Writing and producing partners Jared and Jerusha Hess, who are also husband and wife, have made a career out of championing the underdog. With their quirky sense of humor and their inspiration from the unlikeliest of places, the duo’s success with “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre” have carved them a niche in Hollywood that they are quite happy with.
At the press day for “Gentlemen Broncos”, the Hesses talked about working with special effects for the first time and assembling the cast for this film about an outsider with big dreams trying to achieve what he wants to do in life. Continued after the jump:
Jared: The title of the film comes from my mom, who had this really weird parenting book when I was growing up. I have five younger brothers, and it was this book, called So You Want to Raise a Boy?, written in the ’50’s. There’s a chapter in there where it talks about the age from 16 to 17 and the author referred to it as the gentlemen bronco phase of life, where teenage boys like to take their shirts off and mow the lawn.
Were you both able to identify with Benjamin Purvis?
Jared: Yeah, definitely. A lot of the things that happened to Benjamin, in the film, happened to me, other than the plagiarism thing. We used that as a device to see the different bastardized versions of his work.
Jerusha: The mother is very much like both of our mothers.
Do you really make out to celebrate when something works in the scriptwriting process?
Jared: I wish that would happen.
Jerusha: I don’t know what Jared is saying. It totally happens that way. He’s just being shy right now. Every time something good is written, he’s like, “Hey, baby!” I think his mind just goes numb, at that point, and he wants to stop working for the day.
Jared: Jerusha will be like, “That was not good. You can’t stop working for the day.”
Are you both sci-fi fans?
Jared: I’m a big sci-fi fan. All my favorite movies, growing up, were science fiction. I actually really wanted to be a special effects dude, working for Industrial Light & Magic, or something, so a lot of my first movies were really lame. The Yeast Lords movie that Lonnie Donaho (Hector Jimenez) makes is an accurate representation of my early works.
Jerusha: I’m not the big sci-fi fan, like Jared is, but I do like my “Battlestar Galactica.”
How did you guys meet?
Jerusha: Kip (Aaron Ruell) from Napoleon Dynamite introduced us. He’s a good friend.
Are you guys predictable with one another, since you’ve worked together for so many years now?
Jared: I can’t predict what she’s going to say, but I think she can predict every single dumb idea that I bring to the table.
Jerusha: Every time.
Jerusha, do you ever want to get involved with directing, when you’re so involved with the writing process for these films?
Jerusha: I’m so find with Jared being the director. I love having my little stamp on it, in the beginning, but he’s such a great director. I know what it’s going to be and I trust him completely. I’m not even on set the whole time, but when I’m on set, I often whisper in his ear.
Jared: When I’m about to do something real dumb.
Jerusha: No. He never does anything dumb. I’ll just whisper, “Hey, maybe you should change the line to this?”
How did you end up casting Michael Angarano in this?
Jared: The first time that I had seen Michael Angarano was in Snow Angels, and he’s a very convincing, really genuine person. He really brought the character to life in the way that we had seen him. For a lot of the other characters, we knew people that we wanted to work with. We knew that we wanted Jennifer [Coolidge] to play the mom, and we knew that Mike White would be Dusty, but we had no idea who was going to play the main character of the movie. Michael came to the audition and just really was effortless. He did a great job.
What made you think of Sam Rockwell to play Bronco and Brutus?
Jared: I’m a big fan of all of Sam’s films, like Galaxy Quest and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And, he was so funny in that Brad Pitt movie about Jesse James. That’s a dark movie, but he’s funny as crap in that movie.
How much input did he have into those roles, or were they written that way?
Jared: We wanted Bronco to be this super-macho cowboy of the Yeast Lords world. Just to make the distinction, we wanted to have something completely different and opposite that Chavelier had created. Initially, we didn’t know if we were going to have Sam play Brutus, but he was like, “I wanna do it, man. I wanna do both.” He’s one of the few people that could have pulled it off like that. If we hadn’t cast Sam as Bronco, we probably would have had two different people playing those roles.
Is this film perpetuating the stereotype of sci-fi fans, or is it paying homage to their passion?
