“It [a treatment] is about twenty-five or thirty single-spaced pages normally, in paragraph outline, and it has a very conventional three-act structure and it’s my attempt to describe the movie scene-by-scene. If it’s an important movie, I’ll go into some detail about what happens and why. There’s virtually no dialogue in it unless it’s really important to the scene–it’s suggested but I don’t want anybody to pin me down on that. And if it’s a small scene or a sequence of them I might just say “And now there’s a montage” without going into too much detail. But it’s pretty specific; act one, scene one, two, three…
There tend to be eight-to-ten scenes per act, and I reference the book. If I give this kind of thing to a producer or a director, I don’t know if they’ll sit there with the treatment in one hand and the book in the other, but if they care to look, I cross-reference, say, “Scene four of the movie uses pages thirty-five to forty-seven of the book, but with the following changes,” and I will suggest how it will change. It’s already beginning to change from the book by the time it’s a treatment. And then, usually by the time I’ve finished the treatment and maybe done some revision, I’ve absorbed almost everything from the book I’m ever going to. Very often the book is hardly referred to from that point, and the treatment becomes the blueprint for the screenplay. Only if I’m confused about some point or if I really want some bolstering of specific details am I going to go back to the book — or if I want to crib some dialogue. But basically I work off the treatment as I work.
The treatment is really intended as a tool for myself, it’s to reduce the book to a manageable level and to give me the illusion that I have a road map for the screenplay. It never quite works out that way: when you’re writing you’re continually finding out what you thought you needed an didn’t need after all, so you tear out three pages of the treatment, throw them away and do something else, wing it. I wish there was a way of knowing those things in advance; you’d save a lot of time and a lot of heartache. But I can’t, I just have to write my way into it–which you wouldn’t think would be true with an adaptation but it happens anyway.”
– Ted Tally