Event Review: Brian Bird, Writer and Executive Producer

This Event was Held 3/30/14 at CBS Studios

Brian Bird, Writer/Executive Producer

Fresh from making 12 episodes (in six months) on the Vancouver set of his original TV series for the Hallmark Channel, Millennium Entertainment and Word Films, "When Calls the Heart,"
Brian Bird explained the non-stop nature of TV series production and answered questions about writing and producing television.

 It was a pleasure to sit down with friend and 168 Board Member Brian Bird to unpack the production of 12 episodes of his Janette Oke-inspired TV series, "When Calls the Heart."

Oke is a Canadian author of inspirational fiction. Her books are often set in pioneer times and centered around female protagonists.

Set in 1910, "When Calls the Heart" is about a wealthy young schoolteacher who goes west to teach a community where one third of the men have been killed in a mining accident. It's a town full of widows and fatherless kids.

Brian continues to work with his longtime producing partner, Michael Landon, Jr.  In 2013, they also worked on the feature film “The Ultimate Life,” with James Garner and Peter Fonda about a billionaire with questionable priorities re-examining his life.

INTERVIEW: (Moderator, John David Ware)

In his 30-year career in film and TV, Brian Bird has seen many battles.  He sees success as a healthy balance of God, family and work.  Here are just a few nuggets from our time together.

Brian described a conversation with his pastor Pastor Rick Warren, who said “We need to preach what we practice, the culture needs it and just because they’re not asking for something doesn’t mean they don’t need it.”

Here’s a new term.  Brian is a  “Retro Pioneer.”  This refers to his efforts to help to put “the family” back into family TV.

“Name five shows that you can watch with your family,” Brian said. The audience was hard pressed to do that, but “Monday Night Football” was mentioned.

Brian's TV series for the Hallmark Channel, "When Calls the Heart," has received some unexpected marketing support. A group has started organically that is rabidly appreciative of the TV series, especially of the fact that they can watch the show as a family.

They call themselves the "Hearties" and they are now over 5,000 members in the first three weeks, including an Indiana Congressman's wife.  This viral group is bound and determined to keep the show on the air and if they have their way, to order another season.

Unlike other producers, Brian was not shy with the numbers.  He said it’s the Wild West out there in TV with all the fragmentation -- a thousand channels and 10,000 choices of programming every day.  There is an endless appetite for content and all the channels are interested in producing original programming.  But all of the appetite and all of the networks mean that the media pie is carved up into much smaller slices.  This means much smaller budgets than the major networks.

The budget for "When Calls the Heart" was $1.4 Million per episode or about half of what the bigger networks spend.

The road to making "When Calls the Heart" was extremely difficult and took almost six years.  At one point, in 2008, Brian had to shut down production on the original movie behind the series because of the financial meltdown on Wall Street.

It was deeply discouraging and he even considered getting out of the business.  But Pastor Rick Warren told him that nobody who is called to a mission gets "uncalled" and so Brian stuck with it.

The film had to be “rebuilt” because some of the original actors were not available to finish production. 

Brian had to use great creativity in “re-imagining” the story.  The goal was to preserve and not waste what was shot in 2008.  He used the existing footage as the entire middle of the film, treating it as flashbacks framed around a new story, taking place 20 years later.

Audiences love the multi-generational aspect of the story and the use of the flashbacks as "journal entries" discovered by the niece of the original heroine of the film.

In summing up the experience of making "When Calls the Heart," Brian had a great quote for this success: “Persistence beats resistance.”

Brian’s film "Captive," the true story of the 2005 Atlanta hostage crisis, is currently in post production.  He wrote and executive produced the film with Ralph Winter and Ken Wales.  The film stars Mimi Rodgers, Kate Mara, David Oyelowo and Michael K. Williams.

In addition to his most recent work on "When Calls the Heart," Brian Bird's 30-year career in Hollywood includes writing and producing credits such as the 2013 feature film, "Captive," the true story of the 2005 Atlanta hostage crisis, currently in post-production; "Gametime" for NBC (2012), "Not Easily Broken," adapted from the novel by T.D. Jakes, for Sony/Screen Gems (2009); "The Confession" (2013) and "The Shunning" (2011) for Sony Affirm, "Saving Sarah Cain" (2008) and "The Last Sin Eater" (2007) for (20th Century Fox 2007), "Call Me Claus" (2003) for Sony, and "Bopha!" (1993) for Paramount, along with 250 episodes of network TV, including "Touched By an Angel" and "Step By Step" and "Evening Shade."  However, his best productions to date are his five children with his wife of 33 years, Patty.

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