It’s still dark in Vancouver this morning, but the sun is cresting over the Fraser Valley. It’s November 17, 2014, and it has been a long time since we were all last here in “Coal Valley”… both for cast and crew and for our beloved family of #Hearties and growing audience of When Calls the Heart fans. As our expanded team of cast, writers, producers, directors and crew begin production today on a very special Season 2 two-hour premiere episode, we are all humbled by the amazing outpouring of love this show has received from its fans. In 30 years of working in film and television, I have never experienced anything like the wave of grass roots support that emerged during Season 1, and in the long months since. In fact, I believe we have the best fans in all of Television! You are one of the main reasons this show returned for Season 2.
Did you know our Facebook community page https://www.facebook.com/groups/544632748969161 has grown from 4,000 members at the end of Season 1 to nearly 23,000 today, and as we begin the hard work and long journey of making these new episodes, we pledge to you to do our best to bring you another thrilling, inspiring, uplifting… very romantic… season. And I’m going to do my best to bring you “inside scoop” production journals for each episode. But I know you all have a burning question: “How are going to top what we did in Season 1?” As you are about to find out, we are not only going to resolve all the big cliffhangers from S1, but we are going to spin tales in many new directions in S2. We are going to expand the story-telling “canvas” and the world of When Calls the Heart by introducing new characters and relationships – all in order to set the stage, Lord-willing, for many seasons to come. Even our cliff-hangers will have new cliffhangers. But something else we have all learned from S1: We can’t make this show a success without you tens of thousands of #Hearties (and hopefully hundreds of thousands of Hearties-yet-to-be). Your love, loyalty, support, passion and consistent viewing, posting and Tweeting about this show IS the fuel that will keep it on the air. We are competing with what seem like thousands of other entertainment options and we need all the love we can get. I met a Heartie recently who told me she keeps an episode from S1 on her smart phone so that she can play it while she is standing in line at the grocery store. She does this to provoke questions from potential fans standing in line with her. That is the “secret sauce” that will keep this show growing. We call that “E-Fangelism.” Are you an E-Fangelist yet? If not, join the Hearties and show your like-minded friends that family-and-faith-friendly TV programming on the Hallmark Channel is not extinct and can make a comeback in our culture. We promise to do our part, and we hope you will do yours. Until next week… that’s my report from Coal Valley! Brian Bird
It’s Monday, December 8, and today marks Day #2 of production on Episode 202, and a script we are calling “Heart and Soul,” written by one of our fabulous new senior writers and executive producers, Robin Bernheim. Some pretty cool new wrinkles and “choices” are at the heart of our story work on this one. It’s a theme I’ve thought a lot about. So many things in this world are a product of our choices, but many of us like to blame our circumstances, or other people, or their feelings, or fate, or even luck for what happens to them in life. The truth is we always “choose” how to respond to our challenges. That’s not just Brian Bird speaking. All the great sacred texts teach this. And it was as true back back in the early 1900s as it is today.
One of the big goals for Season 2 has been to expand our painting canvas by introducing some new characters and new relationships and broadening the world to include “Elizabeth Thatcher’s” hometown of Hamilton. The goal is an important one because by expanding this canvas we are setting ourselves up for lots of new story possibilities, which we hope will be the fuel of dozens and dozens of new episodes if our growing and loyal fan base stays with us (a guy can’t hope, can’t he?). But as we broaden the story arena, we are confronted with choices at every turn, and we have to live with the consequences. One obvious example of the consequences was what to do with the name of our beloved town in our season premiere. I’m hoping our “Heartie” fans will understand our reasoning for this. When we were brainstorming closing down the mine in the trial verdict, we then discovered we needed to introduce new work opportunities for all the men in town. Hence, our wonderful new lumber entrepreneur “Leland Coulter” played by the fabulous Kavan Smith. But in doing that, we suddenly realized our town was no longer a coal town. But it was called “Coal Valley.” That’s what everyone fell in love with in Season 1, but it doesn’t make sense going forward. Choices have consequences, remember?
So we began to brainstorm new names. One idea was “Silver City.” That seemed to stick for awhile, but it just wasn’t right. This is not a silver mining town now, it’s a timber town. But then, as is always the case in a writers’ room, we got back to the core idea of this series – the idea that Michael Landon Jr. and I had from the beginning. This needs to be a show about hope. Robin Bernheim then put to the two ideas together brilliantly: “Hope Valley.” It was perfect. And as our “Jack Thornton” arrives back on the stage today from Hamilton, he’s going to learn that his town has a new name, just like hopefully a couple million (fingers and toes crossed) Hearties will learn in the season premiere.
Choices have consequences. We are all responsible for our choices. They are not involuntary reflexes, like when a doctor taps your knee and your leg flexes on its own. Anger is a choice. Criticism is a choice. Hate is choice. But so is hope and so is the love. Hope and love are an act of the will. That is the Coal/Hope Valley. And Elizabeth and Jack will need to hold onto both those choices all season-long. As do all of us.
