I got this question recently:
“I was curious how often after writing a screenplay you get asked for a synopsis or a treatment? I know a synopsis is 1-3 pages. If you have done them, how detailed do you get? Do you go over the broad strokes, or do you go pretty much A-Z through the scenes?
For a contest I’m entering they are asking for the script as well as a ‘supporting description’ which to me sounds like they want a synopsis more than a logline.
I have to admit I’m also kind of terrified of ever being asked to do a treatment. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to put together 30-60 pages of description about the screenplay.”
What I usually do with every script is write a concise logline and a less than 1 page synopsis. If you can get it down to half a page all the better. Obviously in less than one page you have to be very concise and only hit the high points. Mainly you want to concentrate on your story and show a clear beginning, middle, and end and clearly show your protagonist, antagonist, and how your protagonist changes through the course of the story. This is a good exercise to do before you’ve written your script, too. It might change while writing the actual script but it’s a good idea to keep a handle on what it was you set out to write before you started. While writing your script it’s easy to lose sight of the main elements and a short synopsis like this can really help keep them above the fray.
This less than one page synopsis will be very useful for a variety of reasons. In most cases you can use it as the synopsis with your query letter. When someone wants a short 1 – 3 page description of your script this will work, too. As you pointed out, many contests want a short synopsis, too, and this again, will work.
I’ve never been asked to write a long treatment, usually the one page synopsis is enough to suffice. However, I always outline my scripts out before writing so if I had to produce a detailed treatment I could probably go back to my original outline and come up with something fairly easily. I would be skeptical of anyone who asks for a detailed treatment. It’s certainly not common practice and as you point out would be quite a bit of work. You want people to read your script and your logline and synopsis should be enough for them to figure out if it’s worth reading or not.