Writing Music Video Treatments

by Maureen Egan and Matthew Barry

The process of writing music video treatments is always interesting, mainly because it IS a process. First and foremost, the video exists to serve the song. At its best, the concept and song should complement each other. We’ve seen directors who have that “one idea” they’re just chomping at the bit to do slap the same treatment onto any song that remotely jibes with it. Usually not such a great idea… treatments have to accommodate so many variables, we’ve found that starting from scratch with each song / band is often the better idea.

We try to approach videos as “mini-movies.” our roots are in narrative film, so maybe it’s just our natural inclination to want this and not think of videos as anything less than mini-movies no matter if its abstract or straight narrative… hopefully, the net result of this is a general coherence to the work. Anyhow, in our case, the writing process starts right when we get the song. we’ll listen to the track until we something strikes us…sometimes its just one listen, other times its over and over and over again. We’ll often jot down abstract thoughts and notes – whether it be a single adjective, a feeling, something technical, or a picture we see in a magazine. Anything that comes to mind is worth to writing down as it might inspire us later.

Once we get a song, it usually stays at the forefront of our thoughts no matter what we are doing – shopping, sleeping, reading, doing dishes. additionally, we’re not stephen king – we do get the occasional bout of writers block when NOTHING hits us. not sure if it’s us, or the song just not being that inspiring, or a combination, but it does happen. We just try to take a step back and get away from the office, while still always hearing the song in our heads. Sometimes we’ll go for a hike with the song on the iPod, read, look through art books, watch a good movie, or talk to our moms (who are always good sources of inspiration..).

Once something hits us, we both write separate treatments without much discussion. when we are done we’ll email each other for feedback and rewriting. Sometimes the similarities between what each of us wrote are downright spooky, but often times, we write very different details but with a core idea that’s exactly the same. When that happens, we build on what the best of both would be. The back and forth is when all the ideas really solidify and take the shape of something that serves the song and can sustain an audience (we hope) for three minutes or more. This is also typically when we start talking about how the heck we plan to execute the video if it gets chosen.

A few thoughts on writing style: descriptive is good; arrogant is bad. We have been around enough labels/label people and read enough treatments for friend’s bands, to notice this phenomenon of writing that comes across as really arrogant. We affectionately call it the “this will be the greatest video in the history of videos” principle, and would like to caution anyone against engaging in such hyperbole. You are writing for people who read thousands of treatments a year. You can’t trick them into believing your idea is the one. Moreover, the last thing you probably want is your ego to jump off the page, and not the idea. at best, its annoying and mildly insulting. at worst, you’re laughed at. We’ve seen it happen to other directors, and it’s not pretty. Best advice, just be a storyteller and tell the story.

Once the treatment is exactly where we want it to be, we work on mock-ups or animatics, which are the visual blueprint of how the video will go. truth is, no matter how great your descriptive style may be, a lot of folks really dig the added visuals to help them really get behind your idea. so knowing a little photoshop, grabbing some clip art from the web, and drafting up some rough visuals can be really worthwhile. once that’s done, we send it all to whomever has approached us – the label, manager, band members, or all three. then the waiting begins….

Anyhow, that’s our general idea of writing treatments, and for what it’s worth a few anecdotes about what we’ve learned.

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