Exclusive Interview With Director Jimmy Hayward On Free Birds


Kingston, Ontario native Jimmy Hayward started as an animator during the heyday of computer-generated animation. He worked for Pixar, helping out with their feature-length debut Toy Story, as well as the studio’s four subsequent efforts. Hayward quickly moved up the ranks to become a sequence director for Robots, before getting the chance to direct a big-budget computer-generated film of his own, Horton Hears a Who!

Now, Hayward has just wrapped his second animated feature, Free Birds, which he directed, co-wrote and provided several of the voices for.

Free Birds tells the story of two turkeys: the intelligent and perceptive Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) and the burly and somewhat idiotic Jake (Woody Harrelson) who finds – what else – a time machine. With the machine’s capabilities, the duo decides to go back to Plymouth Colony in 1621, right before the first Thanksgiving, to prevent turkeys from becoming the holiday meal.

Recently, we sat down for an exclusive, 1 on 1 interview with Hayward, who talked about about the challenges of working with a smaller budget, befriending George Takei and doing his own voices.

Check it out below.

WGTC: You’ve done a lot of work for big animation studios before. With Free Birds, you worked for Reel FX, a company that had never made a feature-length film before. What was that like?

Jimmy Hayward: It was kind of like working with Pixar the first time when they had never made a feature film before. Reel FX has been at it for about 20 years working in CG and visual effects. They had a great infrastructure and they had a lot of really talented people. There was a great energy around there. I compare it to that first experience with Pixar simply because it was like a group of people banding together with a single cause. It was just a refreshing, awesome experience and they are great people.

WGTC: You were working with a smaller budget too. Was that a help or hindrance to you as a director?

Jimmy Hayward: That’s an interesting question. One of the biggest challenges was to get as great a scope as we could and have a high quality level of animation. I guess it can sometimes be a help to have a smaller budget, but I think ultimately it was a challenge. It’s not even about technology, I think it’s the more you understand about where to put your money, the easier it gets. And I think the days of making every CG movie for north of $100 million are kind of over. I don’t think the business really supports it in the same way that it used to. We have to learn how to work with that. Being on the front end of that charge was kind of fun.

The effects crew there was really good. Because we knew exactly what we wanted going in, we were able to really spend our energy on the things that we would actually use. I think that’s one of the things with this medium that’s the trickiest. Because of the process of animation, I think it’s one of those things where you really cannot spend all your money on things that you’re not going to use. You know, what winds up on the cutting room floor. I think those guys [at Reel FX] are really great at achieving big effects for less at a quicker pace. There, you’re able to achieve that scope technically.

WGTC: Free Birds is also your first feature-length screenplay. What were some of the most important things you learned about the storytelling process?

Jimmy Hayward: I’ve written quite a few screenplays and I’ve got screenplays in development. [Producer Scott Mosier] and I have been writing for a long time. We both were part of the story process on a lot of movies, so I think that it was a natural process for us. I think having the producer and the director both writing at the same time gives a great amount of latitude to not struggle to try and find what we wanted. We were doing the three jobs – writing, directing, producing – together, the two of us. Creatively, it was very refreshing and freeing to be able to do that. We were able to arrive at what we wanted more quickly.