Paige Hullett brings to the screen a life-changing moment from childhood to generate laughs and conversations.
By Elle Bent, Photo courtesy of Paige Hullett
Birds, Bees, & Threes is not afraid of the uncomfortable. Based on actress, writer and director Paige Hullett’s childhood, Birds, Bees, & Threes is a short film that follows parents Julia (Christine Woods) and Andy (Sam Daly) as they sit their triplet daughters (Norah Murphy, Jorie Blake Rosen, Linda Dorsett) down for “the talk.” The triplets, at 8 years old, are shocked and disturbed at the new information, resulting in a comedic short film that takes a look at a conversation we could all be a bit better at having.
The short film screened at the 29th annual Austin Film Festival as part of the “Navigating Life” block. Over 50% of the crew was female-identifying or non-binary, including co-writer Hullett and co-director Margaux Susi.
Having “The Talk”
Hullett co-wrote the short film with Gunnar Anderson. Anderson is also one of the film’s executive producers alongside Emily Reas and Susi. Anderson and Hullett perfectly balance the humor and embarrassment that comes with learning about sex for the first time while also opening the audience up to a broader conversation about sex education.
“Sex education comes from a place of fear,” Hullett explains. “It should be an open conversation and inclusive to everyone.”
But Hullett wants to make one thing clear: she’s not an expert on how to do that. “I want people to reflect on their own experiences,” she says.
Birds, Bees, and Threes finds strength in its authenticity, as a great deal of it is directly from Hullett’s childhood. Much of the dialogue, character reactions and even the book Julia uses to explain reproduction to the girls all come from reality. Anderson and Hullett work brilliantly together to bring to life a small moment that was life-changingly impactful, funny and relatable.
“This was a story I always said out loud to people,” says Hullett. “And I was always told to make a film about it and so I finally decided to do it.”
Hullett’s Directorial Debut
Birds, Bees, and Threes is Hullett’s first production that she has written and directed, having co-written the film with Gunnar Anderson and co-directed it with Susi. She was inspired to create it after working on the film Yes, God, Yes, in which she played Fiona. Similar to Birds, Bees, and Threes, the 2019 film, directed by Karen Maine, touched on themes of sex and shame while growing up in a conservative setting. Maine encouraged Hullett to direct Birds, Bees, and Threes, helping to push the actress outside of her comfort zone.
Hullett likes exploring stories about the human experience, and Birds, Bees, and Threes hits that mark for the actress. “Every parent thinks about this, whether they choose to talk about it or not,” she says. “It’s a slice of life we all had to figure out.”
The Birds, The Bees
Andy is the triplets’ father. He is reluctant to have the talk with his girls, insisting to his wife that they are too young. Throughout the talk, Andy remains silent, visibly uncomfortable and unable to make eye contact with his daughters. It’s a point of humor that nudges the audience to think about why he might respond like that.
“It’s that loss of innocence,” Hullett reflects on his reaction. “Sam, our actor, came from a sex-positive household. He was surprised at the dad’s reaction.”
When asked if the dad may have responded differently if the triplets were boys, Hullett laughs and confirms, “Probably.”
But Hullett isn’t vilifying the father; she’s reflecting on a larger culture that makes conversations like these uncomfortable. “I come from a small town,” she explains. “My parents were doing their best. It came from a place of trying to do the right thing.”
For anyone from a similar small town, the characters in the short are all too familiar. The casting is perfect in this sense. Jill Remez portrays Gwen, one of the first characters the audience meets. Gwen insists to a group of women that talking to your kids about sex at 8 years old is the latest they should do it. Thus instilling a fear that the longer they wait, the more likely someone else will “corrupt” them. Remez perfectly embodies Gwen, remaining light-hearted in her performance despite the character expertly creating fear around the mundane.
More difficult to cast, however, were the triplets. The production needed three young actresses who could portray that confused, embarrassed reaction of learning where they came from. Hullett worked with casting director Meghan Apostoles, whom she met on Yes, God, Yes. Hullett describes telling Apostoles she immediately wanted to cast Murphy Katrina, who represents how Hullett herself reacted during “the talk.”
“Norah understood the feeling of the world being one way and discovering that it’s not that way at all,” explains Hullett. (Katrina is the most disgusted out of all her sisters.) “It was meant to be.”
Birds, Bees, & Threes is a hilarious must-watch. Hullett’s writing should remain on the radar. Even if you didn’t grow up in a small-town Christian household, anyone can laugh at and relate to Birds, Bees, & Threes. The short reflects something we all share: the discomfort of growing up and having a conversation we all experience at least once.