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The stuff that dreams are made of



The Treatment :  "No scene that doesn't turn"

A TREATMENT may be defined as a prose narrative (five to twenty-five pages long) that presents the characters and events of a proposed script, movie or television series, in a way that allows the reader to enter far enough into the drama to understand the ways in which the story and characters will be treated, including a vivid sense of the characters' and story's attitudes as well as the movement of the emotional energy and its relationship to what the story is about (theme). 

Most dramatic film and television scripts can be broken down into act-structures consisting of a series of crises and turning points or reversals. Your treatment should certainly focus on the major turning points of each act, but it might also delineate the “smaller”, significant turning points and reversals, sequence by sequence, and scene by scene. In effect, a treatment is a vivid and dramatic "short story" of the screenplay, including the pivotal scenes, showing in more detail than a pitch, a sample of what we would actually see and hear.

The narrative proceeds by way of dramatic actions expressed in scenes. It will present a sense of the film's attitude, as well as the essential progression of action effecting the changes in the characters and their circumstances. Hence, it is essential that the screenwriter, when writing the treatment, makes sure that is contains “no scene that doesn’t turn.” If you find yourself summarizing a scene that is undramatic, conveying only exposition or back story, chances are it’s unnecessary.

Deliver all the back-story and exposition of your story through present-time conflict

And REMEMBER: Get your major character in trouble and then make it worse and worse. Only conflict is interesting. If you want drama - and who doesn't? - throw the weight of circumstance against your favored character If you can’t figure out where to go next, make the main character’s struggles worse, then you’ll be back on track. And never stops asking yourself: what are the characters fighting for?

Write about what you know (your tribe or tribes), using some interesting expertise you already have— scuba diving, butterfly collecting, playing rugby, being in the Army, losing a parent, etc. —or write about what you don’t know, making yourself an expert in whatever subject you want to write about by first finding a way of getting yourself initiated into the tribe or tribes whose story you're interested in (this used to be called research, but the term is a bad one. If you define research as looking something up on the web, it's not enough.)  If you’re writing a story about a fireman who almost perishes in the World Trade Center and you’ve never been to New York City, you may want to write about something closer to your own experience or take several trips to New York to interview firemen who survived the attacks of 9/11. Authenticity is everything.

Have the story's conflicts arise from character choice rather than cooked-up “plot points,” accidents or coincidences. (If you’re going to end your script with a man in a wheel chair and a puppy in his lap being run over by a train, set it up, and just keep in mind that such an ending is most appropriate for a comedy.) Likewise, resist the temptation to kill off your main character. It’s hard for a story to go on with a major character dead, unless you’re writing Sunset Boulevard or American Beauty all over again. The best approach is to force your major point- of-view character to make difficult, almost impossible, choices at each turn, especially wrong choices, and then let the consequences of those choices play out like dominoes falling.


             Practical Guidelines for Writing FILM Treatments

      As with your script, please follow these formatting guidelines carefully: 


The FIRST TIME your CHARACTERS appear in the treatment, try to do all three things listed below in one sentence:


CONSTANTINE GRUBER. (Don’t capitalize or use their full names again unless they enter the story much later and we need to be reminded who they are, like CURLY in Chinatown.)

2. Include the character’s age as a simple numeral set off by commas (JERROL BURBLE, 29, a hairy man with a mole in his eyebrow like a baby June bug . . .) A numeral (13) saves you and the reader time and space.

3. Include a brief but surprising description of the character:

  • Don’t write a general description that gives your value judgments about the character (beautiful, ugly, cranky, goofy, racist); such adjectives tell and don’t show;
  • Don’t write a boring all-points-bulletin (5’ 4” with brown eyes and hair); but instead
  • Choose two or three significant details that give us a vivid picture of the character immediately: a pear-shaped man with a strawberry nose and a weepy, open sore on his leg. (This description, something like the one Chaucer uses in “The Cook’s Tale,” vividly shows the alcoholic cook in Canterbury Tales. The strawberry nose shows us he drinks too much and the open sore strikes us as grotesque and unsanitary, especially since the cook keeps picking at his sore while he cooks meals.)
  • Here’s an example of a sentence that uses all three elements: “JOSEPHINE (JO) CRUPKI, 73, enters the living room in her granddaughter’s red miniskirt, wild-eyed, looking like a skeleton dipped in latex.”  Hard to forget this description, right?
  • Write scenes in specific places and times with clear transitions from scene to scene: “The next day,” “Two weeks later,” “After burying the body,” for example.
  • Write only what we can see or hear. Don’t tell us character’s thoughts or motivations. Have the characters tell other characters what they’re thinking and reveal their motives through their dialogue and actions.
  • Don’t write “we see” or “we hear.” Keep us out of the treatment and script altogether. If you write, “We see Jo pulling a revolver from her cleavage,” simply rewrite the sentence as, “Jo pulls a Colt 45 from her cleavage.”
  • Every time a character makes or hears a sound, CAPITALIZE that SOUND: “Jo BLOWS out the television screen with a SHATTERING GUNSHOT.”
  • Don’t write camera directions. We just want to see and hear the story as it unfolds dramatically like a film in our minds. The more vivid and brief the descriptions, the better.
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Courtesy Marilyn Horowitz http://www.artmarproductions.com/ 


Writing a treatment is a skill that can help any screenwriter succeed, at any point in the creative process.

