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How to Create a Compelling Documentary Treatment

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Documentary Filmmaking Treatment

Creating a treatment for your documentary is an essential part of the filmmaking process and it's something that is often overlooked, especially by beginner filmmakers. But what exactly is a treatment, and how can it help you bring your documentary to life?


What is a documentary treatment?

A treatment is essentially a written outline of your documentary, where you communicate your creative vision for the project and say why you're the right person or team to make this film. This document serves as a blueprint for your project and it's often used to pitch your project to potential investors, partners, and collaborators.

Treatments have been an essential ingredient in getting my documentary films funded and getting potential collaborators excited about a project. But when I first started out making docs, I had no idea how to put together a treatment and what to include. I just felt frustrated and stuck. But through trial and error and now with over 15 years of professional filmmaking experience under my belt. I know what key ingredients to include to create compelling documentary treatments that help to get films funded.

So I thought I'd share my top tips for crafting an effective treatment with you today, using the treatment I created for my short film, One Breath: A Life Without Gravity. At the end of this blog, I've included a link to my go-to documentary treatment template, so you can use it too, and start putting these tips into practice straight away. 


How to write your documentary treatment


1. Start with your story idea

Your treatment should begin with a clear and concise explanation of your story idea. What is your film about? Who is your protagonist? What is the central conflict or question you're exploring? Write a brief summary of your story and what sets it apart from other films.


2. Develop your themes

Think about the themes and ideas you want to explore in your film. What message do you want to communicate to your audience? What issues or topics are you addressing? Your themes should be woven into the story and should be evident in your treatment.


3. Define your characters

Your film will likely feature real-life people who play key roles in your story. Who are these people? What are their motivations? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Your treatment should provide brief outlines of the key characters in your film and their character arc.


4. Share your story structure

A successful film needs a clear structure. How will you divide your film into sections or chapters? What are the key turning points in your story? Your treatment should outline the flow of your film, from start to finish. I like to use a three-act structure to effectively communicate the journey of the film. 


5. Discuss your filmmaking approach

This is where you can talk about your filmmaking style and you can show how you’ll be telling this story differently to everybody else. What narration style and storytelling techniques will you be using to tell your story? 


6. Include images and videos

Including images and video in a documentary, treatment is crucial because it helps bring the story to life and gives the audience a visual representation of what the final product will look like. Visual elements such as images and video can also help break up long sections of text and keep the audience engaged. They also provide a powerful way to showcase the subject matter and provide context for their story and world. 


7. Revise, revise, revise

Your treatment is a work in progress, and you'll likely revise it many times before you're ready to start filming. It will also change and develop as you start filming and when you get the edit. This is might be because you discover something new about your main character or the story develops in a way you never imagine. Also, get feedback from trusted colleagues and friends, and be open to constructive criticism - this is essential to making the best film possible.


Creating a treatment for your documentary may take some time, but it's an important step in the filmmaking process, and spending time creating a treatment helps to give clarity and focus to your documentary. Which in turn, makes for a better film. So, I'd recommend creating your documentary treatment as soon as possible. Even if you haven't started filming yet.


Documentary Treatment Template

So, to save you time, you can access my go-to documentary treatment template here: Get your free documentary filmmaking treatment

Good luck with putting together your treatment and happy filmmaking!

Written by Sebastian Solberg

Sebastian is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose credits include One Breath and the BAFTA-nominated film The Eagle HuntressHis passion for fostering emerging talent led to the creation of the Documentary Film Academy, an online community and educational platform designed to empower the next generation of filmmakers.

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