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.
Owen Wilson, one of contemporary cinema’s most successful actors, recently starred in Woody Allen’s Academy Award-nominated feature Midnight in Paris as Gil Pender, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination in the category of Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Upcoming roles include Matthew Weiner’s dramedy You Are Here, the Peter Bogdanovich comedy Squirrel to the Nuts, and the action thriller The Coup. He has previously voice acted in Disney/Pixar’s Cars movies and Fox’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Woody Harrelson first endeared himself to millions of viewers as a member of the ensemble cast of NBC’s long-running hit comedy Cheers as bartender Woody Boyd. His role as a casualty notification officer in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger garnered him a 2010 Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He was last seen in Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me and will be reprising his role as Haymitch Abernarthy in Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Amy Poehler, former Saturday Night Live cast member, currently stars in the critically-acclaimed NBC comedy series Parks and Recreation and in 2013 received her fourth consecutive “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Comedy Series”. Poehler is also a producer and host of the online series, Smart Girls at the Party and can be heard as “Eleanor” in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and Bessie Higgenbottom in Nickelodeon’s The Mighty B!
At a 2013 Los Angeles Press Conference, Toonzone News was able to sit in on a panel with the four among several other members of the press.
MODERATOR: We are here to talk about Free Birds opening November 1st, so we are going to have some fun today and talk turkey. Let’s go ahead and start with the first question.
Q: Where did the story come from?
JIMMY HAYWARD: It originated with two writers named Strauss and Stern. They had the original concept, and it went through a couple of different versions and then Scott Mosier and I picked it up and wrote the screenplay that’s there now. That’s pretty much it. No agenda, nothing like that, just a great idea. It’s just a fantastic premise about what would happen if two turkeys got access to a time machine. There’s a lot to work with there.
Q: I wanted to ask you what your favorite Thanksgiving memory is. Is there any particular dish you’re well known for at Thanksgiving or any dramatic things that happened during a Thanksgiving dinner?
OWEN WILSON: Lots of Thanksgiving memories. We would always have a football game on Thanksgiving that would lead to a lot of arguments. The Cowboy game was always on Thanksgiving, and favorite–my mom’s stuffing for the turkey was pretty good. The cranberry sauce. apple pie..you guys want to jump in? Are you orphans?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I was going to say Thanksgiving was designed for families to come together and watch football and argue.
AMY POEHLER: I started a new thing with my kids where we watch a movie on Thanksgiving that we’d never seen before. That’s always fun, to show your kids movies.
OWEN WILSON: One of yours?
AMY POEHLER: Yes, only mine.
WOODY HARRELSON: That’s good. “You want to watch ET?” “Nope.”
Q: So 30’s or 40’s movies?
AMY POEHLER: I wish, but last year we watched the original Willy Wonka on Thanksgiving, which was great, so maybe this year we will watch Free Birds.
Q: Woody, what are your Thanksgiving memories?
WOODY HARRELSON: The thing I remember most about Thanksgiving was after I’d moved to New York, I’d come back for Thanksgiving to where we were living in Lebanon, Ohio — where my mom still lives — and we would just have the best time. No, I don’t remember much.
Q: Well, speaking of watching movies with your kids, this is obviously a family friendly movie. Those of you with kids, how important was it to do a project that you can share with your family versus other things that may not be age-appropriate?
AMY POEHLER: It’s nice. I got to show them some of the art from the film, and they were really into it, which was really cool, and they liked the idea of a buddy adventure. I have two young boys, and they really like the idea of these guys traveling together. It speaks to them, certainly. Most of the time, they’re really disinterested in what you do, like most kids.
WOODY HARRELSON: This is the first movie I’ve done that my kids can watch. Even the twenty year old. The cool thing was I asked Makani, my little seven year old rascal, I asked her what her favorite movie was, not trying to lead her toward anything, and I was really wanting to know is your favorite movie, and she goes “Free Birds.” “You know the way to my heart! You’re going to get dessert!”
AMY POEHLER: I should point out she’s also your publicist.