There are at least three parts of getting a screenplay sold or financed. Learning to write a treatment can jump-start a writer's career because it allows a screenwriter to communicate his or her screenplay idea in a brief but compelling way. It also can be a powerful diagnostic and creative tool.

I am often asked if a writer has to actually write a screenplay, or can they just sell ideas?

You can't copyright an idea, only the execution. If you have a great idea, the only way to own it is to write it. Writing a treatment is a fast way to test out an idea before the screenwriter commits to writing a script. If it isn't terrific, move on.    CHECK OUT SOME OF THESE IDEAS.

Part of succeeding as a screenwriter is to write at least one great screenplay. There is no substitute for craft. Screenplays are hard work and take time to perfect. If a writer has completed a screenplay, writing a treatment can help the writer determine whether or not their screenplay is viable, because the treatment creates distance. This allows the screenwriter to get an overview of their work and look at it objectively.

If the basic story is not something an audience will want to see, no amount of rewriting can fix it. This is a problem I encounter over and over in my work as a writing coach. Screenwriters often forget that they are writing for an audience. Writing a treatment before you write your next screenplay can help you work out problems and determine whether your story idea is a diamond in the rough, or just a lump of coal. The goal is to combine stories told from the heart with a deep understanding of what other people want to see.

Craft and good ideas don't necessarily go together. I have worked on several scripts with great ideas and poor execution and the reverse. The successful screenwriter must be able to master both aspects. One tip: Always remember that a screenplay, unlike a novel, is not a complete form in itself but a step along the path of making a film, so the goal of any screenwriter is to see the film made of his or her screenplay. It's easy to forget the goal when you are wrestling with your script.

Ideally, every serious screenwriter should have two really well written, well-structured screenplays as writing samples. Then it makes sense to devote time to learning how to write treatments because they force the writer to focus on structure and character development. Once the writer gains a comfort level with this type of rigorous story development, years of struggling can be saved, If the writer can attain writing excellence in his or her full length scripts, and can write treatments with his or her intended audience in mind, success must be inevitable The key is this: If the scriptwriter wants to see the movie of the treatment he or she writes, then so will other people.

Writing a treatment helps a screenwriter assess his or her work wherever they are in their process. I cannot recommend this process enough.

What Is a Treatment?

There is controversy about the length a treatment can be. Some say up to 60 pages, but the point of the treatment is to communicate your story as quickly as possible, so brevity without sacrificing juice is the key here.

There seem to be three opinions about what a treatment is.

One opinion is that it is a one page written pitch. The second, which I agree with, is that it is a two to five page document that tells the whole story focusing on the highlights. The third opinion is that a treatment is a lengthy document that is a scene by scene breakdown of a script. I consider this an outline, and a waste of time as a marketing document, though it can be an important step in the creation process In my experience, the two to five page version works best, and an example is included in this article.

This two to five page document should read like a short story and be written in the present tense. It should present the entire story including the ending, and use some key scenes and dialogue from the screenplay it is based on.

What Should Be in the Treatment?

1. A Working title:
2. The writer's name and contact information
3. WGA Registration number
4. A short log-line
5. Introduction to key characters
6. Who, what, when, why and where.
7. Act 1 in one to three paragraphs. Set the scene, dramatize the main conflicts.
8. Act 2 in two to six paragraphs. Should dramatize how the conflicts introduced in Act 1 lead to a crisis.
9. Act 3 in one to three paragraphs. Dramatize the final conflict and resolution.


 The Three Act Structure

Any discussion of treatment writing should at least touch on basic screenplay structure. Although everyone reading this article is probably familiar with this information, revisiting the basics can be helpful. In his seminal book of fragments, The Poetics, Aristotle suggested that all stories should have a beginning, middle, and an end. The writing method I have developed uses the expressions Setup, Conflict and Resolution as more evocative terms for describing the movements of a screenplay.

 Breaking the movement of a story into three parts, gives us a 3- part or act structure. The word "act" means "the action of carrying something out."

Many screenplays are organized into a 3-act structure. The tradition of writing in this form comes from the theater and was followed by filmmakers. Think of it as a foundation for building a house that others can easily identify, even if the details are new and original.

Act 1, called the Set-up, The situation and characters and conflict are introduced. This classically is 30 minutes long.

 Act 2, called The Conflict, often an hour long, is where the conflict begins and expands until it reaches a crisis.

Act 3, called The Resolution, the conflict rises to one more crisis and then is resolved.


The Actual Process

Find A Title

Whether the screenwriter is creating a new story or writing a treatment based on an existing script, the first step is to make sure that the screenplay has a good title. The first contact a prospective producer has with a script is the title. Pick a title that gives a clear idea of what genre the screenplay is written in. (See my 2-part article that appeared in this magazine for more detail on genre. A good title can predispose a producer or reader to like a screenplay because it suggests the kind of experience that is in store and arouses curiosity. Great classic film titles include It Happened One Night, Psycho and Die Hard.

