Toonzone Interviews Director Jimmy Hayward About "Free Birds"
Jimmy Hayward gained early directorial prominence as a commercial director and was one of the original animators of the computer-animated television series ReBoot. He then joined Pixar Animation to work on the first Toy Story and worked with the company for over a decade. He later joined 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios as a writer and sequence director on Robots. His feature animation directorial debut was Horton Hears A Who! Hayward returns to feature directing and adds screenwriter to his credits with Free Birds. Following a Free Birds press conference, Toonzone News was able to sit down and have a chat with him about the movie.
TOONZONE NEWS: So, I gotta say, I’m a huge fan of ReBoot.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Oh really? No way.
TOONZONE NEWS: Yeah, it was so great. You’re from Canada, right?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Vancouver, yeah.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you always want to be an animator?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Yeah, I was always really into it. I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I just like movies, so I’d make live action movies and make animated movies, and claymation, and you know, all kinds of stuff when I was a kid. To me, I was really, really young when I did ReBoot, and that was at the very birth of computer animation, and I was kind of doing it by myself in Vancouver before I met Ian and Steve Barron and all those guys, and I was all of nineteen or something when I did that. It was an amazing experience where nobody had any idea what they were doing. It’s great that you’re a fan, I haven’t seen that in twenty years.
TOONZONE NEWS: It took them so long to come out with the complete series DVD. It only came out like three years ago.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Really?
TOONZONE NEWS: Yeah.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I can’t believe it. I worked in pre-production on the whole thing and then I got it on the air and I stayed for a few episodes and then I left and I worked on the first Toy Story. It’s great when you run into a fan of that because we really worked hard on it.
TOONZONE NEWS: Well, we really appreciate it.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Great.
TOONZONE NEWS: So what can you tell me about Toy Story and your experience at Pixar?
JIMMY HAYWARD: When I first worked on Toy Story, there was I think 75 guys in a strip mall in Point Richmond, California. It was really sort of the very, very beginnings, and all I knew when I went to work there was that I was working with some of the best guys there were. Even though they weren’t a household word at the time — nobody knew who we were when we made that — it was just an amazing time. It was Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter and Joe Ranft and Lee Unkrich and all those guys were just part of a group of people making one movie and everybody was a director. Ash Brannon was there, all these other guys, so it was just an amazing time where this core nucleus of amazing guys was in one place that I got an opportunity to learn from at a very young age and I think it really shaped my understanding in the importance of story and the importance of heart in a movie and stuff like that.\
It was an amazing, amazing time, and when I left there was like 1300 people in a campus and all this stuff and it had gone such a great distance, but I had no idea we were working on something that was going to become so indelible. But obviously, John’s a brilliant guy and took it so so far, and you know, Steve Jobs was an amazing guy who was so supportive, and it was an amazing, amazing, lucky place for me to be.
TOONZONE NEWS: How did you transition from animating to writing and directing?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I think it’s one of those things where I was always interested in making films, and when I was working at Pixar, I was shooting videos and making live action shorts and making animated shorts. I was teaching the Pixar Program with the Academy of Art, and Oren Jacob and I started Pixar University, and so I was always writing and making films and pitching and storyboarding and I had such a great group of guys to be able to show my stuff to. You know, I had such a great group of guys around me, and I was just so encouraged. When I left, I wrote a show for MTV, I worked on the movie Robots, I directed additional sequences and wrote. It was something I have always been driven to do, so even when I was animating at Pixar, I was still teaching story, writing, and making things. I just like to make stuff, you know what I mean?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I thought it was a brilliant idea. I just thought it was a great idea with tons of story value and it didn’t have a theme. We had to really kind of craft the theme and what it meant and why we were making it, but just the premise in and of itself is basically what we took. “Two turkeys go back in time to stop the first Thanksgiving,” was the jumping off point, and it had so much potential that it was limitlessly exciting. Scott Mosier and I took that and ran with it as far as we could in the time allotted. Scott’s an amazing writing partner and an amazing producing partner, and just a brilliant guy, you know, together, we just took and ran with it. Just that core premise is fantastic for us. We really, really liked it. I remember hearing that idea and saying “What a great idea.”
