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How To Write A
Documentary Treatment and Documentary Proposal

There is often a lot of overlap when talking about a documentary treatment, documentary proposal, documentary synopsis and documentary logline.

Documentary Proposal – This explains the full scope of your documentary project from story synopsis to the people you’re planning to interview to your distribution plan.

Documentary Treatment – The treatment is almost like a script, detailing exact scenes and describing what the audience will see, hear and experience.

Documentary Synopsis - The synopsis is usually the first section of the proposal. It is an easy-to-read explanation of what your story is about, why the story is significant and how you’re going to tell it.

Documentary Logline - The logline is a 1-3 sentence summary of your film that captures the central hook/conflict/narrative of your story. This is typically used in the marketing of your film to put on posters, film catalogues, adverts, TV guide, etc.

Tips for writing your documentary treatment:

  • Use an active voice (don’t say “We may be doing this film”, say “This film is..”). Make the reader believe this film IS happening.

  • Write colorfully – avoid generic descriptions like “unique” or “magical”. Explain why something is magical or unique.

  • Be specific – Don’t just give a general overview of your story. Describe situations, people and characters in vivid detail to make the story come alive.

An effective documentary treatment:

  • Tells a great story through both narrative and visual description

  • Captures the personal and human element of the story

  • Engages, inspires and leaves the reader feeling like “this story MUST be told”

The idea behind a treatment is to have a written document that fully describes the documentary project that can be made available to potential investors, participants or supporters. This is the first step in the process to lay out your vision on paper (or a website).

Your proposal/treatment is essentially a sales pitch for your documentary idea and should be as compelling as possible to capture the imagination and excitement of the reader.

How To Write A Treatment

Nina Rosenblum, acclaimed documentary film director, guides you through the basics of how to make a documentary film treatment. She produced this video as part of the "Shooting Poverty" film competition, but these are great lessons for anyone wanting to understand better how to write a treatment. 

Need a template to work from? Documentary Proposal Template

When Do You Need A Documentary Treatment/Proposal?

A proposal is used for grant applications, sponsorship applications, pitches to broadcasters, potential fiscal sponsors or any number of individuals who need to understand the scope of the project.

The proposal should lay out a compelling case for why this documentary needs to be made using quotes, statistics and any other evidence. It answers the question “why this documentary, why now".

The length of a documentary proposal (including the treatment) can be anywhere from 2-25 pages (or more) depending on the scope of the project.

The information you include in your proposal is factual and truthful. For example, you do not want to say that the Discovery Channel has endorsed your project if they have not.

Of course, you cannot predict absolutely everything about your project, so the proposal is simply a forecast of how the project is expected to unfold and who will be involved to the best of your knowledge. 

Click here if you need money for your documentary.

Documentary Proposal Template

Do you need more detailed help with your documentary proposal? Are you trying to raise money for your documentary project?

A professional proposal includes not only the treatment, but a budget, a distribution plan and many other important items. See exactly how to put together a proposal using our Documentary Proposal Template.

Documentary Proposal Template

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