Interview: ‘Hailey’s On It!’ Creators Devin Bunje and Nick Stanton Talk Balancing Sci-Fi and Reality, What to Expect From the Series, and More


This weekend, June 8, Disney is welcoming Hailey’s On It! to its programming. The new animated series follows its title character Hailey (Auli’i Cravalho), a risk-averse teenager on a quest to complete every item on her lengthy to-do list. Though the tasks are often outside of Hailey’s comfort zone, she’s determined to check off each and every one – the fate of the world depends on it. So, with the help of her best friend Scott (Manny Jacinto) and an AI named Beta (Gary Anthony Williams), Hailey begins to welcome the challenge and works to conquer her fears.

Ahead of the show’s debut, we had the opportunity to talk with series creators and executive producers Devin Bunje and Nick Stanton about working on the series. The duo has worked on a number of projects together across the live action and animated spaces. In live action, they’re known for series such as Zeke and Luther, Prince of Peoria, and Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything. They also wrote for animated shows including Phineas and Ferb, The Emperor’s New School, and Brandy & Mr. Whiskers.

Note: This interview was edited for clarity.

Nerds & Beyond: Before we get into it, I just want to say congratulations on this show! I had the chance to watch the first few episodes, and it’s so great. I can’t wait for people to see it. Can you tell me a bit about where the idea for the series came from?

Nick Stanton: It started with an idea just for a scene, and a version of that scene ended up in the first episode. It was this idea of a crazed professor coming from the future, and she’s got something important to say to Hailey, our main character, and she’s rushing to say it. But the scene that we had in mind was like their conversation just keeps getting sidetracked, and they keep going on tangents, and they never can really get the information out.

So, we were pitching little lines of dialogue. From that we kind of built out a world. Who’s this girl? We came up with this character of Hailey, and then we thought, well she would have this next-door neighbor, and it’s her best friend, and they might be more than friends. Scott Denoga is our other lead, and we just kind of built it from there. It was just like putting pieces of the puzzle together. But it all came from that first scene, which there’s a version of in in the first episode.

Nerds & Beyond: Going off of something you just mentioned with Scott, so far we’ve already seen some of these really great character dynamics between [Hailey] and Scott, and also Hailey and her dad. How else can we expect to see some of those relationships grow and evolve throughout the course of the show?

Devin Bunje: That’s sort of going to be the main thrust for most of the first season and beyond. There’s a number of different complications that come in and change things, both on Hailey’s side and Scott’s side. Their feelings will sort of grow and change all along the way. And then we spend even more time with Hailey’s dad. We have several episodes with Hailey’s mom – who’s played by Julie Bowen – where they sort of get closer. And Scott’s family is a really fun family as well that we’ll get to know.

So, we wanted to do all of that. We really liked the idea of each episode can stand on its own. They usually have a fun little list item and something that gets accomplished, but there is also a story arc that takes us through the season, and things change. It’s not always reset at the end of the episode. Like Christine and Scott dating is something that changes for a little bit. And Hailey’s feelings toward Christine are pretty harsh in the beginning, but even that relationship kind of grows and changes a number of times over the first season, which is just really fun. We like treating it like real life, where everybody grows and kind of changes themselves.


Nerds & Beyond: As we know, Hailey is quite the risk-averse teen. It was so interesting to see how she has all of these anxieties play out on screen, especially because many of the tasks she has to complete require her to step completely out of her comfort zone. Why was it important for you to show both sides of that, and her approach in tackling new and scary things?

Nick Stanton: Yeah, good question. I think it was because we really wanted it to be a journey. Like Devin was saying, this isn’t – we do stand-alone episodes, but we don’t necessarily reset every episode. So, it was sort of an exercise in in opposites. How does this girl – who is sometimes unsure of herself. She can be awkward. She has moments of anxiety, but we know that she’s going to accomplish these great things in the future. So, how do we get from point A to point B, and how does her character evolve out of that was just a really interesting journey for us. You see a lot of adult TV shows – [like] Breaking Bad. It’s the mild-mannered teacher who turns into this drug lord. We’re kind of doing the opposite, where she’s becoming this great person. But it was interesting to us how is she going to grow throughout the course of the season.

