This Labor Day weekend select audiences around the country will take a peek into the mind of the Ewing brothers. Their debut feature, The Last Flight of the Champion, is a surreal sci-fi animated comedy for all ages.
The film tells the story of Neddie Nerfhoffer, a talking alien resembling a turtle living on the planet Civis 3 which is currently at war with the evil General Disdain. After being rejected by the Galactic Peace Cadets he goes off on a quest to start his own army and take on Disdain himself. With his band of misfits they enter dangerous territory and prove that everyone can do something if they put their minds to it. Press Pass LA had the chance to sit down with Eric Ewing, the writer and director the film to discuss some of the more surreal aspects of the movie and how he brought it to the big screen
PPLA: The story seems very eclectic and off the wall, what was your inspiration?
EE: Honestly, inspiration came from a lot of different places. It’s largely an amalgam of several different experiences. I’ve always considered it a bit of a pastiche on the classic soft-puppet stories I grew up watching as a kid, which also informed the designs of the characters themselves. I deliberately designed them to look like they had ping-pong ball eyes and so on to evoke this style. Although the thing that I think inspired me the most from those movies was that in those films, you had a very real world occupied by real people and then there were these puppets of “animals and chickens and things” existing beside them, and everyone in that reality treated it like it was the most natural thing in the world. That bizarre dichotomy of the unreal, alongside the real, has always fascinated me and was something we tried to capture here. Of course, our love of science fiction and adventure carried it the rest of the way. My brother is a big Star Trek fan and that shows up here. However, my taste in sci-fi has always leaned toward the old sword and planet stuff; the space opera stuff. In those stories, the rules of science and reality mattered less than the story – story was king. Despite all of that, our chief goal was simply to be funny.
PPLA: Was it always intended to be animated?
EE: It was. Thinking about it now, my background initially was live action and I’ve written live-action stuff that I’ve since re-imagined as animation, much to the benefit of the material, but this one was always animated. And it was always going to be animated with those goofy round eyes and colorful jump-suits.
PPLA: Are you currently working on any more projects?
EE: I have two in the works. A finished screenplay that I’ve been developing with my core team, about a birthday party magician who is immortal and performs actual magic. He teams up with a young boy to save the boy’s family from his mother’s new boyfriend (who just happens to be a sorcerer himself). And a swords-and-sorcery story that I’ve been working on forever. I’m reworking that screenplay and have done character and environment designs for it at the moment. Our website has some images from these that were used to get the projects started, but those images are very bare bones. They are like more concept notes and were built in the very, very early stages of development (in fact one of them is just a photo-chop intended as a proof-of-concept). We’ve since gone back and tweaked the models and improved the technology behind them to give it a much better look than those early samples indicate. I’m very happy with the direction these projects are going in now and can’t wait to share them. We’ll probably post some of the new images very soon.
PPLA: What are your dream projects?
EE: I hope I get to have a career long enough to actually develop my dream projects. I’ve always had my head in the clouds a bit when it comes to story-telling. I’ve just got a big mental-notebook and (several actual ones) that I fill up with story ideas and bits and characters, and as we decide where to go next and what to work on, I’ve typically already been writing something. Every time an idea sits baking in my head long enough to be considered interesting enough for me to want to work on, I just add it to the notebook. I may not live long enough to do them all, but if something interests me enough, I’ll pursue it. I guess the takeaway is that I’m content to work on my own properties. If the opportunity to work on somebody else’s comes along, I’ll probably jump at it, but my dream projects are based on my brother’s and my ideas, and those are rooted in fantasy and science-fiction.
PPLA: Otto is by far one of the most eclectic of the bunch, how did you come up with him?
EE: He started, I believe, as a drawing. Then during the writing process, he became the most fully real inside my head. He’s definitely my favorite (if you can have a favorite kid). I do voices and mimicry and so as I was drawing him, I started doing the voice and it clicked and he became an actual figment of my imagination. Writing bits with Otto in them became easy and a little surreal. He would simply tell my brother and I what to write. I’d listen to him and know what he wanted to say, so basically writing him was like taking dictation. It was like that for all of them really, but Otto became something special. In retrospect, it was probably after Dave Harlin brought him to life. He and I became good friends during the production, and he is one of the funniest and most talented guys you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Dave just became Otto. After hearing Dave perform him the first time, my brother and I just kept writing new material and even brought him back in later to re-record a new scene. When I think about coming back to these characters, it’s definitely Otto that makes me want to do it. My brother and I developed a series-bible for a show based on these characters and the funniest stuff was usually his.
The Last Flight of the Champion will open in movie theaters on Saturday, Aug. 30, in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa, Jacksonville, Denver, Kansas City, and Atlanta.
For more information, visit The Last Flight of the Champion