A film I recently consulted on is called, And Then Came Love. This is a good title because it describes the story and the style or genre it's written in - a light romantic comedy. The title does not determine whether or the screenplay is good but it can be a great marketing tool. There's a famous quote that is helpful to keep in mind when naming screenplays: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Romeo and Juliet (Quote Act II, Sc. II).

If you want a producer to read your script, pick a name that matches your story.

Write a log-line

The second step is to write a log-line. Preparing a log line for your screenplay is a basic marketing tool that I have re-purposed for developing treatments. It is similar to the summary given in TV Guide. It is a technique for boiling down a plot-line to its essence that has been described as trying to vomit into a thimble.

Follow the example below when writing a log-line:

And Then Came Love is a character-driven romantic comedy about a high-powered Manhattan single mom who opens Pandora's box when she seeks out the anonymous sperm donor father of her young son.

Write a synopsis

The third step is to a synopsis. Begin by expanding the log-line into a three-act story Start with the end. For example, Let's work with The Silence Of The Lambs:

Act 3: Clarice Starling catches the killer and saves the intended victim.

Then break down into three acts. For example,

Act 1: While still a student at The FBI, Clarice is asked to help on a case. She's eager to help and interviews Hannibal Lector who gives her a clue.

Act 2: With his help, she is able to overcome many obstacles, and finds the identity of the killer.

Act 3: She confronts the killer, saves his intended victim and atones for the death of the lamb. The scriptwriter should follow this break down for his or her story, and then expand this into a synopsis.

Follow the example below of And Then Came Love:

Julie (mid 40s), a successful Manhattan reporter-turned-columnist believes she has it all - a great job, a rent controlled apartment, a boyfriend and best of all, an adorable six-year-old son named Jake, whom she conceived via an anonymous sperm donor.

Her perfect world, however, is rocked when she's called in for an emergency parent-teacher conference and learns that her son has been acting up, needs to be 'tested' and is on the brink of expulsion. Over-whelmed, Julie instinctively blames herself... it's easy to do since her mother has made her feel inadequate for not being a stay-at-home mom.

Julie, however, will not concede that her mother could be right, so she places genetic blame on Jake's anonymous father. Through a private investigator, Julie learns the identity of the donor and meets him - Paul, a struggling actor and law school dropout. Julie has neither intention nor desire to reveal her identity to him, she simply needs to check her sources, get the facts, and move on.

A child psychiatrist tells Julie that Jake does not appear to have ADHD, but could benefit from a "father figure" in his life. Julie's boyfriend, a charismatic photo-journalist is up for the challenge and proposes. Julie believes her life is back on course until Paul, the donor, shows up, hoping she'll promote the offoff Broadway show in which he's performing.

Jake instantly bonds with Paul. No matter how hard Julie tries to keep Paul from complicating her life, the more he does as he begins to fall for her, and she finds she can not deny her feelings for him, and her boyfriend is pushing to set a date. ( written by Caytha Jentis, writer/producer)

Writing the Treatment

Once the synopsis is written, the preparation is complete and the screenwriter can take the synopsis and expand it into a treatment by correcting structure and adding detail.

Good Luck, and don't forget to register your treatment with the writer's Guild of America.


Marilyn Horowitz is a Writing Coach and the president of ArtMar Productions, a script consulting and film production company based in New York City. She is also a Senior Writer for Script Magazine and has contributed articles to Hollywood Scriptwriter. Her private students include published novelists, award winning filmmakers, screenplay and television writers. Marilyn was the script consultant on the Warner Bros. film, Then Came Love, starring Vanessa Williams, Eartha Kitt and Ben Vereen.

In 2004, Marilyn won the coveted New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies Award For Teaching Excellence, where she teaches Writing The Screenplay In Ten Weeks, a course based on her workbook, How To write A Screenplay In 10 Weeks. Marilyn also teaches Writing The Feature and Aesthetics II in the New York University Graduate Film Program. Her workbook is used as a textbook for both of these courses.

Writing Treatments for Documentaries





Stringer, the ABC-TV dramedy series from the 1980s still reigns as the only Australian drama series devised and written by AFTRS (Australian Film, Television & Radio School) students, while they were students, which was subsequently sold to and screened on a major Australian television network.

The series was conceived and written by Chris Lee, Steve Wright and myself, Billy Marshall Stoneking, working under the mentorship of Thames television exec and script editor, Linda Agran (Minder, Widows, etc). 

The brief we were given was to devise a character-based television drama series to be shot on film, on location in and around Sydney, that highlighted the multicultural nature of the city. Linda suggested we familiarize ourselves with the "outline" that the U.K. writer, Leon Griffiths, had written for his series idea, entitled Minder, and if need be use it as a model for what we wanted to write (see below).

Once we had finished writing it, Linda's idea was to take our treatment around to all the networks and when each of them rejected - which was what she expected would happen - she would sit us down and show us where we'd screwed up. To her surprise ALL of the networks wanted it. One of them even sent a representative over to the school with contract in hand, urging us to sign. We didn't and... the rest - as they say - is history. 


