21 Movie Treatments and Outlines That Every Screenwriter Should Read

By October 14, 2019Blog, Featured

What do outlines, treatments, and scriptments look like and how can screenwriters use them for their own screenwriting projects?

Outlines, treatments, and scriptments are tools that the film and television industries have used for decades — with varying degrees of necessity and demand.

The problem with that is most screenwriters have never read an outline, treatment, or scriptment that went into production. A simple Google search on how to write treatments will offer you endless directives and rules to follow, but the truth is that there’s no single way to write an effective outline, treatment, or scriptment.

Outlines

Since outlines are often written solely by the screenwriter during their own development and writing process, they vary in size, shape, and form — depending upon the writer, as well as the needs of the possible producers, directors, and managers that they may be working with during the developmental phase leading up to the actual writing of the script.

The outline allows the writer to construct a general list of sequential scenes and moments in the order that they will be written within a screenplay.

This writing tool allows the writer to get an overview of the story beats and moments before applying them into the screenplay format of locations, scene description, and dialogue. Using this overview, you can make creative and editorial choices before you take the time to write those scenes and moments in their cinematic entirety. So if you find within that outline that certain scenes are redundant, repetitive, or unnecessary, you save the time of having to move, adjust, or delete those written scenes after you’ve already taken the time to write them.

The format that is used and the amount of detail that you put into an outline is up to you, the screenwriter.

Treatments

Treatments vary in length and cover the more specifics of the story, utilizing prose in the form of descriptive paragraphs that tell the story from beginning to end with all of the plot points, twists, turns, revelations, and character descriptions, but void of much dialogue.

Learn how to write great movie dialogue with this free guide.

Where a synopsis would generally cover the broad strokes of the story within three paragraphs and one page, treatments cover every detail of story and character so that those reading it will be able to get an idea of what movie they are considering to make.

In these contemporary times, treatments are also formatted as a sales pitch, beyond just the telling of the story. You can include elements like a general overview — which details the genre and type of story — as well as character breakdowns and setups.

Read ScreenCraft’s How to Sell Your TV Series the Stranger Things Way!

They are even prevalent enough that the Writers Guild of America has negotiated them into the guild’s basic agreement. Guild signatory companies are required to pay minimums of around $35,000 for a treatment that you write on assignment and around $53,000 for original treatments based on your original idea.

This doesn’t stop some companies from requesting you to voluntarily write a treatment for a screenplay that you are trying to market to them on spec.

But treatments can also be a handy development tool to help screenwriters summarize the direction they plan on taking with their screenplays.

You could say that they are like outlines on steroids with more detail and more meat to the story and characters.

Thus, it doesn’t hurt to know how to write them.

Scriptments

Scriptments are hybrids of treatments and screenplays.

If you’d like to create that more entertaining and visual treatment, you can incorporate screenplay format and prose to showcase some of the bigger moments within the treatment — thus creating the hybrid some refer to as a scriptment.

The term is often attributed to James Cameron, who had always written what he called “scriptments” for various projects of his, including Strange DaysTitanicAvatar, as well as for his initial Spider-Man pitch when he was briefly attached to the project back in 1996.

In the opening of his “scriptment” for Strange Days — a film he had a story credit on and produced — Cameron wrote, “At the beginning of any writing project is the agonizing period in which nebulous ideas dance before the mind’s eye like memories of a dream, and vaporous vague shapes take on human form and begin to answer to their names. Trying to will a world into existence. I circle around it, nibbling at the edges, writing notes about the social infrastructure and expounding to no one in particular about the themes of the thing. Then slowly a change happens. Without warning, it becomes easier to write a scene than to write notes about the scene. I start sticking words in the mouths of characters who are still mannequins, forcing them to move and to walk. Slowly their movements become more human. The curve inflects upward, the pace increases. The characters begin to say things in their own words… Any scene that I couldn’t crack right away, I skimmed over and used the novelistic treatment form to sort of mumble through. What you have is at once a kind of pathetic document; it is as long as a script, but messy and undisciplined, full of cheats and glossed-over sections. But it is also an interesting snapshot of formatting a moment in the creative process… The value of [the scriptment] lies solely in it being presented unchanged, unedited, unpolished. It is the first hurling of paint against the wall…”

Scriptments still tell the story from beginning to end like treatments, but they often contain scene headings, sluglines, and even screenplay formatted character names and dialogue.

Because of this added format, the pages will be longer in certain sections, adding to the overall length of what would normally be a treatment.

Keep in mind that a scriptment is not a screenplay. As Cameron states, most of the writing is in treatment prose using paragraphs to explain the story and summarize what the characters are saying. The screenplay format elements of character names and dialogue are only used sparingly to feature the major moments within the story.

21 Outlines, Treatments, and Scriptments That Screenwriters Can Study

Since outlines, treatments, and scriptments represent the pre-writing stage of the screenwriting process, you don’t often find many online examples.

Here we present twenty-one outlines, treatments, and scriptments from major writers and filmmakers — past and present — that screenwriters can read, study, and use as roadmaps to creating your own unique versions.

Note: Actually, it’s twenty outlines, treatments, and scriptments. Number twenty-one is a very special and unique gem for one of cinema’s most iconic classics. 

1. Avatar (Scriptment)

Written by James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, The Titanic, Avatar

2. Batman: Year One (Treatment)

Written by Larry & Andy Wachowski (now known as Lana and Lilly Wachowski). They are best known as the auteur sibling writing and directing duo behind Bound and the Matrix Trilogy.

 

3. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1972 Story Outline)

Written by Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, Murder on the Orient Express, and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)

4. Big Fish (Sequence Outline)

Written by John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Aladdin)

5. Big Fish (Post-First Draft Outline)

Written by John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Aladdin)

6. D.C. (TV Pilot Outline)

Written by John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Aladdin)

7. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 2 (1982 Treatment)

Written by Steven Spielberg & Melissa Matheson (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial)

8. Epic of the Planet of the Apes (1972 Treatment)

Written by John William Corrington & Joyce Hooper Corrington (The Omega Man, Boxcar Bertha, Battle for the Planet of the Apes)

9. Godzilla (1997 Treatment)

Written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Small Soldiers, The Mask of Zorro, Godzilla, Shrek, The Pirates of the Caribbean

10. Halloween H20 (Treatment)

Written by Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries)

11. The Mask of Zorro (1994 Treatment)

Written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Small Soldiers, The Mask of Zorro, Godzilla, Shrek, The Pirates of the Caribbean

12. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Treatment)

Written by Simon Kindberg (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Sherlock Holmes)

13. My Own Private Idaho (Treatment)

Written by Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting)

14. Planet of the Apes Revisited (1968 Treatment)

Written by Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, Murder on the Orient Express, and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)

15. The Shining (Treatment)

Written by Stanley Kubrik (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining

16. Short Circuit (Unproduced Reboot Treatment)

Written by Craig Mazin (Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, The Hangover Part II, The Hangover Part III, Chernobyl)

17. Sinbad (1994 Unproduced Treatment)

Written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Small Soldiers, The Mask of Zorro, Godzilla, Shrek, The Pirates of the Caribbean

18. Spider-Man (1996 Scriptment)

Written by James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, The Titanic, Avatar

19. Strange Days (1994 Scriptment)

Written by James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, The Titanic, Avatar

20. The Terminator (1982 Treatment)

Written by James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, The Titanic, Avatar

21.  Raiders of the Lost Ark (Transcripts of Story Development Discussion)

Transcribed development discussions of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan. 


Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies

For all the latest ScreenCraft news and updates, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.