As a novice interviewer, I had the remarkable opportunity to interview the man who is responsible for bringing to life one of the most amazing shows on TV today–When Calls the Heart. Of course, I speak of the talented, benevolent and humble Brian Bird. I was incredibly honored that he afforded me the opportunity yet again this year to ask him some probing questions posed by fans as well as yours truly. As this is my second interview with him, we were able to delve into the deep waters of the show as well as examine a couple of Brian’s other upcoming works.
When you first began the project When Calls the Heart, would you have ever dreamed that it would have grown into the “franchise” is has become? What is the most amazing part of what this project has become?
When Michael Landon, Jr. and I first began envisioning When Calls the Heart as a movie in 2007, we had no clue it would turn into a movie PLUS a four-season (or more) TV series. That wasn’t even on our radar, and the story has so many death-defying twists and turns from 2008 to now, I would love to write a book about it called Tell Your Heart to Beat Again because my heart almost stopped a dozen times in the last eight years. It’s an astonishing redemption story some Hearties already know about and others will have to wait for the book.
However, I would say the most amazing thing about this experience has been the rise of the Hearties movement itself. It is like nothing I have ever experienced in thirty years of working in Hollywood. And likely I may not see anything more amazing than the Hearties. The HFR 1 and 2 are just by-products of this grass roots phenomenon. The series may have been the catalyst, but the true cause is the utter lack of family and faith-friendly content available these days. Nobody but the Hallmark Channel and a handful of smaller networks even cares about programming for families. We just so happened to provide a source of food to a starving audience and they have rewarded us with their love, loyalty… and loudness (is that a word?). We are grateful beyond measure for that love and will continue to try to keep Hearties well-fed!
How much do you and the writers consider the fan comments and suggestions when writing for the show? Do you feel any kind of pressure to get Jack and Elizabeth engaged due to the prodding of the fans?
I would like to say our producing team and crackerjack writing staff, supervised by Robin Bernheim since Season two, listens to every comment and suggestion Hearties have about the storylines. But the truth is, we’re not legally allowed to consider or incorporate any suggestions. All TV shows have legal firewalls erected around the creative process to avoid conflicts of interest and potential disputes. So, we all must turn a blind eye to specific ideas that are voiced on social media or in letters and emails that come to the show.
On the matter of fans hoping for certain “resolutions” on the show, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t feel the pressure. In fact, we probably put more pressure on ourselves than the Hearties do to figure out how to best tell these stories. The answer here is we know what Hearties want and we will do our best to please them. However, we get to decide how best to do that. ☺
In season two, there were some loose ends that were never tied up back in Hamilton. Will there ever be closure to that part of the story?
The challenge for us is always how to keep all the balls in the air in forty-two minutes each week. In a perfect world, we would sew up all the loose ends, but we are not perfect story-tellers, and we are moving a mile a minute. And each new storyline that gets added means we have even more balls to juggle. So, the short answer to the hand full of season two dangling participles is… maybe. It would be nice… and we understand Hearties love the show and all the characters so much they want everybody to be okay. If we can… we will try. If we don’t… you will know why. Hey, look, I’m a poet, too.
How do you walk the fine line of being a Christian show and writing for families of all religions and cultures?
I am a Christian, but I never have believed it was my duty to bash people over the head with my beliefs. My goal, which I’m only marginally successful at, is to live my life in such a way that people want to know more about what I believe. I think that’s why and how we created When Calls the Heart. I would not actually describe it as a Christian show, but rather more of a “Great Virtue” show. The great virtues of Western Civilization… honesty, loyalty, courage, compassion, fidelity, sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, among others actually all come out of the Bible and the Judeo-Christian worldview. Most of the world’s big religions actually join hands on most of these values. To me, I want to stir up (there’s that word again) cravings in people’s souls to want to become better fathers, mothers, friends, neighbors and citizens, who build better communities, and ultimately will build a better world. I know that part of that “becoming” process usually involves embracing faith.
