Synopsis vs. Treatment: The Difference

The script has been written and polished. It needs to be made into a movie because it’s that good of a story — but how?

Did you acquire representation (i.e. agent, manager)? Yes, as they have industry contacts and know, overall, how the industry operates.

Synopsis vs Treatment

An agent or a manager is desired, so you look in a directory of literary agents who specialize in screenplays. This publication explains how to contact a particular agency. Other than a query letter, this particular agent (or manager) wants a synopsis as well.

Huh?

A Slick Synopsis

A synopsis is a one- or two-page summary of the screenplay. It’s single-spaced and typed in a 12-point Times New Roman font. In no way is the synopsis used as a marketing tool. Its purpose is to let the reader know what the screenplay is about without having to read it.

Screenplays, as we know, are never sent unsolicited. In other words, if the agent/manager likes the query letter and synospis, he or she will ask you to send them your screenplay.

A variation of a synopsis is a one-sheet. It’s basically a one-page synopsis that consists of the screenplay’s title, the logline (a one- or two-sentence summary of the story; a hook), and then the summary of the story.

A Terrific Treatment

A treatment, on the other hand, is used to market the screenplay and is normally longer than a synopsis. Treatments are usually three to five pages long, although sometimes they can be much longer. These are also sometimes referred to as spec treatments.

Professionals in the industry use the term “treatment” as any written summary meant to market the screenplay. It not only tells the story — it sells the story.

In development deals, the screenwriter may be paid to write a treatment that is around fifty or so pages.

Exactly How Different are They?

Though the terms are used interchangeably, synopses and treatments are very different. To sum it up, a treatment is a marketing tool for the screenplay. A synopsis gives an industry professional an idea of what the screenplay is about.

Since Hollywood is full of cutthroats, some of whom are eager to steal ideas, it’s very important to register your treatments and/or synopses with the Writer’s Guild of America. The guild has two field offices — one in Los Angeles, and the other in New York City. The links are below.