Q: Woody and Owen, you did accomplish a really great buddy movie vibe, and you weren’t in the room together. Was that a little weird to not be in the room together recording?
WOODY HARRELSON: We were in the room together all too much. We did the first session together, but then it was like we’re not in the same place at the same time.
Q: Was it hard?
OWEN WILSON: No. He’d do something really funny, and then I’d try to respond, but we did have a couple sessions together.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Very early.
OWEN WILSON: I don’t know if there was any more magic in those sessions than when we were together than when we were apart.
WOODY HARRELSON: I remember being hung over and all the magic coming from your corner.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I think so much of it comes from them doing improvisational work on the spot too, and putting them together.
OWEN WILSON: And this guy likes to have the last word, so sometimes it’s best not to have him there.
WOODY HARRELSON: I don’t know what you mean by that. You can have the last word any time.
Q: This movie is heavily filled with vegetarian ideology. How many of you have turned to vegetarianism or veganism after empathizing?
OWEN WILSON: I don’t know that it is. I wasn’t thinking that when I wanted to play a turkey, that it was a vegan ideology. It was more this kind of a funny idea for these guys to be traveling back in time, but we could have just as easily been playing soy beans traveling to Japan. I just thought turkeys were funnier than soy beans.
Q: When it comes to animated movies, we see a little bit of the person in the character that’s been drawn. Did you see them as these turkeys and did you see yourselves as the turkeys?
OWEN WILSON: I did see some of myself. It was uncomfortable.
Q: It’s in the pecs for Woody for sure, right?
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, I didn’t want to say it, but…
JIMMY HAYWARD: Turkeys are a very good looking animals. They’re pretty ugly. The difficulty was designing characters that looked that they could execute what they needed to do in the movie but still be appealing to look at, and I don’t think I see much turkey resemblance in either of these guys.
Q: Amy, did you get it in the beginning that turkeys were dumb and so did you have a biography of each turkey? They go back to 1621, are you a wild turkey, are you a domesticated turkey?
AMY POEHLER: This is all the amount of dramaturge I shoud’ve done before I started. No, it was fun to play someone who was part of a flock, which is what my character kind of focuses on. The idea that you can’t do it alone, it’s important to stick together. Those are universal themes, ones I understand. That was fun to play, and I think that character Jenny is not dumb at all, she’s quite smart. She is a leader, yes, she gets a speech.
Q: What about her eye problem, was that always in the script?
AMY POEHLER: Yeah, that was in the script, yeah, that was in the script.
JIMMY HAYWARD: We took it out, put it back in, took it out, put it back in.
AMY POEHLER: Yeah, we had a lot of fun with that.
Q: This is a question for Woody. Does it make you personally gratified that something that you actually live about on a daily basis you’re putting in a film? Kids can be so influenced, so I can see a kid going “I’m not going to eat turkey this year”, and I think that can be a good thing.
WOODY HARRELSON: I don’t really–I’d sooner eat turkey than pizza, so…I better stop right there.
Q: The second part of the question is, these are three very funny people together, and I have a feeling that Jimmy was kind of relieved that you weren’t in the studio together, but when you guys did get together, did you know each other before? Was there anything that surprised you about each one?
WOODY HARRELSON: I’m surprised Owen does take this stuff very seriously, so the first session, he came and he was all in feathers. And he had that thing.
JIMMY HAYWARD: The waddle.
WOODY HARRELSON: Yeah, that was weird, the waddle.
JIMMY HAYWARD: The snood.
WOODY HARRELSON: He takes it seriously. Very very seriously.
OWEN WILSON: What’s the snood?
JIMMY HAYWARD: The snood’s the rubber thing that hangs off the side of the beak. I don’t know if it means they’re mad or happy.
Q: In the film, Reggie is kind of an outcast with his whole clan. Was there ever a time in your life where you felt like an outcast?
OWEN WILSON: I think just actually my name, I remember as a kid. You want to fit in and there weren’t many kids named Owen, and that was always the first rule I would have in the neighborhood when we play a game was that you had to have a new name for the game. Mine was always Jim Johnson. I think every kid could relate to that.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I will never call you anything but Jim Johnson.
