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The Dreaded Mini-Treatment
| Tuesday, 06.05.2018, 09:00 AM |   (39833 views)

The Dreaded Mini-Treatment

By Christopher Keane

 The mini-treatment, the most difficult pages you will ever write, takes up just four pages, but encapsulates the entire story you will write in the screenplay.  It’s almost as onerous as the Terrifying Scene Breakdown which you’ll learn about later. If there were ever evil twins from Hades, here they are.

To get to the mini-treatment, you should follow a simple regime. The first thing to do when you start to formulate the movie idea is to write down anything that comes into your head that looks as if it belongs to your idea. Shotgun the idea. Let it rip. Soon your mental editor will come on the scene and start to dismiss certain extraneous ideas as soon as they come up (though some of them you’ll retain for later when you write the actual script).

By the time you’ve shotgunned a number of pages, you will start to whittle down and condense, whittle and condense, until you can fit the major plot and story elements into a workable six or seven pages.

At this point you go through it again, eliminating anything that is not absolutely necessary to the plot or story. By the time you finish this process you will have that double-spaced, 12-point courier font, four page mini-treatment.

Basically the mini-treatment is as it states: a four-page summary of the highlights of the story, broken down into acts.  Page one includes the action of Act I; pages two and three carry the action of Act II; and page four carries the action of Act III to the climax.

The mini-treatment is the first step in a process that will eventually culminate in the writing of the script itself. This is the first layer of the story foundation. If you’re able to complete this step you’ll save time and effort and substantially reduce the possibility of giving up on it. People give up on scripts because they think screenwriting is diving into the screenplay and having at it.

  Wrong. This step and the ones that follow is the guts of the writing process, from which everything else flows. In the Writers Guild of America (WGA), a screenwriter has twelve weeks to complete the first draft. Twelve weeks. They’d spend ten weeks on the gut work and two on the actual writing. The actual writing is the easy part.

This is not for spec work, of course, but it’s an example of how quickly the pros have to get out the work.

I assign my students the mini-treatment, in this form, so that they can focus on the main story points. Without a rigid four-page, double-spaced, 12-point Courier font, they would tend to run the story out to seven or more pages, put it in single space format and make it 8 or 10 point. The reason they give: not enough space to tell the whole story.

That’s the point. You don’t want the whole story. You want to focus only the major elements and turning points so that they can see the story unfold. It’s all about spotlighting the story and not about how many details you can cram into a half dozen pages.

I warn them that if I get anything other than four pages of double spaced 12-point courier prose I will turn it back to them unread. During my teaching life, I have been met by a number of shocked and disappointed faces belonging to students who didn’t believe me.

Write it as if you’re telling a story to a five-year-old with a short attention span. Use generalities to keep the flow and specifics to nail the big turning points.

You’ll notice that the styles in each are slightly different. Pick the one you’re most comfortable with. Like scripts themselves, styles also vary slightly.


Chris Keane has written The Hunter (Paramount) The Crossing (WB), The Huntress (USANetwork series) + screenwriting books: How to Write A Selling Screenplay & Hot Property. He is also a script doctor. Contact Chris at, or e-mail: Keanewords@]


Chris Keane

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