Exclusive Interview : Cameron Hood & Kyle Jefferson

Clint Morris talks to the “First Flight” directors


Recently, Moviehole was invited to the Dreamworks’ compound in California, where CLINT MORRIS and CLARE BATH got a look at the stunning “First Flight”, a new short film from filmmakers Cameron Hood and Kyle Jefferson. The computer-animated short film that tells the story of a meticulously organized businessman, whose perspective on life is forever changed through an unanticipated encounter with a tiny fledgling bird.

On March 12, 2006, “First Flight” debuted at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, where it was met by an overwhelmingly positive response. The film more recently screened at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In May, it was shown in selected theatres. CLINT MORRIS talks to the directors about the short, and, their future plans.

Where did you get the idea?

CAMERON HOOD : We were working together as animators for a couple years. And then, I think we decided to get together to make a short film back when we were working on “Sinbad.” And we knew that we didn’t have a lot of resources at the time, just two guys doing it. So we decided to kind of create a scenario where, you know, two characters can interact in an environment. And we stumbled upon the scenario of a man teaching a bird how to fly.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Yeah, you know, we determined that we wanted to make a short. We wanted to make a film. And we wanted to play around with the idea of a man breaking out of his shell, or the idea of someone breaking out of their shell. We had a lot of different ideas we were shooting around, some better than others. (LAUGH) And this turned out to be the best one.

Was DreamWorks on board the film from the get-go?

CAMERON HOOD : Well, we initially started doing it in our downtime. We were on “Sinbad.” And we took it to our friends, Pilar Flynn and Maryann Garger. And the two of them ended up attaching themselves as producers while we were still making it on the side. And then, it was July of 2004 that we took it to Jeffrey Katzenberg, and immediately, when he saw it, he got on board, and he said, “let’s go for it.” So, we started making it at DreamWorks full-time.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Yeah, we were doing it in our spare time on “Shark Tale” for quite a while, and Bill Damaschke was really encouraging us while we were on the project to just keep going and kept giving us really good notes. And, you know, it just became fewer and fewer until we got to a point where they kind of just put it in front of Jeffrey.

How’d you go about voice-casting the roles?

CAMERON HOOD : We were fortunate to work with a great Sound Designer, named Mark Binder. And he had two actors that he’d worked with in the past, and he thought they’d be great for casting. Up until that point, Kyle [was] temping as the bird [and] the two of us were always temping as the main character, as the man.

Were there any problems during production?

KYLE JEFFERSON : The biggest challenge was more of a technical challenge. I mean, artistically, we were pretty much on point when we started. We knew what the story we wanted to tell, and we knew how we wanted to tell it. But there’s just always challenges when you’re a small production in a big production house. And, you know, it was a hybrid production using Maya. And, the DreamWorks proprietary software as well. So, there were definitely some technical challenges.

Any other problems?

CAMERON HOOD : We had ambitions to come up with a painterly look. There were some moments where this has become sort of a bigger problem than we anticipated. [But] everything worked itself out [in the end].

Was story always the same story, or did you make a lot of changes?

CAMERON HOOD : Yeah, a lot of really talented people came on board it for one point. [Story artists] Gavin Moran and Claire Morrissey and…

KYLE JEFFERSON : Alessandro [Carloni].

CAMERON HOOD : Alessandro. And, you know, we did a real sort of story, sort of a comedy pass. In our sort of second, pseudo-second act area, and the end where sort, just teaching the birds. Try to make it funny, make it clearer, more straightforward. And that’s just what happens. You just start sort of shaving away what doesn’t work or what’s not totally necessary and pumping up what is necessary, and, yeah, the initial structure always sort of stayed the same. You know, the man is by himself. The bird basically [comes] into his life, pestering him.

CAMERON HOOD : And then, making the choice ultimately, does he stay with this bird and teach it how to fly, or does he go to work onto his life? So that stayed the same as Kyle was mentioning. It just always trust and reevaluated ideas and certain gags and moments. You know?

