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Exclusive Interview with Director Jimmy Hayward for ‘Free Birds’

free-birds-2Thanksgiving came a little early this year.

The animated “Free Birds” follow a couple of turkeys time traveling back to the very first Thanksgiving in order to stop serving Turkey as its holiday tradition.

The voice cast included Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler.

Latino-Review exclusively interviewed director Jimmy Hayward on the lovable children’s animated “Free Birds.” We discussed the animation production, voice acting and most importantly…..Thanksgiving.

“Free Birds” is currently in theaters.

Read the full transcript below or listen to the audio of the interview.

Latino-Review: Tell me, why do you hate Thanksgiving?

Jimmy Hayward: [Laughter] I don’t hate Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an amazing holiday that deserves a family movie that everyone can get together and watch. This movie is not anti-Thanksgiving. It’s actually the opposite. Thanksgiving is a great time to be together with the people you love and that love you. Then you stop doing what you’re doing and being part of a flock.

Latino-Review: Now since you’re one of the writers of this film, how did you come up with the Thanksgiving theme in the first place? It could’ve been any different holiday. It could’ve been Christmas. It could’ve been Easter. Why Thanksgiving?

Jimmy Hayward: There are a million Christmas movies. There are a million other movies for [other holidays]. There’s “Hop” for Easter. There’s all these different holiday pictures, but there’s really never been a Thanksgiving movie.

One of my movies “Horton Hears Who” plays every Thanksgiving for some unknown reason and I don’t know why. I love Thanksgiving and it’s a great holiday. It’s a wonderful holiday to write a movie about.

Latino-Review: And how did you originally came up with the concept of mixing Thanksgiving with time travel?

Jimmy Hayward: The premise was written by a pair of writers and then Scott Mosier and I took it up. It’s that very basic premise of a couple of characters going back in time and to change their fate is not a new idea. There are many time traveling movies, but none of them involved a holiday. The idea of animals trying to save themselves is also done a bunch of times. But, when you mix them together you’ll get something great.

Latino-Review: With this project, was it difficult to write and coordinate with Scott Mosier and other writers?

Jimmy Hayward: Scott Mosier and I are thick as thieves. We’re very good friends. I had lunch with him yesterday. He’s a wonderful guy. Smart guy. He’s one of the easiest producers to work with that I’ve ever encountered. He’s a great dude.

Comedically and story-wise, we’re to halves of a whole. He’s a quiet reserved dry guy. And I’m the opposite of that. [Laughter] We had a fantastic time writing together.

Latino-Review: So when you do write together, do you just bounce the humor off of each other?

Jimmy Hayward: I do a lot of my comedy in the booth. I do a lot of voices. I do a lot of scratch voices. I have a great deal of dialogue off the cuff. We would come up with a scene together. I typically I’ll running and waving my arms around to pitch some stuff. Scott, will methodically sits down and writes things out. I think that our interplay chatting and hanging out—we get a great deal of comedy by just talking with one another. So that’s basically our writing process if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Latino-Review: Now let’s talk about the animation. You do a lot of animations like “Horton Hears Who.” Why do you like to stick with these types of projects?

Jimmy Hayward: It’s probably the medium with the most latitude in terms of. You can do anything in your imagination within reason. I’ve animated with Pixar with many years and I’ve been a fan of it my entire life. It gives you the opportunity to do anything you want. Budgets are budgets. You can be able to do now like live-action is now possible.

Latino-Review: With this animation, why did you go with course in 3D?

Jimmy Hayward: 3D is an interesting thing. This is my first 3D film. Without being too nerdy, I think the trombone-ey with the 3D in your face is not in my taste wheelhouse. I think it should be used like a picture frame and very rarely break the barrier.

I think there’s a real moment towards 3D pictures in the last 5 or 6 years. It’s unfortunate, because it’s not necessarily done right in my opinion. [3D] should add a component and complexity to the adventure which is great. It’s another dimension.

We tried to do it tastefully. It does add, like the time travel sequences, to the whole thing.

Latino-Review: Speaking of the animation, what was the most difficult part of the movie?

Jimmy Hayward: Yeah, I think two things. I think getting the turkeys to not be ugly and to be able to create a feather systemthat we can pull and stretch to the limits. And two, by enlarge, to get to the level of scope within the confines of the budget was one of the most difficult things.

For the most part, Rich McCain came from Pixar. He’s an old friend of mine and worked with him on “Horton Hears Who.” He’s the supervising animator. Between him and myself, we had a system and set of rules on how the animation should work. We arrived at something. We thought that it was both appealing and pleasing. We comedically get what we needed out of it. But, at the same time, it retained that we thought they were turkeys. Even though, they really don’t look like turkeys.

