies. John Ridley ’s poetic sermon booms loudly as the sea
returns to hit the cliff face.
Example II: “Control is the Lie”
In the sweeping desert of Ningxia, China, a vast expanse of dunes roll into the distance under murky
blue skies. In the early morning light a lone figure, Yang, treks across the sand.
In heat as high as 40C, she wraps her face and arms carefully to avoid the harshness of the sand and
sun. Yang works side by side with her husband here in this barren terrain, trying to hold back the
Growing desertification in China is largely agreed to be a man-made crisis provoked by human pressures
on the ecosystem. The creeping desert is engulfing cities, and spawning deadly dust storms that are
reaching further and further east.
Here at the Baijitan National Reserve in Ningxia they have devised a simple but innovative technology to
attempt to hold back the desert. Workers dig square rivets into the sand with straw nets, encouraging
precious rain water to accumulate on the land where they then plant matured seedlings.
As Yang looks out across the land, as far as the eye can see stretches of dunes are marked by these
flimsy looking straw nets. Straw holding back dust. Such basic elements. An image of the futility,
perseverance and optimism of our battle with the non-human world.
Yang is a hard working woman in her early 40s. Her face is red from the everyday exposure to the sun,
and her teeth marked by the familiar stains of heavy tea drinking, but her light brown eyes shimmer with
a fierce inner beauty and determination. She is part of the ethnic Hui minority, and a devout muslim. Like
all of the Hui women on the dunes, she works with a colourful scarf wrapped around her head, swirls of
purple and pink set off against the white sands.
A government slogan emblazoned on a red flag whips in the wind above her head: “Stop Desert, Build
Economic Prosperity”. This slogan is as true as day for Yang.
“On the 40th anniversary of the
Internet, WE LIVE IN PUBLIC
tells the story of the effect the
web is having on our society as
seen through the eyes of “the
greatest Internet pioneer
you've never heard of”,
visionary Josh Harris."
“The legend of the greatest
driver who ever lived."
“The story of the monumental life and tragic death of
legendary Brazilian motor-racing Champion, Ayrton
Senna. Spanning the decade from his arrival in Formula
One in the mid 80's, the film follows Senna's struggles
both on track against his nemesis, French World
Champion Alain Prost, and off it, against the politics
which infest the sport. Sublime, spiritual yet, on occasion,
ruthless - Senna conquers and transcends Formula One
to become a global superstar. Privately, he is humble,
almost shy, and fiercely patriotic, donating millions to his
native Brasil and contemplating a life beyond motor-
racing. Yet he is struck down in his prime on the blackest
weekend in the history of the sport, watched live on
television by 300 million people. Years on he is revered
in Formula One as the greatest motor racing driver of all
time - and in Brasil as a Saint.”
“In the astonishingly gripping Let the Fire Burn, director
Jason Osder has crafted that rarest of cinematic objects: a
found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great
thriller. On May 13, 1985, a longtime feud between the city
of Philadelphia and controversial radical urban group
MOVE came to a deadly climax. By order of local
authorities, police dropped military-grade explosives onto a
MOVE-occupied rowhouse. TV cameras captured the
conflagration that quickly escalated—and resulted in the
tragic deaths of eleven people (including five children) and
the destruction of 61 homes. It was only later discovered
that authorities decided to “...let the fire burn.” Using only
archival news coverage and interviews, first-time filmmaker
Osder has brought to life one of the most tumultuous and
largely forgotten clashes between government and citizens
in modern American history.”
“Narrated by Ms Lauryn Hill,
Concerning Violence is a bold
and fresh visual narrative on
Africa, based on newly
discovered archive material
covering the struggle for
liberation from colonial rule in
the late ‘60s and ‘70s”
Aug. 26, 2021
Jul. 10, 2021
Jun. 23, 2021
Jun. 19, 2021
Mar. 24, 2021
Mar. 12, 2021
Feb. 14, 2021
Feb. 11, 2021
Sep. 16, 2020
Jun. 17, 2020
Jun. 11, 2020
May. 27, 2020
Mar. 29, 2020
Mar. 10, 2020
Nov. 28, 2019
Sep. 10, 2019
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Mar. 12, 2019
Dec. 2, 2018
Some tips and advice on writing a documentary treatment.