TOONZONE NEWS: What are you most proud of that you put into it?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I think the chemistry of the friends. The buddy chemistry. I think the scope of it. How wildly erratic it is. How it starts on this little farm and then five minutes later you’re at Camp David, and five minutes later, you’re in the space/time continuum, and five minutes later you’re in 1621 and bouncing back and forth. I think just sort of the pace and scope of it until you’re at this massive Spartacus standoff, you know what I mean? With the mists of Braveheart where they’ve got the makeup on their faces. I think it’s that.
TOONZONE NEWS: Beating drums.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Yeah, beating drums, that’s my good friend Danny Carey playing the drums in there. I think it’s that thing of taking the audience from that little guy on that little farm with those dumb guys and transporting him through all that stuff and getting him to that amazing place where the Pilgrims and the turkeys are standing off in that mess against each other and you have no idea what’s going to happen. I think that’s what it is for me. That’s sort of my stamp on it.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I don’t know . There are so many that I like. I think that scene at the end is one of my favorite where they come at each other and what happens there. I think Scott wrote the “Reggie-Reggie-Reggie-Reggie” scene and I think that was really difficult for people that are in the process with you to understand and swallow when you have to storyboard it. Everything looks the same and you’re all “You don’t understand, when they’re fully rendered, and it’s Owen’s voice, it’s going to be great”, but I think that’s one of my favorites. You know, Woody did such a great performance as Baby Jake when the Great Turkey meets him and he’s like “Totally Awesome Turkey”, you know. “Well, he’s not awesome all the time but he gets awesomer as he goes along”, stuff like that where you have these big, huge moments in a character’s life when you can inject these little moments of comedy. So the battle scene and a lot of the comedy. I just love it when Reggie gets slapped in the face, too. “Did you not see the line?”
TOONZONE NEWS: In terms of the cast, how did having Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson inform the characters when writing them?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Well, I think it’s like both of those guys are so completely them, and obviously both of them are incredible actors that bring totally different characters to everything that they do, but I think in Owen, there’s so much of who he is that’s so naturally appealing. I think Woody has the same effect on people, and even though Woody plays a character that’s very much different from himself, and so does Owen. Owen’s an honest, generous family guy that’s a great dude, and he’s not a selfish jerk like Reggie is at the beginning of the film. When you’ve got a character that’s got a flaw or got something like that, it’s really important that they’re appealing. The great thing about Owen and Woody is that they’re both incredibly appealing characters, so when they do stupid things in the movie or they make dumb decisions in the movie, even though you don’t want the audience to hate that character, you want to root for them. So both of those guys bring that sort of amazing appeal to a character no matter what they’re doing, and I think that with Amy — Amy’s just such a whip-smart, funny, nice, great person and I was so happy to bring her on the cast because I worked with her before, and she’s so wonderful — Amy plays the smartest character in the movie. And Amy’s often the smartest person in the room. I’m not saying she was downstairs. I’d like to think I was, but I’m not.
JIMMY HAYWARD: George is fantastic, and that wasn’t my idea. I love to take credit for it, but immediately when suggested of this list of names, I went “WHAT?!”, both Scott and I were like we love George. ::putting on a George Takei voice:: “I just love his beautiful, deep tones. His buttery smooth voice. Oh Myyy!”
TOONZONE NEWS: Yeah, you have to have him say that.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I had to do it. George saw it and was like “You’re impossible.” And he’s such a pleasure to work with. He’s prepared, and he really has range, and I think the thing about George is that because his voice is so distinct, you don’t think that, but he’s an incredible actor. He’s a really great actor, he’s a really smart, funny guy. Amazingly energetic and a sweet guy, and he really got it from right away. It would’ve been easy to say “Come in and do a robot voice as the time machine”, but the more of a character S.T.E.V.E. was in the movie…because it’s difficult. He doesn’t have a face, he’s just this thing that glows, but he actually has so much charm that S.T.E.V.E. comes alive, and becomes this sort of guide for Reggie, and George is fantastic. Dan Fogler is an amazing talent who I’ve worked with before quite a bit, and I love, and again, he’s an energetic actor that just dumps everything into everything he does. That guy sweats. I first saw him in Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway and I was like, “I have to work with this dude, he’s fantastic.” I’m trying to think who else. Everybody, I’m a big fan of. Everybody that worked on it, so it was a great opportunity to put all those guys together.