Jared: To me, it’s a love fest. We tried to populate the film with genuine science fiction fans. In the Q&A scene with Benjamin, the guy that asks Dr. Chavelier about Gorgana’s lullaby, from the Cyborg Harpie novels, is named Steve Burg. He is awesome. After we were done shooting, he gave me one of the original screenplays for the movie Krull. His goal for that year was to read every Phillip K. Dick novel. Everything was done with affection, but there are some characters that are quite funny.
Jerusha: We’re paying homage to this group of people, but we made a crappy sci-fi and we want them to enjoy it for its crappiness. Hopefully, they’ll laugh a bit and not take it too seriously.
Do you like crappy sci-fi?
Jared: Absolutely! I love it all. I don’t want to call it crappy, but I love the ones that are made with limited resources, like Turkish Star Wars. That is mind-blowing. I think there’s clips of it on YouTube, but I own a DVD of it. The training sequence in that film might be the best training sequence ever put on film. It was made in Turkey, probably 20 years after the original came out. The main guys are fairly well-known Turkish actors and they would project scenes from Star Wars, like the Death Star, while they were sitting with a helmet on a chair, speaking Turkish. And then, there are really weird sequences where it looks like they’re beating up characters from “Sesame Street.” It’s pretty unbelievable.
Jerusha: You can see our real love in the opening credit sequence where we got to peruse all these great sci-fi novel covers. That’s what we really like.
What made you decide to use the song “In the Year 2525”?
Jared: Jerusha had heard it on the radio, when we first started dating.
Jerusha: I heard it 10 years ago.
Jerusha: I’d sing it to him and he’d be like, “That’s not a song. I don’t know what that is.”
Jared: But, Randy Poster, our music supervisor, sent us the song and it worked. He was like, “I think this is going to be great for the movie.” It was a lot of fun. And then, I played it for Jerusha and she was like, “I told you!”
Do you feel like the studios have typecast you now, for the type of films that you do?
Jared: That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure, if we ever wanted to direct a really sad drama, they’d probably be like, “What?”
Jerusha: You’d think, by now, they’d be used to us.
Jared: I’m sure we’d be met with some eyebrows raised. Maybe we just need time to prove them otherwise.
Being writers and artists in this industry, how do you deal with plagiarism? What’s your general attitude toward it?
Jared: We haven’t ever dealt with it. We just thought it would be a funny device and a way to be able to see the different perspective on the kid’s work in the film, and see how plagiarism ultimately results in sadness.
Jerusha: I think I like plagiarism. It gets funnier and funnier.
How did you decide to cast Jemaine Clement?
Jared: We were fans of the show (“Flight of the Concords”). We didn’t know if we’d be able to work with him, just because most TV people are really busy, but we sent him the script and he was like, “Yeah, man, I’m into it. I’ll do whatever you want.” He wanted to play the guy as an American, but we said, “Check out Logan’s Run. I wanna hear you try to do Michael York’s voice.” And, that was it.
Did the role change at all, after he was cast?
Jared: One of the funnier scenes in the film, where he’s doing the writers workshop, was actually going to be played by an unknown actor. But, when he came on board, we were like, “Jemaine should give that workshop. It will be a lot funnier.”
Jared: We said, “We’ve got Sam Rockwell,” and he was like, “Oh, yeah, he’ll be way better than me, man.”
Is this the first time you’ve done any special effects?
Jared: Yeah. I wanted to be a special effects dude as a kid, so being able to do that on the film was fun. We used a lot of models and tried to do as much in-camera as we could. That has a little more comedic charm than doing all of the CG stuff that you have now. It was fun to see the awkward deer’s legs that didn’t move at all. It was a lot of fun.
Jerusha: When I saw the effects, I was like, “Oh, my gosh. How can we write these out?”
And, you had a real bobcat?
Jared: The bobcat was real.
Jerusha: It was partially real.
