Writing TV Show Treatments

In March, I’ll be heading back to StoryExpo, a screenwriting conference in New York. These past few weeks I’ve been getting my scripts together, to pitch to production companies at the conference. As such, I figured it would be a good topic of discussion for my Monday blogs! Today, I’ll share my secrets for writing TV show treatments.

A TV treatment, also known as a show bible, is a breakdown of a TV show’s first season. It’s something you hand to interested parties (like agents or producers) that details the show. It lets them know that you’ve thought past the pilot episode, and have conceptualized what this show could be in the long run. Basically, it’s a way to let people see that this isn’t merely a hobby, but rather something that could be monetized.

Now, the most important part of any TV show is the logline. It’s a two-sentence (maximum) overview of the show. It should tell you the main conflict, who the characters are, and what the point it. You’ll have a longline for the show itself, and for each of the episodes in the season. The best way to think of this are the descriptions of shows on Netflix or Amazon. They’re a couple sentences that tell you what’s up. Loglines are the exact same thing, if not a bit more polished. It should give whoever is reading the longline all the information they need about the show. Think of it as a hook to get people interested.

Once you’ve got the logline down, the rest of the treatment is a piece of cake. You’ll have a one-paragraph synopsis of the pilot episode, which is self-explanatory.

Next, you’ll breakdown the entire season in a detailed synopsis. I’d keep this down to a page, maximum. While you do need to show everything that happens in the first season, don’t make it too detailed. The best way to think of this is to check out a movie plot on Wikipedia. Iron Man is a fantastic example. Follow that format and you should have a great synopsis.

After, you get to my favorite section: character breakdowns. This is where you describe your main cast. A good character description should tell you the essence of a character in three-to-four sentences. What are they struggling with? What’s their character like? Why are they essential to this show? Once you’ve got that, you get to find a well-known actor that best resembles your characters. This is necessary for producers to get an idea of what you see in your head, seeing as you can’t provide in-depth character descriptions in the script itself. This has to be my favorite part. I love going through my favorite TV shows and movies and finding the perfect actor or actress to portray my characters. It’s a lot of fun!

Lastly, you need to include titles and loglines for eight to ten episodes in the season. And you can have fun naming the episodes! Be creative, show them your imagination!

I recommend doing this section after you’ve written the first season, so it’s a little easier to summarize. And it is important to note that you should have a complete season written if you’re looking to pitch it to anyone. Producers like to buy complete projects. It doesn’t even have to be well-written, so long as it’s complete. So, put your fingers to the keys and get it done!

Now, you’ve got a complete treatment! Make sure you have other people read over it. It’s always better to have feedback, and make sure what you’ve put down on paper makes sense outside of your head. Once it’s complete, make sure you register it with the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA). Then, you can share it to your heart’s content, and you don’t have to worry about anyone taking your idea. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

I actually find the process of writing a treatment to be pretty cathartic. It keeps me organized, and allows me to better understand the story I’m trying to tell. 

As far as advice goes, however cliché, all I can say is to enjoy it. This treatment is the entire first season of your TV show in a few sheets of paper. It’s everything your story could be; it’s a culmination of your hard work. So relax and just have a good time.

The Vine Yard: Chapter 2

After getting the scripts written, I went on the hunt for producers. Unfortunately, researching producers for The Vine Yard proved bittersweet.

Bitter because I’m what’s called a “baby writer.” It means I’m new to the industry, with no produced work or production experience. In that regard, it would be extremely difficult to find a producer because there’s no “heat” on my script. No one was talking about my work, or the story, so no one would be vying to work with me. At the same time, I was untested. It would be a risk to take on my project, no matter how good the writing was, because I had no guarantees of success.

It was sweet because Amazon Studios took unsolicited material. I could submit my work to them on the chance they’d want to produce it!

The downside to Amazon Studios was that I’d read all about how they greenlighted material, and then it sat for four years. As The Vine Yard was time-sensitive (given that Vine had ended and would quickly be forgotten in our face-paced society) I needed this to happen quickly.

So, of course, I delayed taking any action. I spent hours researching agents that took unsolicited work, meanwhile getting advice from anyone remotely associated with “the industry.”

After reading yet another devastating blog post about the difficulty of getting an agent, and the fact that even having an agent wouldn’t guarantee your work going anywhere, I made a decision. After reading over my script for the fifth time, I submitted it to Amazon Studios. While waiting to hear from them, I put plans into motion to create The Vine Yard myself. That’s right, I was going to produce the show.