It’s Monday, January 12, and the cast and crew are back in Hope Valley from a long winter’s (Christmas) nap. I can’t emphasize enough how important that holiday break was for the entire team. I know for most of our fans watching the show, it must seem like an easy task making these 42-minute episodes, but the reality is there are a thousand moving parts (it’s all about logistics when we’re rolling cameras), and the entire team works a minimum of 14-hour days, Monday through Friday, every week during the production cycle.
Spending time with family these last few holiday weeks has been a fantastic way to recharge the batteries. I’m very excited as we enter the second half of our Season 2 production calendar. Even though we’re technically still filming a few scenes from episode 4, we’re also shooting scenes from the next two episodes this week and next, as well.
When we’re filming multiple episodes, it’s amazing to watch our wonderful actors navigate their emotional changes from scene to scene. Each episode presents them with a “character arc” which they have to internalize and interpret for themselves as they are taking the words on the page and “putting them up on their feet.” I’m a writer, not an actor… I have no idea how they do it, especially when they are shooting multiple episodes at once. It’s amazing and magical to watch. (I hope they feel the same way about our writing team and our writing process!) Episode 204 is almost finished, and today 205 and 206 begin. I’m pretty sure we’re going to hear a collective gasp across North America from our “Heartie-nation” about some of the relationship surprises in Hamilton that take place in 204.
For 205, I’m betting that gasp will change to a collective sigh of relief as Elizabeth comes home to Hope Valley. Her story of volunteering to babysit two kids from the community and some of the “fish out of water” elements are delightful, and very much in the vein of some of the stories we did in Season 1. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new characters and relationships we’re introducing, but there’s something very satisfying and heart-warming about this kind of story we’re telling this week. Makes me want a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup like my Mom used to make me on a rainy day after school. I think this story will be “comfort food” to a lot of Hearties who may have some “heartie-burn” over some of the new wrinkles we are adding in Hamilton storylines.
It’s what this show is evolving into – a very big painting canvas, which if we can maintain our creative edge – will provide a little something for everybody who watches this show. I know every member of this cast and crew has committed to these long hours, and to working tirelessly, to provide the best episodes we can make. They are keeping their fingers and toes crossed that the Hearties will love what we’re doing enough to spread the blessing of “When Calls the Heart” to their friends and neighbors.
Personally I’m more of a “stay on my knees” kind of guy, because we’ll need prayer in addition to wishful thinking to keep this show going forward for seasons to come. I pray the Hearties will keep the faith, and join us as we seek to provide a family-friendly alternative to all the zombies, werewolves and vampires that seem to be everywhere on TV. That’s one thing they can count on. There won’t ever be any zombies in Hope Valley!
-- Brian Bird
It’s the night before we start production on Season 2, Episode 4, and I have just finished reading the final production draft of the script we’re calling “Awakenings and Revelations.” Interestingly it’s the first script this season that won’t have “Heart” somewhere in the title, and it’s appropriate because the theme that keeps springing to mind for me about this episode is “free will.”
If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’re in for a college course on the topic that includes scientific, philosophical, ethical and religious implications. A simple definition I’ve always embraced is this: God made men, but he didn’t create puppets or robots. He gave them the ability to make their own choices, even if they choose against him, against each other and even what’s best for themselves.” That’s why the title rebelling against our “Heart” trend on all the other titles fits so aptly. As do all the storylines in this episode.
I have no doubt that our Hearties will feel a certain sense of frustration with Jack, Elizabeth, Bill, Abigail, Rosemary and our new characters of Leland and Charles, and their choices during the scenes we will be shooting over the next seven days. But I think it’s a satisfying frustration because it’s something we can all identify.
I can’t think of how many times my own friends or loved ones have made choices that seem to be against their own self-interest or actually hurt others. That’s real life. We can be a stubborn, selfish bunch, we human beings, right? When I think about it, it’s amazing anything actually gets done. There are seven billion people in the world today bumping into each other and they all have free will. How on earth have we not already blown ourselves up a thousand times over? But we also have the ability to get past our own flaws and do wonderful things for each other. That’s the constant tug-o-war we want to depict Hope Valley.
Citizens with free will all hopefully learning from their mistakes and choosing to do right by each other. Growing, forgiving, learning. That’s what I hope for civilization as a whole. I hope this little TV series can make that kind of difference in the world. The proof will be in some of Abigail’s pudding!
-- Brian Bird
As our cast and crew hunker down for a long 7 days of shooting “Heart and Home,” a terrific script by Robin Bernheim, I get the feeling that Season 2 is turning a corner. I can’t deny we’ve added extra soap suds into the story washtub this season, and we’ve almost needed a team of air traffic controllers to keep track of all the characters and relationships.
The best analogy I can make about this episode is that Hearties will be sitting at the poker table, and need to keep a close watch on what is happening around that table. Just like the epic game of poker being played on camera between Henry Gowen, our mysterious railroad magnate and ultimately, Lee Coulter, there is a game of relationship poker being played by the characters in terms of their futures.
Hearties need to watch for the body language, the giveaways and deceptions, and the “sleight-of-heart,” going on in this episode for clues about what’s coming next. There is an amazing, but challenging Season 2 cliffhanger building even the cast-members are nervous about. I’m seeing a lot of side conversations among them as they try to figure out how they will pull it off. And it will be hinted at in this episode if you watch carefully, but I’m not sure even the most detail-driven Hearties will spot it.