Latino-Review: Yeah, they really don’t. [Laughter]

Jimmy Hayward: Turkeys are ugly. They look like melted candles. [Laughter] But, not these turkeys. These turkeys are incredibly good looking.

Latino-Review: Why did you the trio for the casting of this movie?

Jimmy Hayward: Owen [Wilson] and Woody [Harrelson] are very good friends with Tom Kay, who owns Real FX. He’s very good friends with a couple of guys at the top of the company. Those guys are all Texas guys. That’s the main jelling points to get all of those guys involved. And like what Amy said at the press conference, Amy and I go back and worked together before. We had a really great time.

One of my things is when I work with actors—I really like to work with improvisational actors. I like to write things and I like to cook stuff up. Most of the best comedy comes from working with the actors trying to find out what they think is the funniest and best angle at something. [It’s about] giving actors a real latitude to work. That’ll get the best stuff. I definitely know that I’m not the smartest guy in the room and you want the best material to wind up on the screen no matter where it comes from. If you got great talent right there at the same place, then you’ll get it on the screen.

Latino-Review: So you’re saying that there’s a lot of improv? What’s the best improve that came up?

Jimmy Hayward: I think that Woody’s pecs and glutes come to mind. He just started doing that while we recorded in New Orleans. And Woody just popped out with the pecs and glutes thing. It’s one of those things that if you understand the scenario, then there’s the intention of those scenes and what you need to get out of it. You make those things with the barriers happen, but let them do whatever they want in that area.

I usually play whatever characters that is in there in between us. That’s the reason why Amy and I like to work together. We just go back and forth with the improv. You can later go to editorial and pull out the things that are really great. Since animation takes longer to do, you have spark to get an idea for something like that to develop it into something bigger and better. So the next time you record them, you can develop the idea into something further and possibly come with greater ideas. It sort of energizes into an awesome thing.

Latino-Review: Amy sounds like Amy. Owen sounds like Owen. But, Woody sounds entirely something different. Did he come up with the voice or did you say “Hey, come up with your toughest voice?”

Jimmy Hayward: No. Woody’s voice evolved, I think. The more we put together with Owen and Woody, it’s born of this zealous, know-it-all, dumb guy. I created this rule: Jake’s body moves faster than his brain and Reggie’s brain moves faster than his body. One of the great things of the movie is to have Jake, Woody’s character, to drive the action and run over everything to fail upwards. You poke Reggie in the eye and the audiences laugh. Some of it harkens back to great vintage buddy duo comedy stuff. And they created a whole new chemistry with it.

Owen has this great appeal in his “Owen-ness.” The more that he stammers and introspectively looks at things—it’s the whole thing with the mind moves faster than the body and body moves faster the mind. By the time he says, “Did you not see the line? There’s a line right here.” [Slap] You get slapped in the face.

Latino-Review: Would you consider a sequel to this movie?

Jimmy Hayward: Absolutely!

Latino-Review: [Laughter] Just like that? Absolutely? So if it does well…..

Jimmy Hayward: Here’s a thing about as a filmmaker, you arrive at something like a story creation engine. There are so many opportunities and it’s not like you’re struggling for ideas. You have a time machine. You have a great duo of guys. No matter on how much they know about each other, they’ll still come up with surprising results.

I love the people that I’ve made the movie with. I love the group of people that made the movie. As a result, I would do it again in a second.

Latino-Review: And I like to wrap up with one fun question—if you did actually have to travel in time—what holiday tradition that you like to first visit or a holiday tradition you like to stop?

Jimmy Hayward: Wow, man. I don’t think there are any holiday traditions I would stop. That’ll be robbing things of a lot people who enjoy things unless there’s a horrible holiday out there that everybody is in pain. That’s the one I would stop, but I don’t know what that is. And what was the first part of the question?

Latino-Review: What holiday tradition that you would love to travel back in time to visit for the very first moment?

Jimmy Hayward: Oh, man. Wow. I’m sure that Christmas would be pretty amazing or the light show. I don’t know. [Laughter] So many holidays are religious. That’s a really tough question. I just like to get together with all the people that I love so whenever that started.

Latino-Review: So like going back to the very first Christmas tree that started all.

Jimmy Hayward: Sure, like hanging out with Charles Schulz when he was doing the very first Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

Latino-Review: I appreciate your time.

Jimmy Hayward: No problem. Thanks.

“Free Birds” is currently in theaters.

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