The good news and the bad news is that there are no fixed industry standards for (screenplay) treatment length.
There’s No Universal Standard for Treatments
The field is wide open for the content that goes in a treatment and how to format a treatment. Your treatment length is up to you.
We’ve talked about how there are two kinds of treatments. The decisions you make about what to put in your treatment, the treatment length, and how to format it should be driven by the goal and purpose of the treatment you’re writing.
If you’re writing a treatment for yourself as part of your prep for a project: write whatever works for you, and make it as long as you like.
But if you’re writing a treatment that you need to show to someone else, it might be prudent to find out what that person’s expectations about treatments are and establish a common understanding before you get started. If you can’t have a conversation about what the other party wants, aim for writing a treatment that is shorter rather than longer.
How Long Should a Treatment Be?
I’ve seen all kinds of page counts cited as the norm for screenplay treatments. I’m going to spitball and say treatment length typically ranges from 5 to 20 pages. But there is absolutely no “official” definition of the length of a treatment. If what you’ve written is less than 3 pages, it will probably be considered a synopsis or summary; if it’s more than 20 pages, in the screenwriting world you’ve probably written a scriptment. (As portmanteau words go, “scriptment” is particularly hideous, sorry–but it really is a term used in US filmmaking.)
Are you writing a treatment towards pitching a script or idea? Keep in mind that people in the film industry are incredibly busy: the shorter you can make your treatment the better. At the same time, your treatment needs to be a compelling read in its own right, so make it as long as it needs to be. In other words, aim for the “Goldilocks Zone” in the middle.
Examples of Treatments
Proper Treatment – This article by Terry Rossio on how to write a treatment includes links to several sample treatments and is well worth reading for anyone tackling a treatment.
Treatments, Outlines & More at Simply Scripts – Large collection of treatments.
What length are the treatments you write? What trends have you noticed in the length of treatments?
What other sources for sample treatments can you recommend? Which treatments stand out as great examples you like to refer to?
This article is the seventh installment in a series on writing treatments. The previous installment is Five Characteristics of an Effective Treatment. Coming up next week is Six Treatment Formatting Tips. If you don’t want to miss an installment, sign up for our newsletter!