Pre-Production Planning: Approaches to Creating a Video Treatment that Works for You

Even if you are the producer, the shooter, the editor, the distributor and marketing director, taking the time to generate a video treatment will help you present a clearer idea to others and help you stay on track when the time comes to make your production happen.

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 One: 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, 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.

Step Two: 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.

Step Three: Show and Tell

Video is a visual medium so what better way to approach development of a video treatment than by using comments and visuals. This is my second and most favorite video treatment style. While it is the most complex to generate, a visually focused video treatment is the easiest way to ensure a fully planned approach to your production. It also usually always gives everyone involved a more exact idea of what is intended.

I have, in fact, actually been able to sell my suggested treatment over others who either present off the top of their heads – extemporaneously; from scribbled notes, even Post-Its or index cards. Why? Because like video, what I call the show and tell video treatment is, uh, visual! The people whom I want to see what I am thinking get to see what I’m thinking.

If I put in the right amount of planning, use good illustrations and have the treatment clear in my mind – and I have because I put in the extra time to become totally familiar with the project and how to best present it to others – I’m making the connection.

Other methods of presentation for video treatments – making the pitch – depend on the audience’s ability to visualize. With a video treatment that in fact can serve as your storyboard base, there’s not nearly as much explaining to do.

The Post-It and or index card notes you start out with, even scribbled notes on a couple of sheets of paper, provide a good foundation for creation of your show and tell video treatment. I have a CD portfolio of art that while some is outdated, much of its content remains useful for illustrating my show and tell video treatments. It’s called Art Explosion 750,000. I continue to pull useable vector, raster and photographic images from it to create visual references for my video treatments. There are hundreds of available sources for commercial and copyright free images that can be attained without investing too much money or time. These resources can be found with a simple online search, usually in just a few minutes. They are the simplest approach if, like me, you are not an artist.

Using regular typing paper, I create eight or so pages, rarely more than 10, with four visual blocks and four descriptive blocks that adequately represent what I want to see, say, show, capture and create. Though it might take a bit more time, usually no more than a few hours, creating a visual video treatment will cut acquisition time, scripting, storyboarding and shot sheet generation time by 15 percent.

Keeping High Standards

While there are accepted formats for writing screenplays, for developing storyboards and for presenting shot sheets, as well as acceptable variations, I’ve not identified a carved-in-stone format for a video treatment. In my case it has been whatever works and as I noted earlier “whatever works” best for me has been the visual or show-and-tell video treatment.

It helps to keep clear and concise in my mind what I want to accomplish and it helps me keep my presentation to others clear as well. When I take the time to do this, everyone involved seems better able to stay in focus. The video treatment is, of course, like most anything else in video production, a work in progress. That is until you see it on the big screen and even then revisions happen. But fewer and less often.

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.

It can be as simple as a piece of scratch pad or Post-It note or as complex (actually more simple) 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.

Sidebar: Three Strikes and You’re Out!

It seems a video treatment is most common when used in a budgeted or commercial venture. This is not necessarily so. In the article emphasis was placed on using the video treatment for organizing and planning any production – always helpful, never a waste of time.

But what if you have a board, committee or agency that expects you to present something creative, clear and concise? Taking the time to research and develop a video treatment will greatly reduce the need for a pill to calm the nerves, antacid to settle the stomach or a sip of bubbly to smooth the delivery. The video treatment is, in fact, essential to any hope for success. Without one it would be better to not even show up. The good news is that even if you get three strikes you probably still are not out. There are things you can do to keep the doors open, even get a call-back.

Dress Appropriately
Super casual is best left to those who, like Steve Jobs, have an image to maintain – a certain adversity to the status quo. This is not us.

When pitching to a board of directors wear a suit and tie, men; business attire for women.

When pitching to a committee you can often get by with shirt and tie or casual suit, men; non-sports attire, casual business for women.

When pitching to the local school board, PTA or church committee the answer is “it depends.” Do your homework. If you’re on the left coast business casual or even shirt and no tie might be OK, or not. If you find that the group is ultra-conservative and of a suit-and-tie nature – well, as they say – when in Rome…

Keep it Sane
You do not want to present or pitch a church committee on the church’s 100th anniversary project with the same degree of energy or level of enthusiasm as you would, say for the board of a company that creates video games like “War” something or another.

On the other hand you do want to generate some enthusiasm and a controlled level of excitement for virtually any video focusing on a celebratory event. A group of attorneys might want something polished and sophisticated for their founder’s 50th anniversary, while the Rotary Club planning committee might want to roll up their sleeves and snap their suspenders a bit.

Know your audience, especially when generating a video treatment for commercial purposes.

Know When to Shut Up
Most of us have a tendency to want to fill the silence. You’ve prepared your pitch, developed hand-outs of the show-and-tell video treatment and passed them around. You’ve introduced yourself and have been invited to “pitch” or “quickly summarize” or “tell us” and have done so smoothly and without hesitation.

That moment of awkward silence that follows doesn’t always mean you failed to make your point, pitch a hit or otherwise land the big one. Always, when you have completed your pitch – stop talking. Always wait until somebody running the committee, board, organization or group says something. Asks something.

This is critical, especially when pitching a video treatment to an entertainment group or its agent or CEO. More often than not, if you’ve hit something, connected in some way, you will be asked if you have anything else. Be prepared. Always have another pitch ready, another video treatment in your briefcase or handouts to pass around for another concept or treatment. It doesn’t hurt, in fact, to have a backup video treatment ready even if you knock the first one out of the park.

Earl Chessher is a veteran career journalist with more than 30 years experience. He is a career professional video producer who has created thousands of videos and written about creating and marketing video for more than 20 years.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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