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Writer-director of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE Jared Hess

(I was there on January 17, 2004 when NAPOLEON DYNAMITE had its first public screening at the Sundance Film Festival. I loved the film, couldn't believe it only cost sum $200K to make. It was well written, funny, and became a classic. Well,since then a lot has changed. Unfortunately the interviewer for my site, Daniel Robert Epstein has since passed away. My site, SU, has underwent a lot of changes and I personally have as well. Anyway, since we could not post this on the 17th due to our site being down, here it is the 10 year anniversary of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE at Sundance! -- Christopher Wehner)


Napoleon Dynamite co-writer/director Jared Hess used so much of his real family's events in his movie that even his mother called him on revealing their secrets. It's a good thing he comes from a Mormon family of six sons because I want to see more movies like Napoleon Dynamite so he needs more material. Perhaps after he starts his own huge family with his co-writer/wife Jerusha he will have even more stories.

Before it's release Napoleon Dynamite had already garnered a huge cult following. There are dozens of websites devoted to its star, Jon Heder, and to the film itself. Also when a film that only cost $200,000 gets nominated for the Grand Jury Prize it's a big deal.

From Preston, Idaho comes Napoleon Dynamite [Jon Heder] who spends his days drawing mythical beasts, fighting with his 32-year-old brother Kip [played by Aaron Ruell] and avoiding his creepy Uncle Rico [played by Jon Gries]. But Napoleon and his two new friends launch a campaign to elect one of them for class president. But for that to happen Napoleon will have to unleash his secret weapon.

Daniel Robert Epstein: Did you set out specifically to write a cult movie?

Jared Hess: No, I just wanted to do the type of comedy that I always wanted to see. I had never seen a real true underdog drawing unicorns in class like I used to. I think, more than anything, it was me being able to look back on how awkward I was in high school and being able to laugh about it. I did wear moon boots and Hammer pants to school one time, which was pretty dorky.

DRE: What was the process for writing the script?

JH: We wrote it with both, Jerusha and I, at the computer. We would sit down and brainstorm but we were film students so we didn't have a lot time. I would also jot down stuff on pieces of paper and she would organize them.

DRE: How did you and Jerusha work on the script together?

JH: It was very difficult. We are both very different creatively. We would have our moments and she would say to me, "“Jared, you think all my ideas suck, don't you?" Then I would be sleeping on the couch that night. But ultimately with a writing partner you tend to settle less for mediocre ideas, which raises the bar on content. We plan to write together again.

DRE: Did you two work separately on each scene or together?

JH: I'd write a scene and then Jerusha ended being the female voice in the film. All the stuff you see with Deb [Tina Majorino] is kind of her. When Napoleon rubs her shirt and says," Your sleeves are real big".That actually happened to Jerusha. She is a very linear thinker so she helped a lot with the structure of the film but we wrote it from the ground up.

DRE: You come from a very conservative Mormon area so did that get into the film?

JH: I don't feel there is any Mormon culture in the film. I come from a family of six boys, which are very competitive. So a lot of the things that happen in the film are direct transcripts of conversations I had with my brothers. I did get a phone call from one of my brothers that went, "“Is Mom there?” No, she's getting her hair done “Uh, can you bring me my chapstick?" We weren't allowed to swear growing up so we came up with creative alternatives like Dang and Flip which is more interesting than a movie filled with F-bombs.

DRE: What else is from real life?

JH: The cow getting shot in front of the school bus did happen. We were raising a cow for beef but it grew horns and got really feisty so my mom said we should butcher it for steaks. So they called the local farmer and he came over in the morning while my brothers were waiting for their elementary school bus. Just as the bus pulled up the guy pulled the trigger and all the kids saw it and started crying. Also the llama you see in the film is my mom's actual llama named Dolly.

DRE: Is Napoleon's older brother’s obsession with chat room's from real life?


JH: No, I just saw a lot of funny daytime shows where people meet their chat room lovers for the first time and they are always surprised. Also I thought it would be really see the older brother, Kip, get a little more urban after he meets his online girlfriend. Kip is not the type of guy you would ever imagine going, "Peace out."

DRE: Who is he based on?

JH: A really good friend of mine. That same friend's brother actually did buy a time machine online, like Napoleon's Uncle Rico did, from a guy in Florida. The one that we had in the film actually looked better than the real one. The guy that built it sent him four or five ten-dollar bills from different time periods so he could buy stuff when he time traveled.

DRE: How much input did Jon Heder have into the script?

JH: Well we had done the short film Peluca, which had the same main character and that helped us define the details of the character.

DRE: Do you feel like you've reduced the whole state of Idaho to geekdom?

JH: [laughs] No, the community helped us out so much. These characters are fictitious and in their own world. I wrote this film specifically to be done in my hometown because I knew if we had to do it on a low budget, which we did, certain locations and resources would be available.

DRE: What did the community think of the way you poke fun at the locals?

JH: The people there have a great sense of humor and they totally understand that this is a fictional comedy. It's not based on any particular person. I don't feel it's based on stereotypes or anything like that. A few of the locals who worked on the film have seen it and thought it was a hoot.

DRE: What does your family think of the film?

JH: My mom saw the film and she said, “That was a lot of embarrassing family material.” My brother, James who called me about the chapstick, is older now so he is able to look back on it and laugh. He thinks he was a big idiot back then.

DRE: The movie reminded me very of Wes Anderson's first feature, Bottle Rocket, because both these films seemed like every single thing from the production design to the way people moved was very specific. Was that on purpose?

JH: We tried to show up and shoot but we had a really good production designer who did a good job gathering the materials. He built the Huffy Sledgehammer, which was like a bike I had when I was a kid. We just did the best we could with the low budget we had.

DRE: Did you watch any movies for inspiration?

JH: Not really. I am a fan of so many films and filmmakers but I didn't try to pattern it after any specific films. But my favorite comedy of all time is Raising Arizona, which is a perfect film.

DRE: What were you like growing up?

JH: We moved around a lot but I ended up finishing my high school years in Preston Idaho. I was kind of always the new kid so I felt like an outsider a lot.

DRE: Will your next film be different because you have a young son now?

JH: [laughs] Like Kevin Smith's last movie? My next film is about some older dude's in their 30's and 40's. I have a first look deal with Fox so I won't have to shake down any more family members for money.

DRE: Have you met any of the rabid fans?

JH: I haven't yet but I had enough of that at Sundance.

DRE: Will your short film Peluca be released?

JH: It's going to be on the Napoleon Dynamite DVD.

DRE: Will you be translating Napoleon Dynamite into any other mediums?

JH: I think it would make a great cartoon. The guy who did our storyboards did them in a King of the Hill style. They would also translate very well into a TV show because the characters are so defined that you could find a lot of varied scenarios for them that could hold a couple of seasons worth of stuff.



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