So, the main idea stayed the same, but little things came in after.

CAMERON HOOD : Yeah.

About how long does it take to do a short like this? ‘Cause obviously you said that, about a year-and-a-half, but…

KYLE JEFFERSON : We were at a year-and-a-half of production at DreamWorks. I think realistically, we were at least a year before DreamWorks. We took probably between two-and-a-half and three years total. From two guys talking over lunch to seeing it up on the movie screen.

What has the reaction been like to the pic?

KYLE JEFFERSON : Really good. Yeah, really seem to like it. It does really well, it’s been doing really well at the festivals. It’s been well reviewed. The studio felt passionately about it to put it before “Over The Hedge” in May.

CAMERON HOOD : Which released in Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York. And we continue to, you know, do the festival circuit and show it where we’re invited.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Yeah, we’ve been able to do different interviews, hearing from people who were seeing it in the theaters on their own or coming in and watching it with us, and they’ve been reacting really well. It’s really a thrill for us when we’re with a big audience and hearing them react to our work. You know, you can kind of step away from it and not look at what you could’ve done. You actually see it work for what it is and how people react. It’s really thrilling.

So, you guys are enjoying how people are reacting to the film?

KYLE JEFFERSON : Oh, absolutely.

Tell me about the music score.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Jim Dooley. James Michael Dooley.

KYLE JEFFERSON : The man. Hans Zimmer is a Music Director, or, I guess, Head Of Music here at DreamWorks, an advisor on every level. He’s worked on a lot of the pictures we’ve done here from the beginning of the studio. And Jim works with Hans at Media Ventures. And he’d done some work on the “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” movie.

CAMERON HOOD : We were fortunate to finally have it brought to Hans and Jim Dooley.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Yeah. And Jim wrote the score and did an amazing job. It became like another writer, another voice for the film.

CAMERON HOOD : Yeah, he was always open to just hanging out with us, you know, and showing us basically progression reels, how things were going. He enabled us to even just spew our musical ideas. And it was very collaborative, but really he just ran with it. It was amazing.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Passionate guy.

CAMERON HOOD : Exactly.

Do you guys feel that the music added to it?

CAMERON HOOD : Absolutely. Sure it did. The music definitely plussed it.

KYLE JEFFERSON : 50% of the film was that music.

CAMERON HOOD : Yeah. Audiences just seem to be really high on it.

Connecting to the music, and then, helping you connect to the film.

CAMERON HOOD : It’s the other kind of writing we were looking for.

Have you ever considered making a First Flight feature?

KYLE JEFFERSON : No. It’s short.

CAMERON HOOD : Yeah, it’s called “Revenge Of The Birds!”

KYLE JEFFERSON : That is the end of the birds and man for now. You may see them in the background of some picture coming up, but definitely not a feature in the works.

Well, what else do you guys have in the works?

CAMERON HOOD : Currently we’re working on consumer products. We’re working on a commercial for Activision, and we’re working on a commercial for McDonald’s. It’s been very exciting to be able to direct those sand see those through.

KYLE JEFFERSON : The first McDonald’s commercial that DreamWorks has been connected to. So, we’re really excited to be part of that.

CAMERON HOOD : And other than that, we’re gonna be working with the development team here to develop new ideas.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Hopefully, making a movie soon.

Last but not least, what is the best thing to eat in the DreamWorks cafeteria?

KYLE JEFFERSON : Liverwurst.

CAMERON HOOD : Do we really have that? (LAUGHS)

KYLE JEFFERSON : Lee makes the best liverwurst. He serves it up just right. Liverwurst is good though. It really is.

CAMERON HOOD : Not for me. I like Bacon Day.

Bacon Day?

KYLE JEFFERSON : They make it on the 14th now, August 14th in honor of my birthday.

Oh, that’s nice of them.

KYLE JEFFERSON : Of everybody. That’s what he said he’s gonna do. I’m waiting.

CAMERON HOOD : We’ll see.

Visit the “First Flight” Official Site Here