Our reader Tim Kessler asks: I have developed an idea into what needs to become a film treatment. Can you suggest how I can take what I've got into a piece of work that can be properly used to apply for funding for the expedition/ documentary? Do I need an agent? I have friends who are themselves doc makers and producers who have told me that I have the bones of a film treatment but I don't have a clear vision of how to create the product. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated more than I can express.
Steven D. Katz responds: First, here is the general evolution of a screenplay:
If you are a Hollywood player you can get meetings with any of the items on the above list. After the Godfather was released, a well-known producer told me that Coppola could get funding for something written on the back of a napkin. If you are like the rest of us, you will need a treatment at the very least. You will also need a budget. This is much easier to create for a documentary than for a fictional film. Anyway, you will need to contact an experienced production manager or producer to create the budget even if his role is to check your first best effort.
As for acquiring grants, this is a specialty that I have little experience with, however, I have seen grant-writing courses offered at several continuing education programs. There are also people who specialize in writing grant proposals.
In any case, you will need some kind of package: treatment, budget, executive summary and a business plan. Each of these items requires expertise except for the treatment. With the treatment, the quality of your ideas is more important then knowledge of the rules - if you go the indie route that is. As for an agent, you will not be able to get one without a finished script. You might be better off with finding an attorney with an interest in making movies. At this stage, judging from your questions, you should buy a few books on the subject of
independent production and budgeting. There are also courses and weekend workshops on film funding and filmmaking. Since you are clearly at square one, the first thing to do is to learn about the business of filmmaking.
Hope that helps.