I had the privilege to visit with Brian Bird and talk about his creative partner, Michael Landon Jr., and Season 7 of When Calls the Heart.
Describe Michael Landon Jr. for those who don’t personally know him.
My friend and creative partner, Michael Landon Jr., is the spitting image of his Dad—not so much for the long brown mane that made his Dad one of the biggest TV stars in Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven… but he is the spitting image of his Dad creatively, emotionally and professionally.
What a legacy my friend has inherited – to tell uplifting life and faith-affirming stories – like his Dad. And he does it beautifully.
Oh, he’s pretty handsome like Little Joe and Charles Ingalls, too.
When did you first meet Michael Landon Jr? What makes him a great collaborator?
We met at a dinner in 2003 our mutual friend and filmmaker, Robin Armstrong, threw for a bunch of creative types to talk about how to form alliances in the film and TV business. It’s such a touch and competitive business, alliances make it more possible.
We struck up an immediate friendship, and our wives became friends, too, and we threatened to try to work together some day.
In 2006, we both were coming off some successful projects – him with the Love Come Softly series of movies, and me with Touched By An Angel, and we decided to form a partnership.
As a collaborator, Michael is an amazing visual story-teller. He always pushes us to strive for excellence and not settle for “good enough.”
His vision has made me a better story teller.
How do real-life challenges deepen your ability to display fictional stories of faith and resilience?
Real life is always the best place to start when you are trying to create real, living human beings in your characters. Making fictional characters as universal and relatable to an audience as possible always requires discovering and uncovering authentic emotional journeys that will help the audience feel like they are living right next door to your characters.
The thing that we hear most often from Hearties and fans of When Calls the Heart and When Hope Calls is that they wish they could live in Hope Valley and now, Brookfield, because those places are so emotional rich and inviting.
The audience falls in love with our characters because they see their own journeys reflected in the story-telling.
How much time do you spend on set or location when the show is filming? What do you most look forward to on those days?
When we were first launching When Calls the Heart, we relocated to Vancouver and were on set 24-7 with the show, helping give birth and putting the creative DNA in place for what the show should be.
Once the show was launched so beautifully, and once it found its stride with the audience, and we had built such an effective team and production footprint, it allowed us not to have to be on set as intensely as at the beginning.
The digital revolution has allowed us to keep our nose in the pages and our eyes on cuts from behind a computer display. And we can do that from anywhere.
But now that allows us to provide creative encouragement and support without always having to be on set.
But when my schedule permits… there is no place I would rather be than in Hope Valley.
How has Erin Krakow adapted to her producer duties? What do you enjoy about working with her in that capacity?
There was no need to adapt for Erin. She has been brilliant from the beginning of the show – not just in front of the camera – but behind it, and now our whole team is lucky to have her brain more deeply involved in the creative process of the show than ever.
In professional sports, there are those athletes that are called “five-tool-players” because they can do it all. Erin Krakow is a five-tool performer and filmmaker.
Who is a character fans should keep an eye on in Season 7?
Well, they are going to want to keep their eyes on all the residents of Hope Valley, because there are some amazing revelations coming for most of them.
But I would say Elizabeth, Lucas and Nathan are three pretty good choices for some extra scrutiny by the Hearties.
Season 6 ended on a cliffhanger that had fans groaning out loud in anticipation. How does it make you feel to picture viewers having such emotional reactions?
Nowadays, Hearties post videos on social media of their actual gasps when they are watching our season finale cliffhangers, so it’s easy to conjure up those moments for me.
Without those emotional outbursts from the fans we wouldn’t be doing our job very well, and with them, it’s just added fuel for Alfonso Moreno and our cracker jack writing staff to figure out how to keep them coming.
So, I would encourage the Hearties to stay on the edge of their seats – because they’re not going go away any time soon.
Give fans a (spoiler-proof) teaser for the 2019 Christmas special.
I’ll just leave it at this statement: “The past is still present in our hearts, but the future is in our eyes.”