ABOVE: Writers Steve Wright, Chris Lee & Billy Marshall Stoneking with Thames television executive, Linda Agran, at the Australian Film Television & Radio School, Sydney in 1983, whilst devising the television drama series, STRINGER


The series ended up with three directors, John Edwards producing, and a soundtrack put together by Martin Armiger that went double platinum before the series had completed screening. It also garnered a number of AFI awards, including best cinematography, and was screened on ABC-TV in prime time, opposite the State of Origin matches in 1988 unfortunately, and later in the UK and elsewhere.

The treatment itself took us 11 weeks to write and re-write, and re-write  - most of the discussion was about character - who are they? what do they want? what are the key relationships? And then a whole lot of "what if..." situations to see if we were all working with the SAME characters. In the end we let the characters write their own stories.

None of us had written for television before. I'd made a short 30 minute film in the States when I was about 19 - apart from that - nothing. Chris Lee had been a journalist with AAP; Steve Wright had written a few stage plays, and I was a performance poet who had written an epic, unproduced feature about the legend of Lasseter's lost reef.

As we got to know the Stringer characters better, we all became rather obsessive about the project. We ended up meeting seven days a week during the last fortnight or so, anywhere between eight to 15 hours a day, frequently punctuated by forgotten long lunches - forgettable owing to the vast amounts of ale that irrigated our manic enthusiasm. Chris usually manned the typewriter, when we had one, (yes, we were still using typewriters back then) and Steve would generally stretch out on a couch or a floor.

It wasn't all smooth sailing either. At times things would become quite heated with arguments raging over things like whether Frank - the lead character - would refer to the police as cops or wallopers. Fortunately, we all had a pretty good sense of humor.

Decisions were based on minority rule. If we call agreed, fine. But if one of us held out, then the other two would either have to find a way of convincing the hold-out why the idea was good, or else the idea would be jettisoned and a new idea introduced. It seemed to worked pretty good. We found that working as three was useful because there would always be at least one member of the team that was LISTENING. All of us, in our different ways, became extraordinary listeners - something I cant recommend too highly if you wanna write for television or do anything at all, really, in the screen storytelling business. 

By the way, the soundtrack album from the television series, featuring Kate Cerebrano and Wendy Matthews, produced by Martin Armiger, was one of the fastest and best selling soundtrack albums ever produced by ABC Enterprises. It's still selling strong. If you would like a copy, check out 



Stringer is a comedy TV series from Down Under about the misadventures of a retired Australian journalist rest back in Australia after a twenty-year hiatus, and a local cab driver with an eternal proclivity for seeking out 'the main chance'. The reporter, Frank Buchanan (Derrick O'Connor) is seeking nothing so much as peace and quiet after covering war zones and trouble spots all over the world, but his plans are seriously impaired as soon as he meets Yanni (Nick Papademetriou), a wanna-be playboy who sees in Frank an easy and regular mark. Frank tries to stay away from him, but fate seems to continually throw the cabbie into his path. Laura (Susan Lyons) soon comes into the picture after Frank looks for some part-time work. Frank trained Laura in London, and now she is making the calls as the managing editor of one of Sydney's biggest selling current affairs magazines. She admires Frank's journalistic flair but is also looking to pay him back for the way he treated her in the past. Laura sends the macho Frank on jobs normally assigned to females, including reporting on a celebrity baby shower and investigating the various whys and wherefores of cosmetic surgery.   Yanni's cab always seems available whenever Frank needs a ride, grouping the cabbie as the reporter's sidekick while he does his job. Things start to get complicated after Frank develops feelings for Laura.   (Courtesy  TV.com)

Here is the document that started the whole thing rolling: 

 FRANK BUCHANAN is a “stringer” – a freelance journalist who works for news organisations in both London and New York. For the past fourteen years he has worked for some of the world’s most important newspapers (including the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team) covering  stories in Vietnam, Northern Ireland and the Middle East, gaining a reputation among his readers and editors as the man who’d go anywhere, no matter how dangerous. He got an even bigger reputation as the man who raised the claiming of expenses to an art form, charging bills from hotels that hadn’t been built, and from bars that had already been blown up. Now he’s home. He’s had enough of trouble spots, and figures Sydney will be a breeze for a couple of years.

STRINGER is a drama series with a sense of humour. Shot entirely on film, on location, in and around Sydney, it is not a copy of something that has already been done somewhere else better. It is an Australian series without an inferiority complex that will show domestic audiences a no-bullshit view of a remarkable metropolis and overseas audiences a city they never knew existed. Sydney is an exciting place, right? It’s time to use it.

STRINGER takes Sydney in through the pores. As film drama it’s out there in the streets, the pubs, the playgrounds, among the people that make up the multicultural flavour of this city. That is not to say STRINGER is a travelogue full of Harbor Bridges and Opera Houses. It looks nothing like the "Streets of San Francisco", nor is it full of gun-happy cowboys working for nameless security organisations.