After plotting with my roommate, I made a list of everything I’d need to do this project, and proceeded to call my parents. We discussed logistics, and surprisingly, they both not only wholeheartedly agreed that I could do it, but also enthusiastically encouraged me to do so. Stunned, I returned to my list and began.

Two days later, I heard back from Amazon Studios. The Vine Yard was not what they were looking for at this time. Seeing as it was a 17+ TV show about a dead app, I understood. I wasn’t fazed by the rejection, though.

I decided I’d film the show myself, using phones (as it was the way OG Viners filmed their work back in the day, and it would cut costs until I could afford to rent equipment.) Deciding to film a sort of teaser trailer to post on GoFundMe, so I could raise the money I’d need to properly produce this, I sent out a casting call to the telecommunications and theater departments at UF. Within a week, I had 15 people interested in auditioning. I felt powerful. I was a writer/director/producer creating my own work. I couldn’t quite believe it was happening.

With the auditions set, I sent out a page of dialogue from the excerpt of the pilot script for my actors to memorize, and set the date. This was it. This was me going for my dream. Nothing will stop me now!

The Vine Yard: Chapter 0

Let’s take it back to 2015. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner split, Inside Out came out, Caitlyn Jenner was introduced to society, and Vine was at its peak. The social media app started back in 2013, allowing for people to create 6-second videos and share them with its massive platform. It really was the perfect app! The videos gave you snapshots into people’s lives, one laugh at a time. And the format made it easy to lose hours at a time scrolling through content.

Nostalgia aside, the idea was brilliant. Like tweets in video form, Vine allowed regular people to showcase their talent—and be praised for it. It circumvented the traditional ways to fame. And that is precisely where my obsession came from. I loved the idea that people I knew could become “social media famous” simply by filming an aptly-timed joke. It was relevant, funny, and ranged all different races, ages, and pop culture references.

But what about the people themselves? That’s where I came in. Everyone (read: 16-year-old girls) knew the names of popular Viners but knew next to nothing about what they were like outside of their videos. Who were they dating? Where were they from? Were they friends in real life like they were on Vine?

I had the idea to interview these people and create a collection of short stories, so to speak. I wanted to know about their home lives, their school lives, and everything in between. What did they hope to do with their social media fame? Where did their ideas come from? So, I gathered 200 of my closest Viners and pestered them every few weeks until I got some responses.

While I didn’t get the reaction I had hoped for—such as flying out to L.A. and meeting them in person and becoming best friends with them all—I was thrilled. To me, it was like talking to celebrities.

I corresponded with agents and managers, sounding like the naïve baby writer that I was. But still I persisted. At the end of it all, I had 6 interviews, 1 transcript, a two-hour long conversation with one of the OG Viners I looked up to, and an email from my favorite Viner's brother saying he’d like to work with me. It was going my way. The downside was that transcribing the interviews was a NIGHTMARE. For an hour interview it would take me three hours to write, and that was without editing.

From there, I had to edit the content, and shape it into something people would be able to read—which boiled down to one or two pages. And I wasn’t satisfied with it. What would get anyone other than those 16-year-old girls to read what amounted to an interview about someone they didn’t know? There was no hook, no real depth—other than the guy that used Vine to pay for his college tuition!

What would get someone’s grandmother to pick up this book and read it, someone who knew nothing of Vine and how it changed our way of consumption?

With that realization, I lost my drive to pursue it. Well, that and the fact that I hated transcribing (which, ironically, I had to do my junior year of college). So, the Vine novel fell to the wayside, much to the chagrin of my mother. She was convinced this would be my ticket into the world of writing. And, honestly, so was I. But I didn’t know where to go.

Then came the fall of Vine in January 2017. The urgency to act took over, and I resurrected my idea. But I had nothing to offer these people who were struggling to stay relevant in a world where their content wasn’t easily accessible. What could I do to entice these people to talk to a no-name writer from South Florida with only two self-published novels and three school-published short stories under her belt?

Fast forward to August 2017.

I was sitting in a restaurant with my parents, discussing—again—how my mother wished I’d pursue this Vine book, and about my applications to TV writing programs in L.A. And that’s when my dad turned to me and said, “Why don’t you make it a TV show.”

I was dumbfounded.

In that instant, everything clicked into place. My mind started turning, and I was already afloat on the idea of a show, of gathering the Viners and telling their stories.

In the weeks following, I shaped my characters, the stories I wanted to tell, and thus, the script of The Vine Yard was born. I hope to tell the stories I heard from those I’ve interviewed, as well as the incredible moments that have happened in my life along the way.

This is The Vine Yard.