When Calls the Heart

Guest Post: AMA with Brian Bird

Brian Bird is the co-creator and executive producer of Hallmark Channel’s “When Calls the Heart.” In this exclusive AMA, Bird answers questions about the past, present, and future of the family-friendly series.

Kurt Manwaring asks, “Would you rank your top five episodes from the first five seasons of ‘When Calls the Heart’ and provide a line or two of commentary for each one?”

Of course, they are all sort of my children, and what kind of villain would ask me to choose which of my children I love best 😉 … but here goes…  

My top five favorite episodes of When Calls the Heart in descending order are:

5.2 Close to My Heart

4.7 – My Heart will Go On

6.0 – The Greatest Christmas Blessing

1.3 – A Telling Silence

1.2 – Cease and Desist

Andrea Brooks shares Top 5 episodes of ‘When Calls the Heart’

Kurt Manwaring asks, “Without giving anything away, what do viewers have to look forward to in the 2018 Christmas special and why should they tune in?”

I would end up in Mountie Nate’s cell if I give away specific spoilers (wait, was that a spoiler?) but I think Hearties across the land can look forward to two important developments in just a few short weeks. 

First, be watching for some very specific story elements which may or may not be relevant to the spin off series coming in 2019, When Hope Calls.

And second, the most important themes of Christmas are peace on earth and good will to all men… and the birth of hope for the world. I think the topic of new births is a good one for Hearties to ruminate on. 

Destiny Thomas asks, “Could you take us behind the scenes of your duties on ‘When Calls the Heart?’ Are there any memorably or funny stories you can share from behind the scenes?”

As one of the creators and executive producers of When Calls the Heart, my duties have evolved over the six seasons.

After Michael Landon Jr. and I gave birth to the show with our movie pilot, I started out as the show-runner and head writer, which meant being involved in every detail of the show, from writing to casting to production to post-production to establishing the voice of show, which also meant being on the ground in Vancouver from beginning to end on every episode.

Gradually, as we filled out our production footprint, we were able to hand over more of the day-to-day responsibilities to our seasoned team of professionals, and I was able to “kick myself upstairs” to be able to monitor life in Hope Valley from afar (thank the Lord for computers and good internet service) so that I wouldn’t have to be away from my family for months on end.

It also enabled me to nurture the marketing and future planning of the show (being “Papa Heartie”), while allowing me to keep my nose in every episode by reading scripts and watching cuts of the episodes and giving constructive notes.

Instead of having to be on the ground for six months at a time, I now have the luxury of several visits to Hope Valley each season, although my heart and mind are there every day during production, even if I’m in my home office.

Desiree asks, “Will there be more heartfelt or comedic scenes this season between Team FloMo (Florence & Molly)?”

We know how much Hearties love them some Team FloMo… and we always do our best to look for opportunities for their characters to get more screen time. The challenge with finding more story-time is always a balancing act with all the other characters who have also become favorites with their fans. 

I think the FloMo society will be happy with Season 6… although I’m not sure we will ever be able to satisfy the rumbles in their story tummies! 

Desiree asks, “Will there be any new building additions of filming locations that Hearties will notice in Hope Valley during Season 6?”

Brian: Yes, indeed, and for a few Hearties who attended the Hearties Family Reunion tour of Hope Valley, they may have inadvertently caught a glimpse of one of those new locations… although I will neither confirm or deny it.

But if there’s a season 7… I was at a planning meeting for a handful of new locations that we are envisioning, so hint-hint Hearties… get your best eFangelism games on! 

Desiree asks, “When will we expect to hear more about ‘When Hope Calls’ and potential air dates?”

When I know, they will know… because the show is in the writing phase right now and filming is not planned until spring sometime.  But I think it’s safe to say that Hearties will be able to see the show sometime in late 2019.

Desiree asks, “Why was the Christmas episode chosen to be filmed last this season? How was that change received?”

In season 5, we filmed the Christmas episode first in the production cycle, and it’s not fun to have to create the winter when the sun is shining and it’s 85 degrees outside. Hard to fake an actor’s breath freezing with visual effects while at the same time removing perspiration from their foreheads. 

So this year, we decided to wait until the weather was actually closer to winter conditions for shooting the Christmas special, which meant that we were on a very short post-production leash to get the movie ready for airing on December 25.

Caroline Richardson asks, “How was it like to see Elizabeth as a mom?”

For me, Erin Krakow is the epitome of what acting is all about. She is able to become whatever person she is asked to become, and can transport herself to a lot of different places in life. She reminds of me of Meryl Streep in that way.  So I was not surprised to find my breath being taken away the first time I saw her “with child.” She was the picture of grace and beauty to me, even when having to pretend to be nine months pregnant.  I can’t wait for Hearties to see her maternal instincts kick in!

As Christmas approaches in Hope Valley, newly widowed Elizabeth prepares for the birth of her baby. Photo: Erin Krakow Credit: ©2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter

Debbie Cloward asks, “Who is your favorite character on ‘When Calls the Heart?’”

Brian: Of course, having been in the delivery room when they were all born, I’m sort of fond of all of them. 

However, if I’m pressed, I’m going to say Henry Gowen. 

I’ve always loved writing characters who need to be redeemed and have to travel a long way in their character quests… to get to their happy place, and that definitely describes Henry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that we have empowered a town full of self-sufficient women, but given how rich in character the women of Hope Valley are, I find myself rooting for Henry to grow deeper as a man.

Henry Gowen continues his journey of redemption in “The Greatest Christmas Blessing.” Photo: Martin Cummins Credit: ©2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter

Rachel Wagner asks, “Can you give us any hints at what’s in store for Rosemary and Leland?”

Yes… fun, fun, fun and funny.  How’s that?

Amber Nielsen asks, “What can you say about the decision not to include World War I?”

We have gotten this question many times and I have a few ways to answer it.

First, because we are a modestly budgeted show, we could never produce any episodes even remotely resembling the reality of the World War I, so at best it could only be referred to as historical context in dialogue. 

That leads me to my second answer, which is that we are not producing an historical documentary, so we don’t feel the need to depict the verisimilitude of all that was happening in the world at the time.

While other shows may center on “real” over “ideal” we have chosen that When Calls the Heart should be the other way around, so that we can focus making Hope Valley a place of “ideal” over “real”… of light over dark. 

That doesn’t mean that reality of life isn’t present – as evidenced by the end of Season 5 – but we want the conflict that drives our story-lines to be direct conflict between characters as opposed to hearing about conflict in some far off place.

Emelia Manwaring asks, “Why was Erin Krakow cast as Elizabeth Thatcher?”

Every casting session of every movie or TV show that I have participated in always ends in the same way. There are dozens of very good actors who come in and give very competitive professional auditions and you are stuck with some very difficult choices because they are all so good.

And then, someone walks in the door and just simply takes the role off the table. They come in and so fully inhabit the character and make it their own that they leave no other choice but to just say “yes.” 

Erin Krakow got about 10 “yesses” from all the stakeholders.

Who Is Erin Krakow from ‘When Calls the Heart’?

Kaycee asks, “Of all the storylines from Seasons one through five, is there one in particular that has a special place in your heart or that is a particular favorite? Which and why?”

Brian:  Again, very hard to choose just one favorite because I love story-telling… story is my soul-food… but I love the story of little Rosaleen Sullivan from Season 1 so much. 

She had lost her voice because she somehow felt responsible for her Daddy’s death in the mine… and it took the light of the her teacher’s love for her to restore her voice.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it all these years later.

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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