FRANK drinks too much, smokes too much, takes little or no exercise and avoids the company of people who do. He has a natural and individual style in his life as well as in his writing, and knows the difference between real news and crap. Behind the hard-bitten, cynical exterior there is a genuine craftsman at work.

FRANK’s years of living in Europe and America have had an effect on him because, unlike most of his Australian contemporaries, he actually enjoys the company of women. His list of credits, in terms of his relationships, reads like the passenger list on the Titanic – he doesn’t trust his own judgment and therefore never ‘comes on’ with women. As a result his humour, easy charm and lack of aggression make him extraordinarily attractive to them. Younger women se4e him as the experienced father figure; older women see him as the lover and companion they never found.

His rented house, in stark contrast t the rattling pace of his life, is in a quiet, boring street in Chatswood. In a row of manicured lawns, fresh paint and prizewinning azaleas, FRANK’s house is Patterson’s Curse. His neighbour, MRS GLOVER, is the sort of person who goes to bed at ten o’clock with one eyes on the window. When she’s not complaining about the state of his property she is watching him like a soapie.

FRANK’s house is in a continual state of chaos, mainly because of his relationship with machines; they turn off when they see him coming. FRANK accepts that machines are conspiring against him and he’s equal to the challenge. From the halls of the Italo-Australian Club to the shores of Botany Bay, FRANK fights his own technological revolution.

Why a journalist?

1.     The last thing Australian television needs is another cop show. Unrealistic punch-ups, ballistically fictional shootouts and granite-jawed superheroes have become the same the world over. STRINGER avoids the good-versus-evil formula. If there’s a hero in STRINGER he’s quite unaware of it.

2.     A gangland killing in Dixon Street; a corporation’s involvement in drug-trafficking; or a suitcase full of cockatoos heading for California; FRANK wants to find out what the hell’s going on. When he sits down at his old Olivetti, his writing shows that he cares more about the way people feel than the statistics they create. His profession is ideal for exploring the multicultural facets of Sydney.

Given FRANK’s excessive drinking habits and his natural aversion to machinery, he needs an offsider who’s a damn good driver. YANNIS MOUSAKIS is that man.

YANNIS, a first-generation Australian/Greek from Newtown, is a smart, street-wise cabdriver in his mid-twenties who knows every SP bookie in town, every spruiker in every cheap dive, and is not averse to taking a rich American tourist from Macquarie Street to the Cross via Bondi Junction. He knows where almost everyone of “no fixed address” lives. The wharves, the markets, the massage parlours – YANNIS’ contacts are seemingly endless. You want a secondhand video recorder or a dozen ripe avocadoes? YANNIS’ cousin knows the bloke whose lorry they fell off.

YANNIS has cultivated the John Travolta strut and spends every spare dollar on clothes, cologne and workouts. He works hard at attracting women – often with reasonable success – and he can’t understand how FRANK manages to draw them so effortlessly. YANNIS has seen Flashdance ten times. FRANK saw it by mistake one night and fell asleep before the end of the opening credits.

YANNIS’ cab is ankle-deep in cassettes, but the rock’n’roll music he plays is more than a sound – it’s a movement. FRANK finds all this mildly amusing when he’s not finding it mildly irritating. YANNIS would be in the rock’n’roll business if he could find a band. He writes his own lyrics and FRANK is forced to listen to the stuff, often to his distaste: “Yanni, put your foot on the accelerator, not in your mouth!”

FRANK is attracted to YANNIS’ reckless exuberance and enthusiasm. You might say YANNIS is the son he wished he had instead of the one he got.

Which brings us to FRANK’s son… and FRANK’s ex-wife. FRANK has a “family” – which for sound reasons he has successfully avoided for 14 years.

FRANK’s son, GORDON, is a trendy’s trendy. He’s in second-year Med at Sydney University, and has just the right amounts of conformity, pomposity and ideologically correct viewpoints to send FRANK bananas at the very mention of his name. But inspite of all this, FRANK maintains a glimmer of hope that one day his son may end up a human being.

GORDON’s mother, VALERIE, has remarried, lost weight and now has that early-forties beauty that only money can buy. She aspires to the black and white committee, drives a BMW, and has commissioned a Double Bay genealogist to prepare a family tree showing that there’s at least one convict on her family. Walk into VALERIE’s decorator-designed lounge room and it feels like a fifteen-inch collar on a sixteen-inch neck. From FRANK’s point of view his ex-wife is a lost cause.

VALERIE, for her part, would be embarrassed for people to know that she’s ever been married to someone like “him”, and the last thing she wants to see is FRANK’s convex face through the peephole lens in her burglar-proof door. VALERIE’s husband, a Macquarie Street psychiatrist, is the one who’s interested in FRANK, having learned about FRANK from VALERIE during treatments for her post-marital depression. If he wanted to, MARTIN could write a textbook on “The Frank Syndrome”; in short, he finds him fascinating.

