Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Writer-Producer & Mentor Brian Bird

Brian’s latest project ‘The Shunning’ premiers this Saturday.

Prolific writer-producer Brian Bird is co-founder of Believe Pictures (with Michael Landon, Jr.) with the mission of developing and producing “high quality, entertaining, and life-and-faith-affirming, films and television depicting positive images and compelling moral stories.” Bird and Landon wrote and produced two novel inspired films for Fox and they are currently writing and/or producing three films: When Calls the Heart, Deep in the Heart, and The Shunning (Premiering this Saturday, April 16, on the Hallmark Channel at 9pm/8pm Central).

Brian also writing a separate screenplay for the Fox Searchlight film, Captive, the true story of Ashley Smith and the Atlanta hostage crisis from 2005. He will also produce the film along with Ken Wales and Ralph Winter.

Brian’s credits include more than 250 episodes of the hit CBS series ‘Touched By an Angel’

Previously, Bird served as Co-Executive Producer and senior writer for four seasons on the series Touched By An Angel and his TV writing/producing credits include more than 250 episodes of Touched By an Angel, Evening Shade, Step by Step, and The Family Man, as well as numerous TV and feature films. His script Call Me Claus was the highest rated cable film of 2002. Brian also wrote and co-produced Tri-Star’s 2009 film Not Easily Broken.

On a more personal note, I have met few Hollywood filmmakers with as great a commitment to personal mentoring as Brian. As an official mentor in the Act One program and the Visual Story Network, as well as an unofficial mentor throughout the industry, Brian has distinguished himself in his willingness to invest in the lives of young writers and producers.

In celebration of the premier of The Shunning this Saturday (Hallmark, 9pm/ 8pm CDT), I asked Brian a few questions about the film, about the greatest influencers in his life, and about origin of his incredible commitment to mentoring.

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Interview with Writer-Producer Brian Bird

GDS: What excites you most about the film?

Brian Bird: One reason is because I think we have very faithfully recreated both the world of the Amish, and one of Beverly Lewis‘ most important novels.

Brian worked with T.D. Jakes to adapt ‘Not Easily Broken’ for the big screen.

GDS: Do you think people will relate to a film set in such an “other” world?

BB: Absolutely, even though the storytelling is set among the Amish, I think it’s a very universal tale that all families can relate to because it deals with how we try to pass along our values to our children, and how they have to choose the values they are going to live with.

GDS: Any personal stake in the film?

BB: Well, The Shunning makes a very important statement about the theme of adoption — which is very significant to me as an adoptive father of two daughters. That statement is this: love is thicker than blood when it comes to our family relationships.

Horton Foote’s screenwriting taught Brian to default from plot to character whenever you can.

GDS: Let’s talk about people who have influenced who you are and your career as a filmmaker.  First, an easy one, what films have influenced you most?

BB: I’d have to say The Mission, Cinema Paradiso, and Tender Mercies.

GDS: How ‘bout screenwriters?

BB: Let’s see, Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird)—whose screenplays taught me that plot and character are intertwined and always default to character if you have a choice. William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)—whose body of work as a screenwriter taught me that you have to know the rules in order to break them.

Also, Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons)—whose screenplay taught me about striving to be epic in my writing. And then there’s Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity series)—whose screenplays taught me to strive to be taut in my writing.

GDS: Any other kinds of writers influence you?

“Tony Gilroy’s screenplays taught me to strive to be ‘taut’ in my writing.”

BB: Well, C.S. Lewis was formidable in shaping my worldview, and Francis Schaeffer formidable in shaping my ideas about art and its influence on culture.  Oh, and also Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, who helped me understand that great literature should take the reader’s breath away. Of course, there is also the Bible, which has been an uber-influencer for me.

GDS: Any others?

BB: I’ve had some very significant mentors.

GDS: Like who?

BB: Well, in no particular order, there is Ted Smythe, Mass Media Professor Cal State University, Fullerton, who told me not to be afraid of ideas outside my worldview because in the marketplace of ideas, truth always rises to the top.

“Morgan Freeman …told me that there is only one race of people — the human race — and two kinds of people: good ones and bad ones.”

Don Ingalls, legendary TV writer-producer, great-uncle, who gave me my first network TV writing assignment and told me nepotism can open a door, but skills have to keep it open.

Morgan Freeman, legendary actor who directed my first feature film (Bopha), told me that there is only one race of people — the human race — and two kinds of people: good ones and bad ones.

Rick Warren, my pastor, who told me not to preach in my writing, but just to ask great questions.

Michael Warren, legendary TV writer-producer who gave me my first TV staff writing job, told me he was leaving the door open for me as long as I would promise to leave it open for others. (See, Michael Warren’s Greatest Influences.)

GDS: Did any of them influence how you approached The Shunning?

TV legend and mentor Michael Warren launched Brian’s career by opening the door for him on a CBS one season wonder, ‘The Family Man’ (above). It was all that Brian needed to prove himself.

BB: (Laughs) All of them, but maybe especially Michael Warren, because of what I just mentioned. When he gave me one of my first opportunities in show business he made me promise to leave the door open for others behind me.