Jared: That cat actually had a larger role on paper, but we could not get that sucker to do anything. It was trained with cell phone beeps. They’d put a big thing of cat food on a phone and make it ring. So, while we were shooting, a grips phone went off and the cat turned and looked at him. We were really lucky, after it was munching on the gonad in the desert scene, that cat ran off for four hours. We were at the Great Salt Lake and they were like, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” They couldn’t get it to do anything. So, we actually had a dummy that we threw through the window, when it lands on the guy. I wanted it to look real, but then I thought, “Dude, embrace the cheese.”
How was it to work with the snake?
Jared: One year, when I was at scout camp at 14, a buddy of mine had gone into the woods and caught this black rat snake. He was showing it off, right before a Court of Honor, where you get all dressed up and get your merit badges. He was like, “Yeah, I caught this in the woods. It’s so awesome.” And then, it crapped all over him. I didn’t even know that snakes had a butt. I thought that they just barfed, or something.
Why will the audience that embraced Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre embrace this?
Jared: A common theme in all of our films is the idea of an outsider with big dreams trying to achieve what he wants to do in life, with limited social skills or means. We’ve really tried to stay true to our inspirations, from film to film. Most of our inspirations come from family members, people that we’ve grown up with or people that we know on an intimate level. For us, as artists, staying true to what originally inspired us and the things that we’re passionate about, we’ve definitely done in this film and that’s the most that anybody can hope for. The fans of Napoleon will definitely like this film.
Jerusha: We make these movies about underdogs, and that’s the one common through-line between all the films. We have a different audience for Nacho than we did for Napoleon, but this film is definitely going to grab the Napoleon audience again. I think they’ll be excited.
Do you target a cult audience?
Jared: Not really. With Napoleon and the cult status that it’s taken, you can’t anticipate that. You just try to make the film that you’ve always wanted to see, and the monster that it becomes is out of your control. But, I don’t know if anybody ever goes into it thinking, “I want to make a cult film.” We definitely don’t do that at all. We just want to make films about the people that we’re interested in and the stories that inspire us.
What will be on the DVD that wasn’t in the film?
Jared: There’s a very good outtake reel.
Jerusha: There’s an outtake of Jennifer Coolidge doing 14 lines of the same thing, talking about a dress that she’s designed, that’s pretty funny.
Jared: It was actually for a montage sequence in the film, so you don’t hear a voice, but she is so funny. There are some good nuggets. A lot of my favorite scenes that didn’t end up in the film are on the DVD. There’s a part of the final battle scene with a funny dialogue between Bronco and Daysius having a stand-off on their battle stags, hovering in the air. That’s a real funny scene that I wish we could have kept.
Are you finding it harder or easier to make independent films, in this day and age?
Jared: I think the economy has affected every level of film production, both independent and at the studio level.
Jerusha: It seems like independent has an edge, though, since we can keep the budgets down.
Jared: The more filmmakers keep their budgets down, the more creative control they have and the more license they have to cast who they want. The bigger the budget, the more you’ve got to fill it with big names as an insurance policy.
You guys have created this cult of amazingly idiosyncratic characters. What’s the next one?
Jared: We’re probably going to have to go to Wal-Mart a few more times. No, I’m just kidding. It might be at the Hess family Christmas party. We might get some new relatives.
Jerusha: That’s where we got the popcorn idea.
Jared: My grandma had made these popcorn centerpieces that were Christmas trees, but they were with Christmas Captain Crunch that she’d bought 10 years before and it was as hard as a rock. Family members were getting knives and trying to break off pieces because they couldn’t pull any of it off. It was a dangerous weapon. People’s teeth were breaking.
Are you guys currently writing any new projects?
Jerusha: I just wrote a romantic comedy without Jared. He doesn’t have anything to answer to that question.
Jared: I’ve been holding her back, all these years.
Do you have a director in mind?
Jerusha: I’ve asked him. I said, “You know, you would make a lot more directing this than I would.”
Jared: I don’t know if anyone would trust me with a romantic comedy.
Jerusha: It’s heavy on the comedy.
What was it like to write that on your own?
Jerusha: It was fun and fast.
Jared: I’m slow.
Do you find it easier to get actors for your films, now that you have a track record?
Jared: Yeah. Once you have a couple of films under your belt, it’s easier to get actors.
Jerusha: Jared is being humble. People call him, all the time.