Three words to describe Season four for me are: “Dicey”… “apogee” and “gladdening.” Now I know some Hearties are just going to be racing to their dictionaries and others are going to roll their eyes thinking I’m some sort of vocabulary showboat. The truth is on one of these words, I had to look it up too because I needed to find just the right word to explain what’s in my gut. Let me elaborate, at least a little… and any gaps I leave are intentional and meant for stirring purposes (I would be remiss not to do that, right?).
First, “Dicey” because life for all of us, including our characters in Hope Valley, is always on shaky ground. It’s iffy, it’s unpredictable. We all have free will, all six billion of us living on this planet. It’s amazing anything ever works out or goes right. It’s no different in a fictional TV show if we are doing our jobs. Just when you think it’s all coming together, sometimes lightning hits and things change. Enough about that.
Secondly, it feels like When Calls the Heart is hitting a tipping point, an apex, a crest, apogee. In other words, I think it’s firing on all its cylinders. The stories are multi-faceted and rich… the town is taking on a life of its own… bursting at the seams… and the characters are beginning to tell us where they are supposed to go. And the sense of community feels authentic with all its highs and lows and flaws and attributes. (I would also characterize the Hearties movement in much the same way).
Third, the show itself feels kinder, gentler, more big-hearted and more compassionate than ever before. And that “gladdens” in ways I can’t even describe because I don’t like blubbering on my keyboard.
A very insistent fan would like to know whose picture is hung in the saloon. Something about you promising to answer it and never doing that.
I love that Hearties can even remember that mysterious photograph of the man with mutton chop sideburns in the saloon from season one. The honest truth is that I have no idea who that man is. It was an old photo our art department probably picked up in a garage sale. I’m sure you have heard of Red Herrings in story-telling. Those are the times when the writer or author adds in a character or a circumstance meant to throw you off course. The reader/viewer tries to imagine where that story element leads and it takes them off into the weeds and never pays off. Or at the very least, it throws you off the trail of the main through-line of the story. Well, that’s exactly what that photograph was. I stirred up a tempest in a teapot for Hearties to twist and turn over. It’s safe to say it’s not the only time I’ve pulled that trick, nor will it be the last. And that’s because… I can. (See a later answer for a fuller explanation of why I yank chains).
Since the Hearties reunion has done so well for the past two years, what are the projections for a third one?
If Hearties help earn us a season five, we will absolutely throw a third version of the Hearties Family Reunion in Vancouver. I’m convinced that this worldwide Hearties movement is not a fluke and that it’s the single biggest reason why the show has continued through four seasons. But I also believe the Hearties are bigger than WCTH. This is a movement… community… that can outlive our show and be a force for good to be reckoned with in our culture for decades to come. The world absolutely has a shortage of family and faith-friendly programming. The Hearties are not only a result of that shortage… but also the answer to it. They use their voices and loyalty and economic influence to demand a change in the landscape of what’s on TV.
I was honored to write and co-produce Lee Strobel’s internationally best-selling book for the big screen. It’s a true story set in 1980, about a hardcore atheist journalist working for the Chicago Tribune who sets out to debunk Christianity in order to convince his wife her newfound faith in Christ was based on a hoax, and ended up discovering that there was too much evidence for Christianity not to believe. It’s not only a big-city journalistic thriller, but a powerful love story of a woman who never gives up on her skeptic husband. It comes out in theaters all over the U.S. and Canada on April 7, and stars Mike Vogel, Erica Christiansen, Faye Dunaway, Frankie Faison and Robert Forrester. I believe this may be the most powerful movie I have ever written, and is going to stir up a lot of questions and transform a lot of hearts. I hope Hearties far and wide will see the film and let me know what they think.
Any word on Touchdown on the Tundra?
