Writing exciting treatments

Yesterday I spent the day at Euroscript‘s Exciting Treatments workshop run by Charles Harris. I can’t remember the last time I attended any kind of course to do with screenwriting. I have certainly never done a workshop.

I have to say I was a little intimidated, apprehensive. The idea of standing up in front of people and reading out loud fills me with a paralysing terror. I can not read out loud, and when I do, I stumble over words like an illiterate infant. Thankfully there was none of that. Instead we were workshopped through a series of writing exercises designed to help us write the best possible treatment of our story.

Some were specifically to do with writing treatments, others more generally to do with story. For me the most interesting section, the highlight of the day, was the time spent workshopping language patterns, and the different patterns used when writing screenplays and treatments.

Screenplay scene description is concrete, specific, should never contain anything that can’t be filmed. I know this, I have spent a long time teaching myself to write to this standard. The problem is this style of writing makes for a dull treatment. It basically ends up being a repetitive catalogue of events. I can see now that most of my treatments have fallen into this trap.

What I learned yesterday is that treatments need to move smoothly “between the different levels on the hierarchy of ideas from the abstract to the specific”. The key levels on this hierarchy are generalisation, sequencing, and scene description. Basically you move through the hierarchy to create a more interesting read.

The approach is nothing short of a revelation to me, and now I have been shown how it works, it seems completely obvious. I’ve read a lot of books on screenwriting, numerous online articles about treatments, and never seen this approach even hinted at.

So if you’re struggling with your story, writing flat treatments, this workshop is definitely worth a try.


Bert Jansch – Dreamweaver

Way back in 1999 I shot and directed a documentary about Bert Jansch called Dreamweaver. It was made with no money, shot on borrowed cameras, and took a year to make. Late in the production we managed to get a meeting with the head of 4Music. On the back of that meeting, we were given enough money to pay the cost of post-production, and a slot on Channel 4. Dreamweaver aired 28 June 2000. Yesterday I was trawling YouTube, and came across Dreamweaver in its entirety.

I can only think Bert’s recent death prompted its appearance. In many ways it’s a film for his fans. There are full performances from Bert, no talking heads getting in the way of his playing. Not my choice. Personally I think that was a mistake, I think it detracts from what could have been a more fluid telling of his story, but that was the agreement the producer made with Bert, and those were the parameters I had to work within. That’s why, every so often you get those textured wipes. It was my attempt to differentiate elements of the story that would normally have been defined by music. I have to say I was a little surprised to see it there on YouTube. I’ve seen clips, one or two songs here and there, but not the whole thing. Truthfully I don’t know how I feel about its appearance. Ideas about copyright, ownership, and getting paid, all come to mind. Some fairly primal emotions are dragged up when I think about the production, especially the latter stages. Suffice it to say, the producer and I went our separate ways, and I haven’t seen him since. All I can do now is tell myself what I told myself back then, I didn’t do it for the money, I did it for the experience, for the credit. At least the YouTube uploader was kind enough to list me as the director.

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