Interview: Director Jimmy Hayward talks Free Birds
While it’s a film on the surface about talking turkeys, time travel, and the trials of pioneer life, Free Birds in essence is a simple story with a sincere message.
“Holidays are a time to press pause and spend time with people you love, and realize you can’t do it alone, you need people to help you get through things,” explained Jimmy Hayward on a phone call from Los Angeles. Hayward, born in Kingston with dual citizenship in Canada and the United States, is the writer and director of this Thanksgiving-themed animated offering.
“You can’t be alone and be happy; you need other people in your life.”
The story follows an idealistic and self aware young turkey named Reggie (Owen Wilson), who wants nothing more than to end the tradition of eating turkey on Thanksgiving. After running into a boastful and brash turkey named Jay (Woody Harrelson), the two steal a time machine and travel back to the first Thanksgiving in order to prevent turkey from ever happening.
In his first feature writing endeavor, Hayward and colleague Scott Mosier wrote several drafts until finding the right story. “I like making buddy movies and buddy comedies. The originality of the premise was funny and cool, I think there could be a heartwarming and funny film, obviously I could have taken the time machine and done a sci-fi movie, most important thing to me was to focus on the relationships of the characters.”
This will be Hayward’s third time directing a feature, having previously helmed Jonah Hex and Horton Hears a Who. That doesn’t mean however that Hayward, having spent years working at Pixar in the animation department, is lacking in confidence.”
“Story is the most important component of filmmaking. Story is king; everything else is secondary to that,” said Hayward. “My entire life I’ve been writing and directing and storyboarding and pitching, and it all sort of leads to directing.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a director my entire life, entire time I’ve been at Pixar, I’ve always been involved in all these different disciplines,” Hayward continued. “It’s the process of taking an idea and figuring out how to visualize it. Directing is an extended version of being a story editor or an animator; it’s a similar discipline, basically the same thing just on a larger scale.”
Similarly, the film specifically is about American Thanksgiving, but Hayward stresses the message extrapolated further, fitting for any festive occasion. While too it may seem on the surface that there is an agenda about animal rights or a specific type of diet, Hayward explains it’s about friendship and family, taking a light-hearted tone to deliver an earnest story, similar to other animated children’s films.
“One of the main things in all this movies,” added Hayward, citing Toy Story and Finding Nemo, “there about survival in general. Where there is great conflict there is great story. What greater conflict than to travel through time to save their species?”