Touchdown on the Tundra is one of the most exciting true stories I have ever heard, and I’m thrilled to have the privilege of writing and producing, and we hope to go into production on it this summer (2017), Lord willing. It’s the true story of an Inupiat high school football team in Barrow, Alaska, 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It’s a place where nothing grows and you have to routinely ward off polar bears. It’s actually the northern most point of civilization on the North American Continent. In 2007, half of the high school boys in Barrow were dropping out of school. This is the story of an African-American probation officer in Barrow, and two moms – one a football mother from Jacksonville, Florida, and one an Inupiat Mom from Barrow – who worked together to start a football team, and build an artificial turf field on the icy tundra so the boys wouldn’t have to play on frozen gravel. It’s an amazing story that says when moms save their boys… they save the world. Today, eight years later, the dropout rate in Barrow is zero percent. The tribal elders believe football and those two Moms are the reason why. If you liked The Blind Side, you’re going to love this film when we get it done.
Why do you delight in “stirring the pot” with the Hearties?
I guess I’ve always enjoyed yanking people’s chains. Maybe that’s why I’m a story-teller. In fact, there’s pretty much nothing else I’m any good at and spinning yarns is the only thing I really know how to do. So, using my words to get a rise out of people, whether it makes them nervous or sad or angry or happy gives me great joy. Of course, I don’t want them to stay any of those things for very long (except for happy) … but story-telling is about taking them on a personal adventure. In a good story, the audience identifies with a hero (or a heroine) and goes on the quest with them. My goal is to pull you into the world or situation I’m creating and not let you go until we’re done. If you’re thinking about what you want to order at Chili’s in the middle of my story, I haven’t done a very good job. When I stir people’s pots, it’s kind a mini-story adventure I’m taking them on. I suppose it’s a lot like doing a magic trick for them. I love hearing their gasps and “Oohs and Ahhs.” Does that make me a bad person? Maybe for fifteen seconds of nervous, sad or angry… but then we get to your happy place and I’m a good guy again, right?
If you could play any character on When Calls the Heart, whom would you play and why?
If I could be any WCTH character in real life, I think it would have to be Jack Thornton. Of course, it would be fantastic to have been born with that smile and cleft chin (my wife, Patty, would likely agree). But more than Mountie Jack’s appearance, I really would like to think of myself as a man of honor. Chivalry is one thing, but integrity, dependability, courage, fidelity… being a man of your word… to me that whole package is what men are supposed to aspire to – whether it’s in a red serge uniform or a cardigan sweater. The world needs more Jack Thornton’s. If all men strove to make promises they would risk all never to break, it would solve most of the world’s problems.
As I reviewed Brian’s answers, I was immeasurably impressed with the stimulating and insightful responses he had given to these questions. In fact, my initial response was, “That’s the real Brian Bird!” I know I’ve never met the man, but I have followed him and his work closely over the past few years. I have watched his interactions on social media, and I have heard a wide variety of stories from Hearties who have met him (Don’t worry–I don’t believe EVERYTHING I hear). I will never forget my first genuine interaction with him online. I wrote a review of When Calls the Heart season one, and I don’t even remember why I sent it his way. Maybe a fellow Heartie suggested it. But when he responded and said what a fine job I had done, I was dumbfounded. And this writer/interviewer/reviewer doesn’t forget things like that. I know some Hearties are critical of the show, the writers, the costumes, and so much more. But that is all superfluous in my opinion. At the heart of everything is this man who is quietly following God’s calling on his life to provide family-friendly entertainment for a sect of society that all too often Hollywood has overlooked and even cast aside. While not every episode is my very favorite in the world, I will support this show and continue to get the word out because it is the one show my entire family can watch together! The only one, mind you!! And I have Brian Bird and his phenomenal cast and crew to thank for that. I am grateful that he chose to follow God’s leading in this area, and he has chosen to keep championing the cause of the Hearties in spite of any obstacles that attempt to bar his way. I invite everyone reading this article to tune in Sunday nights to the Hallmark Channel to watch the show that is the very heart of TV–When Calls the Heart. Also, please consider checking out all his links below and following him on social media so that you don’t miss any of his current and upcoming projects. And while I may never be able to tell Brian on this earth how much he has touched my life through his works, it is something I look forward to doing one day–in heaven if not before!
And don’t forget to watch The Case for Christ opening April 7, all over the U.S. and Canada!
For more information: