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Video Treatment in Two Steps

What’s a Video Treatment?

A video treatment is your best effort in defining your project, presenting a clear synopsis of your story, developing your production and organizing its purpose. It is often the first and only chance you have in presenting a commercial project— making a pitch.

Photo by Saad.Akhtar

It can be as simple as a scratch pad or Post-it note or as complex as a 10-page visual presentation with descriptive and graphical representation that is similar to a storyboard. While not always required, a video treatment is always beneficial to the production in keeping all who are involved focused on the big picture and in minimizing development and production downtime caused by misunderstandings. There is sometimes a tendency in those generating a video treatment to try to put too much detail regarding the story (storyboard), its characters (screenplay), narrative (script), and camera angles or placement (shot sheet). Keep in mind that while you want to clarify your intended video project and its purpose, its concept and approach, you only want to represent the broader picture. Save the other elements for their specific purposes but know that a video treatment will help you stay focused when the time comes to move forward with your production.

Focus! Focus! Focus!

That ring on the camera isn’t the only tool important for generating a sharp image. Your video treatment can be the focus ring for your project, keeping you and your production crew, as well as your potential backers, all clearly aware of what you’re trying to say and how you want to say it. The more clarity you can give your treatment, the more easily you can keep the interest of those who will help you make your vision happen. Sometimes, something as simple as a Post-it note will serve—at least people working with you and for you won’t have to be mind readers. The more time you take to get your video treatment down on paper, the less time it will take you to get your finished production in the can and on the screen. It will also look a lot more like what you intended instead of taking on a life of its own. But hey, maybe that’s what you are working toward—a project that takes a life of its own. Still wouldn’t hurt to have that sticky piece of paper on the side of your clipboard.

Step 1: A Sticky Approach

I have two personal favorites when it comes to generating video treatments and one of them is the Post-it note. Those little colored squares are all over my production suite, on my calendar, around the frames of my monitors, on the face of my computer and along the edges of my editing table.

They only look haphazardly placed. Each and every one of them has a specific color and purpose—the light green ones are my current video treatment. We’ll save the other colors for another article about production organization. So light green for me, though your colors may vary. I can get by with one square but my average is six if I take this approach to getting my video treatment down dirty and to the point. A standard square will hold about seven lines—two sentences. What the first sentence tells me is the story line:

“ A university spokesperson takes you around campus, pausing at important locations while telling why this state university system is best-suited for your higher education needs and career plans.”

The second sentence tells me this: “Identify six or more significant locations on campus that best represent the university’s programs in academics, sports, and creative arts using a combination walk-and-talk and blocked shots with cutaways of other points for emphasis— elements that will be included in the script and shot sheet.”

As simple as it sounds, a video treatment has just been created. And you could have six or so, placed on your clipboard for reference. But you could expand a bit more using index cards.

Figure 18-2 Post-it notes and index cards can be extremely helpful when it comes to staying organized. Individual colors can each serve different purposes in your production, plus they can be rearranged in the order you desire.

Step 2: Shuffle the Cards

The advantage to using a dozen or so index cards is that you can not only more clearly define your vision and plan for accomplishing it on video, but you can shift the resulting cards around as one element takes priority over another. And it’s easier to use both sides if you want. I personally use only one side because it’s easier to reposition elements in my treatment— keeping everything up front.

Generate an overview like “University president [Name Here] begins his introduction in front of the Pyramid, dwarfed by the structure looming in the background. Use a variety of angles for cuts.” Your second card might say “To emphasize key comments in his presentation, cut the angle and POV to focus on what president Name Here is saying, keeping the Pyramid in the background but smaller.” By the time you’ve written a dozen or so cards you not only have a presentable short notes-style video treatment for the board, committee or your crew, but can move things around as elements of perceived importance shift in value. This approach also pretty much provides you with the beginnings of a shot sheet and even a storyboard or script.

Excerpt from The Videomaker Guide to Video Production, 5th Edition by Video Maker © 2012. Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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