But the bottom line is a riddle of a question I have for Hearties who will be reading this three months from now: “What shines like the sun but breaks your heart because you can’t let it go?” Over and out until we start filming Episode 8.
-- Brian Bird
Purpose. As we are nearing the end of production of our Season 2 episodes, the idea of our “purpose” seems to be the big question on everybody’s minds, cast and crew alike. Is “When Calls the Heart” just another TV show, just another hour of entertainment, or is there something happening out there in the culture that has called us all “for such a time as this.”
Of course, we’re hoping the script for Hour No. 8 of Season 2 by Tony Blake is a very fun, entertaining episode of TV. But in this script, Erin Krakow will have one of the more important speeches of the second season as “Elizabeth Thatcher” is sorting out her feelings about Hamilton and Hope Valley. What is her purpose in life? What on earth was she put here to do? Is she supposed to spend her life in the lap of luxury and endless shopping sprees and fancy gatherings? Or is there something bigger than herself and her family heritage waiting for her? Does Hope Valley represent that “Esther”-like call on her life made so powerfully in the Old Testament. So, too, the fans of this show will have to ask themselves if they are in love with just another TV series or is “When Calls the Heart” actually like a beachhead in Normandy in the struggle to keep society from going over a dark cliff?
During production, I don’t get a chance to watch what the competition is doing over there on the other side of the culture war, but I have no doubt, there are very few programs like ours (however imperfect it may be), that attempt to lift up life and faith and family. Cynicism rules our world now. As long as any of us involved in this show have breath, there will be no cynicism in Hope Valley. Life is too short to play the cynical card and leave hope on the table. I have no idea whether the #Heartie groundswell of fans that rose up in Season 1 will still be with us out here in the twilight of Season 2, but if they are, they will be a force to reckoned with. They will have a purpose. Family television of the kind to which the Hallmark Channel is committed is an endangered species in the land. And if it becomes extinct, I guarantee there will be a giant gaping hole in the heart of culture. We need committed and outspoken preservationists, and it seems to me if anybody can do, it will be the Hearties. Until production of the Season 2 finale… peace on all of us.
-- Brian Bird
Well, this is it. Our final two hours of Season 2, and we’re all taking a deep breath, amazed that our little show that could has come this far.
As Erin, Daniel, Lori, Jack, Martin, Pascale, Kristina, Kavan, Loretta and the rest of our stellar actors are in their trailers preparing for these last 14 days of filming, there’s a both a sense of satisfaction and resolve for cast and crew alike. Of course, everyone is ready for some R & R from all the long hours these last several months, but we are all also deeply grateful for this rare opportunity to do a TV series that stands for something good in the world.
And like our beloved characters that will be taking some big steps of faith in these last two scripts (which will be sometimes surprising, uplifting and perhaps even shocking to our loyal #Hearties), everyone associated with this show has had to take steps of faith just to be involved with When Calls the Heart.
Horror films and series, and edgy adult dramas are the low-hanging fruit in the entertainment business for both actors and crew members. Working on a faith-and-family show like ours is sometimes a risk because you can be stereotyped for doing it. So there are steps of faith aplenty when it comes this show. And it occurs to me that’s what we all have to do across this great big world. No matter how you believe, or even if you believe at all, life usually requires faith in something or someone. Sometimes just to get out of bed in the morning. Other times to face the gargantuan challenges and circumstances that the world throws our way.
It’s a little like that railroad spur that Leland Coulter and Henry Gowen have been vying to bring into Hope Valley this season. In the railroad business, there are always two parallel tracks running down the line, or the train would fall over. It could never go forward on one track (well, I guess they’ve made that work at Disneyland, but you get my point). Those two parallel tracks seem like an apt metaphor for life to me. One of the tracks I see as the blessings of life and the other track I see as the curses (or the circumstances). You can’t have one without the other. They are always going to drag against each other.
Each of us achieves victory in one way or another, or we reach a mountaintop we never thought we could, and then we turn around and see that other track trailing right alongside. It’s always there with its challenges and circumstances that never go away. We have to make peace with the duality of triumph followed closely by tragedy. Success followed by snafu. It will always be that way, and it’s not a bad thing. It can keep you grounded in reality and from getting too big for your britches.
As our #Hearties will see in a few months on a Sunday night, that is one of the inherent lessons of this Season 2 finale, especially the last two minutes. And it’s a good lesson for life. Like Michael Landon, Jr. and I did several years ago when we first tried to bring When Calls the Heart to life – and as the Hallmark Channel did when they agreed to order this show as a continuing series – we stepped forward in faith without knowing what the future would hold. And whenever or however this series ends – whether it be now at the apex of Season 2 or Season 22 – we’ve made our peace with it. Lee Coulter’s two train tracks will be with us forever. I’m keeping my eye mostly on the blessing track, without sticking my head in the sand about the cursed track. I hope our wonderful, honorary #Heartie crew will do the same. Until we’re doing this again sometime soon… or at least in the reruns… God bless you.
-- Brian Bird