The script’s away. It’s launched and running. It’s hot and in the … no, wait. That’s torpedoes.

The script’s in the mail?


Which means it’s already there.

Oh dear, this post has gone wrong already.

The producer and the director have the script, now I’ve just got to sit back in buttock-clenched fear until I hear back from them.

I just hope it’s before I finish eating all my fingernails and other such clichés.

Things I learnt whilst writing this script:

There’s no É in Courier Final Draft.

Um … that’s about it.

Well, it’s an important lesson, I suppose.

Something which it has driven home to me, again, is the importance of proper preparation.

A script is so much easier to write when you don’t have to solve all of the problems on the fly.

Which brings me to the title of tonight’s epistle:


Every now and then I read about some wannabe scriptwriter – and I don’t use that in a pejorative sense, I just mean they want to be professional scriptwriters and aren’t yet – who say they don’t outline anything. They say they just start writing from the beginning and churn out a masterpiece.

And I’ve always thought – if that works for them, great.

But it’s not great.

Outlining a story – being able to write a good synopsis or treatment (since people tend to treat the two words as interchangeable) is a vital skill. Most jobs you get, or at least I get, are based on a submitted treatment.

Someone says have you got a film based on such and such. I say yes (which is usually a lie) and the next question is: “Great, can I read the treatment?”

I don’t think it would go down very well if I turned around and said “No, but I can tell you roughly what it’s about.”

Or it might, but they’re still going to want to see a treatment.

It’s particularly important when the director’s already on-board because he’s going to want to have his say – and it’s far easier for him to have his say when you’ve only written ten pages as opposed to a hundred.

In a lot of cases, the treatment is also used as a fund raising tool – it gets included in a pack with the film and sent out to potential investors.

Okay, so you could write the treatment after the script – but that assumes you’re writing the script on spec as opposed to on commission.

Look at this way, you’d turn up to view a house which is already built; but you’d never pay to have a house built without seeing the plans first. If you’re looking for a new house and three architects submit detailed plans and the fourth tells you he just makes it up as he goes along and you’re trying to restrict his creativity with all this plan nonesense – well, I’m guessing you’d instantly narrow your choice down to three architects.

That’s what it’s like for me.

I’m not building houses, obviously; but I haven’t written a spec script for years. What I have done though, is write a lot of spec treatments.

Sort of.

Is is still a spec when someone’s asked you to do it?

My point is, for all those aspiring scriptwriters (that’s a nicer way of putting it) who think outlining is a waste of time – you’re going to have to do it at some point in your career.

And since the decision on whether you get the job or not will be based on that treatment/synopsis/outline, then you’ve got to be good at it.

And since the only way to BE good at something, is to GET good at something and the only way to do that is to practice …

Then you might as well start now.

Unless you’re a genius writer who people will throw money at just for the chance of perhaps owning one of your masterpieces … in which case, just carry on as you are.

Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Progress | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Outlines

  1. I apologise for the slightly preachy tone of this post, I do try not to give advice – there are far more qualified people already doing that; but it’s an attitude I come up against a lot reading message boards and it just doesn’t gel with my career at all.

  2. Don’t be sorry. Kick the fuckers while they’re down.

  3. Totally agree with you on treatments and prep, whereas a year ago I might have thought, “Ah, look at that crazy Barron, preaching away”. I’ve been down too many blind alleys to go into a scriptwriting situation without a treatment/outline/whatever. It’s the way forward!

  4. That’s odd. Your won’t post that comment for another hour.

    And now this post has come in above the post I’m talking about.

    Which is Jason’s.

  5. Eleanor

    Yay treatments! …Who’d a thunk?

  6. Eleanor

    Why did my post land about Jasons?

    Phil your blog has a mind of it’s own! Is that how you write so quickly? You get the intelligent blog server to do it for you? No fair!

  7. Eleanor

    Above Jason’s – it’s blinking rewriting me! Argh!

  8. I went on a screenwriting forum once. They’re scary places.

    I had my own “Ah, fuck, I really ought to have done a better outline here” moment a few weeks back, and this after I ripped all over Death Proof for having poor structure.

    Whilst you have your advice hat on, any chance of a PDFed example of one of your outlines?

  9. Ah, well, that’s tricky.

    Everything I’ve written recently has been to order for various production companies – so I can’t really post them publicly without giving away the endings of films currently in production.

    There was this one for the Gumball 3000 thing:


    But since it was unsuccessful, perhaps it’s not the best example?

    I tend to do three things as preparation …

    Apart from thinking a lot:

    1) Treatment/Outline like the Gumball one above.
    2) Character bios – half a page or so on each character. Probably longer on the main characters.
    3) Plot out every sequence on the board – as in the posted photos.

    Does that help?

  10. Yes, thanks!

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