::laughter and joking::
Q: If you could travel back in time, what historical time period would you go back to, and if you could change anything, what would you change?
OWEN WILSON: Would we have to go back?
AMY POEHLER: I was just going to say I’d go back to last night and get more sleep. Is that short-sighted? I should probably think bigger.
WOODY HARRELSON: I don’t know, I kind of like the time period that Owen went back to in Midnight in Paris. That was a good era. It’d be nice to run into Henry Miller too and some other fun people. That’d be a good one.
OWEN WILSON: This is probably my 12 year old, I think about dinosaurs, Custer’s Last Stand. I want to see so many.
WOODY HARRELSON: He wouldn’t fare too well.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Him running around in a singlet with a club, running for his life.
OWEN WILSON: Safely. I’d just watch.
Q: Jimmy, you’ve primarily done animation, but you also did Jonah Hex. Do you plan on traveling back outside animation any time soon?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Really just anything that is exciting and interesting to me artistically in any way, that’s what I’m interested in doing, if that answers your question. It might be a record next.
Q: Was it tough to get these three? I mean, these are big stars.
JIMMY HAYWARD: These guys came as a set.
WOODY HARRELSON: Our good buddy Tom Kartsotis is the guy who owns Reel FX, and so we were in this from the beginning.
OWEN WILSON: I remember being excited when Amy, when you signed on.
AMY POEHLER: Yeah. I’d never gotten the chance to work with either of these guys before, and I worked with Jimmy on Horton Hears a Who, and had a great time and really enjoyed it. Did you say “Who”?
JIMMY HAYWARD: Who?
AMY POEHLER: Horton’s on first. And we had a really good time working together, so I was excited about the chance to do it again, for sure.
Q: If you could use the time machine and travel back to a moment in your life, what moment would you re-live?
AMY POEHLER: Wow, relive.
JIMMY HAYWARD: I need my therapist here.
OWEN WILSON: Birth.
AMY POEHLER: I always had a dog around, and I threw two tennis balls up in the air, my lab caught them both in his mouth, and everybody clapped. I’d like to see that again.
JIMMY HAYWARD: And have your phone out this time.
AMY POEHLER: Yeah.
OWEN WILSON: Amy, you have the most unexpected. Last night for sleep and the time with two balls. You’ve got two big opportunities.
AMY POEHLER: Thinking too small.
Q: This is primarily for Jimmy. When making a children’s movie that’s based around actual events, do you ever feel you have to balance between being both entertaining and educational specifically when it’s for children?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I think with this picture, obviously, we lead more with entertainment. That’s why we put the disclaimer at the beginning, a funny disclaimer at the beginning, but I think we didn’t set out to make it super educational. That wasn’t the idea. Not that we were trying to teach kids the wrong things, but I think we felt a real responsibility to make an entertaining, heartwarming picture with a good message. A message about the flock and togetherness and part of something bigger than yourself is probably the most educational part of it. I think that that’s an opportunity rather than to teach kids about history and stuff like that. That’s what school is for. But I think that there is a real message to the movie that’s really important that applies to all people that’s more important than dates and times and stuff like that.
OWEN WILSON: I would think about age—my son’s almost 3, and we were watching a clip the other day we were showing, and he seemed really to love it, so I would think from 2.9 all the way up to teenagers.
Q: Do you think they’ll be asking for pizza at Thanksgiving?
WOODY HARRELSON: If there’s a turkey pizza.
AMY POEHLER: I feel like there’s a trend now anyway. I feel like Thanksgiving has expanded to a lot of other dishes on that day. Or then you get real revolutionary, you don’t eat at all.
JIMMY HAYWARD: Kids, we’re fasting this year. Good times. Football, arguing, and no food.
AMY POEHLER: Terrible combination.
MODERATOR: I think that says it all, doesn’t it? We’ve got football, arguments, food, turkey. Thank you so much. It’s a fun, fun movie opening Novemebr 1st. It’s got heart, it’s got humor, and it’s got these three. What more do you want, right? November 1st. Thank you guys very much.