The most important woman in FRANK’s life is LAURA CHANDLER, 36, editor of one of the most influential news magazines in Australia; a major outlet for FRANK’s stories. LAURA is partly responsible for FRANK’s return to Sydney. She has offered him top money for any stories that interest him, and though she’s willing to wear a lot of the pressure she cops from her publisher she’s not averse to telling FRANK to stick it when his stories come to too close to libel. FRANK and LAURA both know where to draw the line in investigative journalism, but where LAURA’s line is invariably straight, FRANK’s line bends a little.

She is the sort of woman who could take three colleagues out to dinner on her American Express card without anyone being embarrassed about it, and would sooner eat Chinese with someone who is charming, amusing and poor, than go to the Opera with someone who wears “La Grande Pomme” T-shirts on the weekends.

When she was twenty-two she was engaged to a bloke at the Duntroon Royal Military Academy but out maneuvered him when she discovered his plans included 4 kids, 2 cars and a government-issued house on a base in Western Australia.

Since then she has enjoyed the company of men without wanting to spend the rest of her life with any one of them.

Her various love affairs all have beginning, middles and ends – but not necessarily in that order.

LAURA wears make-up, perfume and is a stylish-dresser; she achieved through the seventies what most feminists aspired to. She is, simply, a successful woman.

LAURA is tougher and more interesting than FRANK remembers, but then so is Sydney. FRANK lands in the city not quite knowing what to expect. He’s seen a picture of Centrepoint Tower; he’s read about the Eastern suburbs railway; and he’s heard they’ve torn down Jim Buckley’s Newcastle pub… but no one warned him about YANNI…

IN “Fastest Cab in the Southern Hemisphere”, the taxi FRANK catches from Kingsford Smith airport is driven by YANNIS who immediately slips into his “rip off the tourist” routine. FRANK gives an address in Point Piper and when they finally arrive FRANK tells YANNIS to wait. He knocks on the door, gets no reply and disappears round the side of the house. Minutes later, the front door opens and there’s FRANK, loaded with gear: portable TV, typewriter, toaster, vacuum cleaner, etc.

YANNIS is impressed by what he thinks is the smoothest daylight B & E he’s ever seen. FRANK rejects YANNIS’ offer to find a fence for the stuff and they head for FRANK’s motel. FRANK has partly unloaded the taxi when YANNIS spots a green Holden and shoots through with FRANK’s luggage still in the boot, hotly pursued by the green Holden.

Next morning, FRANK wakes up in the motel having dreamed of Greek taxi drivers all night. At his door is YANNIS, grinning and politely returning his suitcases. YANNIS offers FRANK a free fare and on the way to LAURA’s inner-city office he bolts through a red-light, cuts a harp left turn and heads for the back streets of Chippendale, after sighting the same green Holden in his rear-vision mirror.

FRANK is under the shower when there’s a knock on the door, and he’s confronted by two swarthy types who obviously aren’t there to sell bibles. They barge in and accuse FRANK of having sold their papa a dud car. Eventually FRANK discovers that YANNIS sold the old man the car, but has told them that he was acting for FRANK. YANNIS turns up to warn FRANK that he’s had to put these two guys onto him – in order to save himself – and walks straight into it. FRANK screams for silence and suggests a solution (he’ll pay anything to shut them up): he’ll pay the old man for the value of the car, providing they all get the hell out of his room.

Later, YANNIS thanks FRANK for getting him off the hook, but FRANK grins and says he’s not quite off it. FRANK now has $1,200. worth of credit on YANNIS’ meter… and 

a partnership is born…

The fact that FRANK’s ex-wife, VALERIE, has reported a burglary from her Point Piper residence beings police after the two partners. At the station, VALERIE confronts FRANK for the first time in 14 years and her reaction proves that absence and time don’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. VALERIE doesn’t press charges; after all, she’s now free of most of the stuff he had stored there.

For a man who’s spent most of his life living out of a suitcase, FRANK is happy to finally find his own house. His Chatswood home, he figures, is perfect for the peace and quiet he’s looking for. In the episode, “Fishy Chips”, he’s in the throes of moving into his new house… when he goes to an illegal gambling casino on a large yacht on the harbour as part of a larger story for LAURA. FRANK notices a punter losing a great deal of money he doesn’t have, and the gambling staff seem only too willing to extend the man credit.

A few days later, FRANK reads that the punter – a prominent member of sigh society Sydney – has leapt to his death from a fifteen-story window. He visits the detective investigating the death – an old friend – who tells him they’re treating it as a simple suicide.

Unconvinced, FRANK tracks down someone else who lost heavily on the same night, but the man is too frightened to talk. FRANK starts to smell a different story; he takes LAURA out to an expensive restaurant for “a feed and a quiet chat”. LAURA knows that FRANK’s quiet chats mean one thing: he needs money. So she’s only mildly surprised when he asks her for $20,000 to lose at a gambling casino.

FRANK sets himself up as bait. He returns to the casino with YANNIS. After dropping five thousand dollars, he starts playing on credit and loses a further five. He’s treated politely by the casino staff and leaves after having signed an acknowledgement of his debt.