Devin Bunje: We also really like the takeaway of anyone can make a difference. It’s not just the person that you would assume is confident and capable. It’s [that] anybody can actually do great things.

Nerds & Beyond: Something else I really love about this show is how it feels very big yet very grounded. Hailey is working towards this extremely important goal, and because of that, we see a lot of sci-fi elements come into play. But the show still feels very accessible and very relatable to viewers. How did you approach balancing the bigger sci-fi elements with the reality in a believable way?

Devin Bunje: Honestly, that was our goal. That was sort of by design. When we were developing the show at the beginning, we sat down and thought about a lot of the shows and movies that we liked growing up. We realized a lot of them had really ordinary characters who were then thrown into these extraordinary circumstances, which we just thought always made for a really fun experience. Because not only do you relate to that person, but you can kind of fantasize about how you would act or how they would act in these in these crazy things. Movies like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when we were kids. I’d even say Futurama, the show, even though that takes place in the future. But those kinds of things, where somebody who’s very relatable and ordinary – [that] you call normal – is thrust into these bananas situations. We just think that both adds to the show and to the comedy.

Nerds & Beyond: Pivoting just a bit, this is the first animated series you both have created and executive produced. Can you talk a little bit about your journey in taking on bigger roles within animation? What were some of the biggest differences you noticed working in that capacity for an animated show versus a live action show?

Nick Stanton: We love working in both. Animation is great, and live action, we’ve had great experiences there too. The big advantage in animation is just the world is opened up so much, because you could tell bigger stories and crazier stories, and you can go so many different places. The one drawback in animation I’ll say – our last show was a multi-camera sitcom that was filmed in front of a live studio audience. So, if a joke wasn’t working or if it was working, you would get this immediate feedback. We had a whole audience letting [us] know if something was working. In animation, the process is just so much longer. The footage sometimes doesn’t come back, doesn’t get animated for months, and you don’t quite get that immediate feedback. But we tried to approximate it as much as possible, like doing table reads with our writers. I would even screen animatics for my kids, and if they laughed at something, well, we knew that we were on the right track. So, I would say that was the biggest difference for us.


Nerds & Beyond: You mentioned a couple things already, especially with the character relationships and Hailey’s journey. But what else can viewers expect from the series in a more general sense?

Devin Bunje: A lot of fun, a lot of adventure, a lot of heart, and all sorts of twists and turns. It doesn’t go – I don’t think it goes anywhere you would expect, but it’s also not formulaic or repetitive in any way. Even though she’s always got a list item to do, sometimes the episodes aren’t about that at all.

We have one episode where the goal was just to spend all your old gift cards, which seems like a fun – her and Scott are like, “Sweet, shopping spree.” But they quickly realize that 1) they can’t spend it because the butter burger in town closed, and the only one left is in Flagstaff. So, it becomes a road trip episode where Christine joins the ride, and now it’s a kind of three’s a crowd kind of vibe for this trip to the desert. The whole story ends up being that weird dynamic of the three of them trying to figure out how they’re going to move forward. So, that’s the kind of thing we really like, is that while we always have these fun stories, sort of story starters with the list, it can go to all sorts of different, fun places.

Nerds & Beyond: My final question for you today, what are you most proud of with this show and the story that you’re telling with Hailey?

Nick Stanton: I think that it’s a story about [how] anybody can make a difference in the world. It’s this girl who’s doing these small things but is definitely destined for greatness. That’s something that we wanted to really hit home. We tried to just build a positive world, where one of the themes is it’s a world worth fighting for. So, that informs the design and even our choices with color. But we just wanted it to be like a happy show. There’s just a lot of turmoil in the world, and it’s a crazy place, but we wanted our world that we built to be one that is fun, and a place where kids would want to spend a half hour living in.

Hailey’s On It! premieres Thursday, June 8, on Disney Channel and Disney XD, streaming next day on Disney+. Watch a clip from the show below:

Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.

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