07 Dec Every TVC Treatment I Write is a Learning Opportunity
The spectrum of feedback I get as a TVC treatment writer covers roughly this…
“I don’t want to add a single word. Simply perfect. Thank you very much!”
— A director’s quote about a treatment I wrote.
“(The) producer was not happy because the director wasn’t happy. We defended your work.”
— Feedback from a different treatment I wrote.
It happens. I’ve been writing treatments long enough to know that there will be times when I nail a treatment and there will be times when I utterly disappoint a director, production house, agency or the like. Usually myself, as well. It doesn’t happen often, but it does. Fortunately, I have the humility to deal with it.
The key, for me, is to understand these three basic things:
- There will be amazing treatments.
- There will be treatments that are utter crap.
- Most treatments will fall somewhere in-between #1 and #2.
Ironically, how I deal with both the amazing treatments and the utter crap are pretty much the same. The process is the similar for one simple reason:
It keeps my ego in check.
By looking back on a treatment and asking some basic questions, as well as making some honest observations, my ego avoids over-inflating or being crushed under the weight of a negative reaction to my work.
And while the process is similar for both, I feel as though it takes on greater importance after those TVC treatments that meet (or come close to) the criteria of utter crap.
So what do I do to debrief after a treatment goes wrong? I ask a lot of questions.
Did I have enough of the right information to write this TVC treatment?
I don’t always get a lot of information to go on when it comes to a treatment. Maybe the agency conference call didn’t get recorded, or I wasn’t sent the latest version of the script/boards, etc. The director’s notes may have been translated, but not checked by someone close to the project for accuracy.
All of these things mentioned above are the foundation of a treatment, and if they are inaccurate or missing, the foundation (and, ultimately, the entire treatment) will reflect this.
On the flip side – I have a certain responsibility here, too. I can certainly ask if the information I receive is the most recent and accurate. I can ask if someone has reviewed notes to ensure I’m starting off from the most informed point that I can. Mind you, I can’t go back in time and record a conference call, nor can I force a director to sit on the phone with me for hours on end.
There is somewhat of a balance, here. The people I work for have a duty to provide me with the right information for me to write the treatment, and I have a duty to ensure I have the best information as well.
Did I have enough time to write the TVC treatment?
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), Heat
Time is an interesting concept because it means different things to different people. For me, an hour to work out in the gym is an eternity, while for some, it’s a warmup.
Time, when it comes to writing a TVC treatment, works a lot like fuel in an aircraft:
- A little extra, just in case, is ideal,
- Just enough is cutting it too close, and
- Too little will have you landing somewhere you weren’t planning to go…or worse.
Sure, I like working under pressure. Stress can be a wonderful tool for extracting maximum creativity, but there’s something to be said for having extra time, too.
I’ve been in situations where I felt like time was squandered. That doesn’t mean I don’t do my best in those situations, but it can certainly cause problems when it comes to the final treatment. That’s why I always like to hear from a director as soon as possible – even if I already have a copy of the conference call. Of course, if I don’t have the conference call, I really can’t do much without the director’s input.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), Heat.
What did I get right in this TVC treatment?
I always make a note of finding the good in every TVC treatment I write. Even if the director loves the whole treatment, I look for parts that I’ve improved upon since previous treatment(s). And if the director hates the whole thing, there will invariably still be parts that I can take and re-apply to other treatments for other directors and TV commercial projects moving forward.
There’s also something to be learned in the process as well. Did I respond to emails, texts or voice messages quickly enough? Did I ask enough questions? Did I make assumptions that cost the project valuable time? The treatment writing process is important and if there’s room for improvement, I’m looking for it after every project either formally or informally.
What could I have done better in this TVC treatment?
Hindsight is a cruel teacher. We’re all susceptible to those little mistakes that reduce an otherwise-great treatment to a complete failure. At the last second, I’ve caught errors that would have cost me future projects.
I once spelled a director’s last name wrong in a treatment – and barely caught it before I sent it. I really only use their name once – on the first page of the treatment and, in this case, I had grabbed the spelling from an email sent by the production company. I hadn’t double-checked the name anywhere until I went to send the email to the director. I just happened to have the document open next to my email and casually glanced at the name on the document and compared it to the name in my email to: field.
Disaster avoided, yes, but I’ve done far worse and NOT caught it. But what I HAVE done is learn from every mistake whether caught in-time or not.
The Takeaway: The point here is that we should all be getting better with every treatment we write, TVC we direct, or project that we otherwise touch. Self-evaluation goes a long way, and so does getting honest feedback from a director, production house or agency as to your performance.