FRANK’s investigations reveal that the owner of the yacht is a well-know French businessman from New Caledonia with a wide range of business connections in Sydney. FRANK starts to write his story at home when he’s visited by a couple of the casino heavies who advise him that soaring interest rates have doubled his debt. FRANK tells them where to stick their debt and they rough him up a bit. Before leaving they discover his story in the typewriter and realise he’s a journalist. FRANK tells them that his editor already has all the facts and the heavies split, passing YANNIS on the way out.

FRANK now has the story he was after, He writes it, takes it to LAURA and the police are called. They descend on the marina where the yacht is berthed but the boat is gone. Water police investigations reveal that the yacht never left New Caledonia.

FRANK doesn’t like machines, but if there’s one thing he dislikes more it’s people who act like them. Or write like them… The front-page knee-jerk reaction to a story leaves him cold. YANNIS, however, is sold on front pages and can’t understand why FRANK doesn’t go for the big headlines.

YANNIS: That news you wrote on those Vietnamese blokes didn’t even get on the front page.

FRANK: Yanni, lemme tell you something. Newspapers are like Christmas presents; the front page is just the wrapping. The good stuff is on the inside. A good story starts there and moves forward. By the time it gets to the front page everyone knows about it – it’s snuck up on ‘em. They come from nowhere and just take over… like the Visigoths invading Europe.

YANNIS: Visigoths? When’d they invade Europe?

FRANK: They didn’t. But it would’ve made a helluva story.

In “The Squealer”, an IRA informer – BARRY O’ROURKE – is given a completely new identity in Australia after having turned Queen’s evidence in Northern Ireland and shopping 33 of his colleagues. His wife and family start to be harassed in their new Sydney home after extensive media coverage and FRANK becomes interested in the case. He can’t understand why all the hullabaloo if these people’s existence is supposed to be so secret.

FRANK, looking for the real story, discovers that the British/Australian governments have set up the Irishman and his family. They are being used to flush out IRA sympathisers in this country, and the media are unwitting partners in the job.

When O’ROURKE is murdered, FRANK sets out to track down the killers and actually exposes the government’s involvement in using O’ROURKE as bait. The whole business of  “setting a thief to catch a thief” leaves him disgusted, especially when the killers manage to flee the country.

FRANK is just as likely to look into the life and times of ex-circus performers or the illicit Slivovitz stills of Yugoslav immigrants. FRANK knows there’s a story in every nook and cranny.




  Music clip of title song of the series, YOU'VE ALWAYS GOT THE BLUES


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Here is a copy of the document that writer, Leon Griffiths, used to sell his television series idea, MINDER, to Thames Television. Griffiths found a champion in Thames Television's script editor/exec, Linda Agran, who shepherded it into eventual production. The first season, according to Agran, was a little rocky owing to the fact that this very strong-character-driven series presented a different kind of humour to what British audiences were used to. It was nearly axed after the first season because of this, but cooler heads prevailed and in the second season, as Agran tells it, the writer wrote episodes that gave the audience "permission to laugh". Once they realised the natural humour inherent in the relationship between Arthur and Terry there was no holding the series back, which went on for another seven seasons.   Ed.


by Leon Griffiths

"Minder" is a new type of action/character television series featuring an independent bodyguard who often operates on the fringe of legality but always seems to end up on the side of the angels.

Do you remember the opening minutes of "Rocky" when the hero is collecting a debt for some heavies? He is tough but nice, mildly threatening but certainly not vicious. That incident could easily be a sixty-seconds pilot for this series.

The hero of "Minder" is "The Magnificent Seven" minus six; a hero who takes on jobs outside the scope of police and such organisations as Securicor.

It is a "street" series relying heavily on the new "exotica" of London. No more shots of Tower Bridge opening and closing - but a reasonable number of stories set among the Greeks of Camden Town; the Irish around Holloway and Kilburn; Indians in Southall; Bengalis in the East end; Italians who've moved from Clerkenwell to Stanmore (is Stanmore the Tuscany of the suburbs?); West Indians in Brixton and Cricklewood; Chinese in Gerrard Street; new towns full of old East-enders; smart clubs where the new aristocracy of property dealers, BMW commissinaires and wheeler-dealers of the pop industry congregate.

The series is predicated on several prejudices shared by most viewers and a lot of writers and directors:

  • They're getting sick of seeing cops chasing robbers through the streets of San Francisco and Belgravia.
  • The free-lance do-gooder is only believeable if you place him in the unreal world inhabited by the Saint and the Avengers.
  • The criminal as a hero is not acceptable as the protagonist of a long-running series.
  • One British private-eye is enough.
  • Heroes employed by strange unknown "trouble-shooting agencies are unbelievable and they'd rather have Starsky and Hutch anyway.
Yet there is a need for a hero who is on our side, who is rebellious, independent, tough and amusing and is not a villain. His name is TERRY and he is the hero of "MINDER".

As I outline some of the stories the morality of such a series will become apparent. It will also become clear that there is no "police" or "private-eye" story that cannot be adapted to the format of "MINDER".

Violence is implicit in the character, but need not be explicit in the series. Terry is not a stunt-driver, so there won't be spectacular car chases that land everybody in the local Magistrates' Court the following morning. For Terry it is often enough to squeeze somebody's elbow and suggest that they stop being a "silly feller" to avoid unrealistic shoot-outs and shattered balsa-wood bannisters.