TOONZONE NEWS: Was there anything that surprised you during the production of the movie?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Every day, yes. How hard it is to get these things done. It’s just really a massive effort by a lot of people, and I think just when you think everything’s in great shape, you get sideswiped by something. Whether it’s a production difficulty or something that comes up when you test the movie, it’s always surprising. You never know what’s going to happen next, and I know it doesn’t matter what anybody does in any job, it’s the same way for everybody, that’s what life is like, but I think it’s on a magnified level because you’re spending so much money so fast.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I think that’s always a concern, and obviously, international is a big part of the movie business. It’s difficult, but one of the things I always felt like was that I wasn’t making a Thanksgiving movie. The movie starts off as a guy trying to save his people, basically, and really doesn’t have that much to do with sitting around tables and arguing about football. I think really it’s about two characters on this amazing journey together and what they learn and what they come across on the way. It’s about time travel, it’s a buddy sci-fi movie more than it is a Thanksgiving movie. I think when we showed it to international people, they got that right away. You see the chemistry between these two characters, and that’s why people want to follow that. It’s entertaining and funny, and it really doesn’t have much to do with that. We’re not historically accurate. That’s why we put that thing at the beginning, which is funny…we turned it into a joke with George. We’re not setting out to teach people history, we’re setting out to show people the value of being part of a group and the value of appreciating the people around you, and that’s kind of the idea for me about Thanksgiving and that’s what’s good in the movie, but I think you can make a movie with exactly the same premise and not have it be about Thanksgiving it would kind of play out the same way.
TOONZONE NEWS: That’s true.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Maybe not quite as erratic.
<The following question involves a gag at the very end of the movie and details about the ending, don’t go past the turkeys if you want to avoid spoilers.>
TOONZONE NEWS: Do you see any future projects involving these characters? Was that a sequel hook at the end with the turducken?
JIMMY HAYWARD: No, that’s not a sequel hook at all. That was actually a joke that we put in and took out, put in and took out, put in and took out, put in and took out. No, that’s not a sequel hook at all. I don’t believe in doing that, I don’t like that. I think the movie should end and be fine, end it the way it is. I think we wrapped everything up, and there’s a time machine and a great group of characters and there’s a million ideas that can come out of it, and I’m wide open to it, but I also know that it doesn’t always work out that way. I definitely wasn’t like George Lucas sitting with a beard like “This is the prequel to a trilogy of a six part thing.” It’s nothing like that. I’m not a sequel hook guy.
JIMMY HAYWARD: It’s just a joke. And that’s why I put it in the credits, the capper to the thing. The movie ends when Reggie decides to stay back in 1621 and end his journey there because he’s found his flock. He’s found Jenny and he’s found his flock and that’s the end of the movie. And Jake’s a madman, so of course he’s going to take off in a time machine. He’s got the keys to the Cadillac, he’s going to rip down the street, so I think that was the idea. And the turducken was a joke that both Scott and I loved, and Aron Warner, our executive producer all loved that joke, and we took it out. We used to end the movie, and we took it out, and buried it later because we just wanted the audience to hear that joke. The particular people that watch John Madden on Monday night football and talk about the turducken and people would understand that. It’s just sort of a football Thanksgiving kind of thing.
TOONZONE NEWS: So what’s next for you personally?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I’m just writing and reading and you know, working on stuff. I just constantly work and write and make stuff. I’m just working on stuff and figuring out what to do next.
TOONZONE NEWS: Any dream projects you can talk about?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Nope.
TOONZONE NEWS: Okay.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I’ve got ‘em. I’ve got a bunch of irons in the fire.
Toonzone News would like to thank Jimmy Hayward for taking the time to talk with us, as well as Fumi Kitahara and the Relativity Media PR team for arranging the interview. Free Birds opens in the United States on November 1, 2013.