A screenwriter and a teacher, he created a very unusual way of teaching story and dialogue, which catapulted his 2-day "Beyond Structure" screenwriting seminar to be the largest in Los Angeles, New York, and London.
His 500-page book, "Creating Emotion in Games," has had a big influence on game narrative design and game writing in the United States and Europe.
Freeman crisscrosses the U.S., Europe, and Asia, lecturing and consulting. We asked him to answer a few questions for us in the interview that follows.
Be sure to check out his two master classes at FICCI Frames:
- "The Secrets Behind Pixar's Magic" - a class for those not just in animation, but who create live-action films and television as well.
You may also want to attend his 2-day "Beyond Structure" workshop, which he's holding in Mumbai on the weekend immediately after FICCI Frames. www.beyondstructure.com
A note to all readers - later in the interview, we link to a video where you can watch David doing some of his unique form of teaching.
It is privilege to have you present at FICCI Frame 2011, what made you choose the topics for discussion namely "The Secrets Behind Pixar's Magic: The 11 Techniques that Make Pixar Films Successful" and "The 6 Layers of a Great Film Character"? Can you please tell us more on the presentations that you will conduct?
Pixar is the most successful animation company in the world. Not only that, but their films appeal to both children and adults. Believe it or not, there are 11 things all Pixar films have in common, even though the films are quite different one to the next.
Those people working in live action films have a lot they can learn and apply from my Pixar talk as well, for Pixar films can make you laugh and cry - skills every screenwriter and filmmaker needs to master.
As for the other class, on "The 6 Layers of a Great Character"...
A great film requires dimensional, memorable characters.
I'll be sharing techniques to ensure the characters created by the writers, producers, and actors in attendance will always be striking and emotionally engaging.
Could you please share with us what are your expectations here at FICCI Frames 2011 pertaining to the fact that India has a huge film industry, and last but not the least what do look forward to at FICCI Frames 2011?
I'm excited to be speaking at FICCI Frames for four different reasons…
- India is the largest maker of films in the world. I look forward to meeting some of those responsible for this thriving, creative industry.
- I know that the teaching of screenwriting and development techniques is something still pretty new to India. I think it will be fun for both those in attendance and for me when they begin to learn and master tools that can instantly enrich their scripts and their filmmaking.
- Like France (a strange comparison, I know), the people of India really understand the value of art and culture. Contrast this to Singapore – a modern country that's full of friendly, educated, hardworking, high-integrity people – and yet culturally, it's something of a void.
- As for the forth reason... Okay, I'm going to get very personal here. It doesn't have anything to do with FICCI Frames, but rather India in general.
I read the Bhagavad-Gita when I was 16 years old, and it changed my life. To me, it's an endless fountain of wisdom. And if the spiritual insights of the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita weren't already astonishing enough, India is additionally the home of Buddhism.
How could one country give birth to so much? I find it to be almost inconceivable. And this legacy of wisdom predates written history; we don't even know how far back it goes.
I hope by saying the above I don't offend anyone of other faiths and beliefs, or even atheists. Certainly a person's humanitarian values and behavior are more critical than any belief. But, to be truthful, this is one of the reasons I look forward to my very first visit to India.
How did your journey into screenwriting begin?
In Los Angeles, screenwriting is in the air. People talk about it, read about it, and do it. Often, if you go to a coffee shop, you see people with their laptops open, working on screenplays.
Screenwriting is taken very seriously as an art to be studied and improved upon.
In my case, I had some sales to major Hollywood studios, and of course this is a big form of encouragement to keep on writing.
What made you come up with the idea of David Freeman's "Beyond Structure"?
I had a screenwriting teacher (there are a lot of them in L.A.) long ago. I asked him, "What's the secret of writing a scene that's so moving that people will never forget it?"
He told me that there was no way to learn it. It was just instinct.
I thought that was ridiculous. If painters have techniques to mix colors and use perspective, and actors have techniques to get into character, why don't writers have techniques?
On that day, the idea for "Beyond Structure" was born. And, almost as an answer to the question I posed long ago, we open the class with 28 techniques for writing moving and unforgettable scenes. They're illustrated by many film clips.
If you're reading this and are curious or mystified about what I mean by "writing techniques," why not take a look at an illustrated article I wrote (which contains a film clip) on "How to Write an Unforgettable Scene." It's a quick read - it's mostly pictures.
How did "Beyond Structure" become so popular in Hollywood?
This idea of teaching writing and story development as a codified set of hundreds of techniques became wildly popular. Writers who use these techniques literally shave years off of their "learning curve" – American slang for the amount of time it takes to learn something.
Many famous writers have taken the class. Producers and directors and actors too.
The news of the workshop has spread far beyond the American borders. Last year, I spoke or taught in 10 different countries. In fact, I ended up at FICCI Frames because of two recommendations from people who saw me teach in Kuala Lumpur.
How is it different teaching screenwriters for movies vs. teaching game designers? Can you please tell us about your book "Creating Emotion in Games"? What made you write a book specifically on emotion in games?
There are some similarities, but there are many differences. In film, we're moved when something happens, good or bad, to a character with whom we identify. In games, the emotion comes from what happens to us, the player.
Of course, there's the entire issue of having choices... The differences go on and on.
As to why I wrote the book – I'm interested in storytelling in all its forms, including new forms. Games are interactive stories – a fascinating and challenging type of narrative.
The book has 300 techniques (I know that because I counted them). The techniques break down into 32 categories. For instance, how do you give a character a sense of emotional depth if they speak just one line of dialogue? That's one chapter in the book. In that chapter I show 8 ways to do this.
For the readers of this interview, I put that chapter online for them to download. The techniques are useful for screenwriting too.
In addition to being able to download that chapter, you can also see me teaching in a video clip on the same webpage. Download the chapter, and/or watch the video here: http://www.beyondstructure.com/ficci.php
Do you have any final thoughts?
Yes, I do...
My guess is that most people attending FICCI Frames don't know that the entire event is organized and run by a core team of just over a handful of people. If you meet any of them during the event, please thank them for their extremely hard work.
I look forward to meeting some of you at FICCI Frames or at "Beyond Structure" on the weekend following the event. Please see the links at the start of this interview for all of those classes and presentations.
I love hearing from people! Anyone reading this is invited to contact me. You can email me at freemanATdfreemanDOTcom (I need to spell out the AT and DOT because "spam robots" search the internet for email addresses and I already get way too much spam. Just substitue an @ for the AT and a . for the DOT.) Or they can call me at +1 (310) 394-0361.