Most successful series feature two cunning characters. "Minder" is no exception, but the relationship is more complex than in most series. It is not simply that one is older than the other, or jokier than the other.

ARTHUR is a "face", a "well-respected" man in certain parts of London. He fancies himself as a Godfather but often emerges from the stories more like a well-dressed, dodgy employee of the Citizens' Advice Bureau. He is often to be found trying to shift 400 Dralon sofa covers while hiring Terry out to someone who needs a bit of looking after.

Arthur always takes the bigger share of the fee and is certainly not a man to depend on in a tight corner. Arthur lives in a world of favours bestowed and they'd better be returned.

Arthur is the fringe villain that all your rich friends know and think of as a "card". Arthur is a myth perpetuated by himself.

Arthur is amusing but a bit unscrupulous and he'd hire out Terry to protect somebody from the armored division of the Red Army if the price was right.

TERRY is never going to reach the finals of "Mastermind" but he catches on quick in the world he knows and understands. He has a past and is desperately anxious to stay "straight". He knows he isn't much more than "hired muscle", but at least he's good at it. He's got a reputation and is smart enough to know that there will always be another fast gun riding into town.

Do you doubt the existence of the Minder? Well, no pop star would be seen without one and ditto most international pop stars. The euphemism is "driver" or "my man". But we don't want it to be a series about show business. So who else would use a "minder"? The man who owned the Spaghetti House chain for starters.

Our version of that story would probably run like this:

"Siege At The OK Corral". Albert Delano is a second-generation Italian who owns six down-market restaurants trading under the name of OK Corral Steak Houses. Friday nights he collects the takings and he doesn't want two guys wearing funny crash helmets and uniforms accompanying him. He knows Arthur and had done so ever since "the old days" and he regards Terry as a greater deterrent to most of the criminals who might be tempted to nick the takings.

The four black villains who attempt the robbery are amateurs. Terry saves the money but finds himself trapped with Albert, a couple of customers and the four villains in a downstairs store-room.

Arthur hears about it on his car radio. He is soon on the spot hectoring and hindering the police. After all... that's his meal-ticket  in there.

The police bring all the usual techniques into play... concealed microphones, video cameras on the drain holes, psychologists, sharpshooters, etc

But is Terry who eventually strikes up a rapport with the villains; it is Terry who unites villains and hostages in a common suspicion of the police methods; it is Terry who finally "outfronts" the one really dangerous villain... and it is Terry, with his known police record, who is carted off to the local nick under suspicion of being party to the robbery in the first place.

Arthur and Mr Delano manage to establish his innocence and Arthur, naturally, gyps him on the fee... "after all Terry, you got all the publicity."

What will become clear as the series progresses is that although Terry sometimes finds it hard to distinguish between legal right and wrong he is always certain about good and bad.

When he does get into a fight we will want him to win as fervently as we want Shane to win when confronting the bar-room bullies.

Inevitably many of the people who employ Terry have something to hide, answers ti questions they'd rather not be asked.

We would not tackle a story like "OUT" because Frank Ross wouldn't want Terry's help and Arthur would be unlikely to offer it. But we could will go into the area of "George Somebody-or-other is innocent."

In "Innocent O.K.?"  a journalist is writing a book on a man doing a life sentence. The journalist wants to meet people involved in the case... villains, suspects, coppers, wives, sweethearts, grasses... but his publisher is fearful for his safety. Terry will be his guide and protector.

But Terry finds that they are straying beyond the boundaries of his tribal territory. The journalist is being threatened as he upsets villains and coppers alike. Terry is "on wages" which gains him a kind of immunity from some of the villains but also means that he must go all the way with the crusading journalist.

And all the way means forcing the real villain out into the open, seeing that justice is done without informing or transgressing his own simply constructed moral code.

Simple matters of protection soon develop into tough, complicated situation for Terry and Arthur. In "The Bengal Tiger" Tariq, the local newsagent, seeks Arthur's help because he's having a hard time from some tearaways and realises that if he takes up arms or pick-axe handles to oppose them he'll be the one taken to the local nick accused of starting a race riot.

Arthur has long operated a nice take-away service at Tariq's expense - he takes away newspapers, magazines and a few Panatellas and puts them on a non-existent bill. For L300 he'll help Tariq. "kids," he tells Terry, "bunch of yobbos. Sit in the shop for a week; there's a hundred and twenty in it for you."

Yariq appears to have quite a few problems. His daughter, Shiva, is a pretty seventeen-year-old with an East-end accent deeply opposed to the idea of a contracted marriage "to some bleeding rice picker from old Bengal." Also the "kids and yobbos" who are harassing Tariq turn out to be mature heavies from South of the river. Shiva disappears. Has she run away or been kidnapped? For now Terry has discovered that Tariq deals in more than the Daily Mirror and half ounces of Olf Holborn... he's running a racket in forged entry permits to Mother England. In finding the girl Terry is obliged to break the racket...