Monday, August 10, 2009
As photographers morph into the world of motion-picture video, presenting a client with a brief but complete description of the project, whether still photography, video or both can mean the difference between getting the gig or missing out
“Lou, we really like your treatment and feel very strongly that this could launch your commercials directing career.” You like my what?
They were referencing the one-page description of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) spot about breast cancer awareness that I had written so I could break into commercials directing. The brief description that I now knew to be called a “treatment” contained a shot-by-shot description, including voice-over dialog, of how I saw the PSA playing out on the screen. After the breast cancer PSA got made, I learned that writing treatments is a standard part of the process to getting work as a commercials director.
The advertising photography industry is starting to adopt the same standard. As daunting and unfamiliar as this may seem, it’s not. Treatments in the photo industry offer photographers a new competitive advantage. If you’re in a pool of four photographers being considered for a job (all portfolios being equal), your capacity for creativity may push you to the top of the heap. It’s all about your interpretation of the boards.
Not only are treatments a part of the commercials world, they also are a part of television and film. Even though a treatment in the film industry serves a different purpose than those in the advertising industry, they’re all basically the same thing—a written synopsis of the visual execution of an idea or a story. In order to provide the most complete overview of the treatment creation process, I’m joining forces with screenwriter Craig Titley. He was kind enough to break away from his writing responsibilities for Lucasfilm to meet me for a cigar and martini in Beverly Hills. Although there are no hard and fast rules to writing a treatment, we came up with five guidelines to get you going. As you read through them, keep in mind that you’re interpreting an art director’s storyboards just like you would for any other job.
Guideline One: Don’t panic. When you’re asked to write a treatment, don’t panic, especially if you’re frightened of writing. No one is looking for a literary masterpiece; they want to know your creative interpretation of what you see in the art director’s storyboards. Getting worried about what people will think about your writing will send you into a spiral. Just sit down and start writing what you see in your head.
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