GDS: How did you do that in The Shunning?

BB: I chose to give a newer, younger writer an opportunity to write this film rather than writing it myself.  We hired Chris Easterly—a graduate of Act One’s screenwriting program who had served faithfully as a writer’s assistant on Touched By An Angel—to write the teleplay for this film, and he knocked it out of the park.

GDS: Isn’t that taking quite a risk on behalf of a younger “unproven” writer?

BB: It wasn’t charity on our part. We needed somebody with some real writing chops to do this work, and Chris showed himself approved. I left the door open for a very gifted young man in the same way Michael Warren left the door open for me in 1990.

GDS: So you’re leaving a legacy?

BB: That is certainly my intention. And I know that Chris will do the same thing for somebody else when he comes into his Showbiz kingdom.

THW

Don’t miss The Shunning: Saturday (April 16): The Hallmark Channel at 9pm (8pm Central).

Follow Brian: On his blog: BrianBird.net: The Art of Story, The Craft of Screenwriting and More, or on Twitter: @brbird.

Other Two Handed Warrior TV Writer and Filmmakers:

Sheryl J. Anderson (Charmed, Flash Gordon, Dave’ World)

Dean Batali (That 70’s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hope and Gloria)

Brian Bird (Touched by an Angel, The Shunning, Not Easily Broken)

Kevin Chesley (The Hard Times of RJ Berger)

Chris Easterly (Unnatural History, The Shunning)

Jessica Rieder (Leverage, Hawaii Five-O)

Monica Macer (Lost, Prison Break, Teen Wolf)

Korey Scott Pollard (Rizzoli and Isles, Lie to Me, Monk, House, Grey’s Anatomy)

Kurt Schemper (Emmy Award winner for Intervention)

Michael Warren (Happy Days, Family Matters, Two of a Kind, Step by Step, Perfect Strangers).

Michael Warren, Legendary TV Writer and Producer, Shares His Greatest Influences

With over 250 episodes over 11 seasons, Happy Days exerted tremendous cultural influence and helped birth the career of filmmaker Ron Howard (right bottom)

Prolific  writer, producer, and show creator, Michael Warren, helped shape some of the most influential television programming of a generation (Family Matters, Two of a Kind, Step by Step, Perfect Strangers, Happy Days, etc.).

However, like all Two Handed Warriors, Michael’s journey toward reimagining faith and culture wasn’t accomplished alone.

I asked Michael: “Who are writers, artists, filmmakers, poets, musicians, films, books, plays, TV shows, or any other cultural artifact who have deeply influenced you and will always stick with you.”

Then I only gave him fifteen minutes to complete his list, just so we cold get it “unedited.” (Part of an ongoing series of the “Fab 15” influencers who influenced the influencers of culture.)

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Here is Michael’s list of greatest influences in his own life.

Robert Bolt

The groundbreaking story of the middle class African-American Winslow family and their super annoying neighbor, Steven Urkel, ran for over 190 episodes.

Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ

C. S. Lewis

John Milton

The Dick Van Dyke Show

David Lean’s Films (All of them!)

Garry Marshall

David McCullough

Star Wars (because it showed me the impact a single film could have on changing people’s worldview.)

Akira Kurosawa

Michelangelo

Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers anchored Step by Step through 160 episodes.

Buckminster Fuller

Billy Graham

Renoir

The Apostle Paul

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What’s on your “Fab 15″ list?

Caveat: Your list must be comprised of culural artifacts readers woud have access to, so you can’t include your Mom, or some other leader who had a personal impact on you.

Make your list in no more than fifteen minutes and send it to us!
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Michael Warren Trivia: Did you know that Michael has often served as an elder in his home (mega) church and has led numerous service trips across the globe?

Sheryl J. Anderson, TV Writer and Novelist: Authors Who Influenced Me

Sheryl J. Anderson: Prolific Television Writer and Novelist

Seeking to reimagine faith and culture inevitably makes you a reader: a multi-post on on the “Fab 15” Author lists of Two Handed Warriors.

Sheryl J. Anderson, television writer (CharmedFlash Gordon, Dave’s World) and novelist (Killer HeelsKiller CocktailKiller Riff) offers her unique take on the 15 authors who have most deeply influenced her life.

Read Sheryl’s list and let us know yours.

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Sheryl J. Anderson’s “Fab 15”

Martin Luther

Ray Bradbury

Dorothy Parker

Harlan Ellison

William Goldman

Jorge Luis Borges

Arthur Miller

Tennessee Williams

Thorne Smith

Agatha Christie

Stephen King

Peter Straub

E.B. White

The first book in Sheryl's Molly Forrester Mysteries series

Lucy Boston

Robert Bolt

What’s are your “Fab 15”?

“Fab 15″ Rules: List fifteen authors, fiction or nonfiction, including poets, playwrights, and screenwriters, who have influenced you and will always stick with you.

Make your list in no more than fifteen minutes!
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Sheryl J. Anderson Trivia: Did you know that Sheryl has also written  mini-dramas for church theatre and worship services?  Check out: The Twelve Plays of Christmas: Original Christian Dramas, A Message in a Minute: More Lighthearted Minidramas for Churches.