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Sundance Pre-Production: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE Writer/Director Jared Hess

"I'm like totally stylin'..."
by Chris Parry

THE 'NAPOLEON DYNAMITE' PITCH: In his hometown of Preston, Idaho, Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is an awkward teen trying to fit in at his high school. But on the screen, his tight red afro, shiny moon boots and illegal ninja moves make him a star. Napoleon lives with his Grandma (Sandy Martin) and his thirty-year-old, unemployed brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), who has a penchant for internet romances. When Grandma hits the road on her quad, Napoleon and Kipšs meddling Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to town to look after them and ruin their lives. Napoleon is left to impress the chicks at school and help his new best friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) win the election for Student Body President against the far more popular Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff); all the while making sure to feed Grandmašs pet llama Tina, and avoiding association with Uncle Rico and the herbal breast nhancers he sells door to door.

"The misadventures of an awkward Idaho teen."

Q. Will this be your first time at Sundance?
This is the first time I have had a film at Sundance. Last year my short, "Peluca," played in competition at Slamdance.

Q. When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
A film director.

Q. How did you get started in filmmaking?
At age 14, I interned on my first feature as a camera assistant. Since then I have worked crew on many other projects.

Q. How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
Other than the load of phonecalls, not much yet. Life has changed more for my mother, who recently bought a red leather coat from QVC.

Q. When you were shooting the film, did you have Sundance in mind?
Of course. Every filmmaker dreams of getting into Sundance but never expects it.

Q. How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
Because of my short film I was able to get producers and financing for a feature. We spent a year writing the script and the film was shot in 22 days in July 2003.

Q. What's the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Don't compromise your vision.

Q. When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?

Q. Two parter - which actor would you cut off an arm to work with, and which relatively unknown actor on your own film do you want the world to start recognizing sooner rather than later?
There is no one I would be willing to cut off an arm for at this time. I am thrilled to work with the no names. Jon Gries is a talent to be reckoned with.

Q. The festival circuit: what could be improved, and what couldn't be?
Improvements: More tickets for your own show.
Things that can't be improved: the great Sundance publicity.

Q. Have you 'made it' yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say 'yes'?
No way, I've still got a lot of junk to do. I'll say yes when I when I own my own tiger.

Q. A film is made by many people, as well as the director, but often films will open with a credit that says 'a film by'... - Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
No, I did not use that credit in my film. God bless those that do.

Q. If a studio said "we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m" - what film, if any, would you remake?
"Rad." I'm dead serious.

The Sundance Film Guide says: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is a modest film made with a ton of heart, and, like all great comedies, the genius is in the details. Jon Heder gives an awe inspiring performance as the titular character. Writer/director Jared Hess and co-writer wife Jerusha Hess flesh out the world and the characters so brilliantly that it takes multiple viewings to truly savor the magnificence that is NAPOLEON DYNAMITE.

It will screen for the public five times at the festival, and is entered into the Dramatic Competition.

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originally posted: 01/08/04 09:08:10
last updated: 09/23/05 13:34:07
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