Jared Hess: Mormon Filmmaker

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Jared Hess Mormon Filmmaker

Jared Hess is a filmmaker who catapulted to fame with his independent movie Napoleon Dynamite. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hess was born on July 18, 1979, in Glendale, Arizona, and raised in Kansas, Idaho, and Utah, and traveled extensively around the world before he attended Brigham Young University. While at BYU, he learned camera work and, with his wife, Jerusha Hess wrote and directed the short screenplay Peluca that would evolve into Napoleon Dynamite. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures and Paramount Pictures in association with MTV Films, released in 2004, and quickly attracted a cult following that propelled the star Jon Heder into a Hollywood career. It grossed nearly $45 million at the box office and more than $130 million in DVD sales. Hess said that “Napoleon Dynamite” was the name of a man he met on the streets of Cicero, Illinois, while he served as a missionary.[1]

"On my mission in Chicago, an older Italian man said, ‘Hey, church people, I want to talk to you guys. Why do you have the name Elder?' And we're like, ‘Well, it's a title we carry for two years. So what's your name, sir?' And he goes, ‘My name is Napoleon Dynamite.' My mind was blown. Clearly, it wasn't his real name. But I remember writing down on a piece of paper: ‘Title of first movie must be Napoleon Dynamite.'"[2]

Hess explained his inspiration for the film's concept, saying, "Everything in the film is so autobiographical. I grew up in a family of six boys in Preston, Idaho (where the film was shot) and the character of Napoleon was a hybrid of all the most nerdy and awkward parts of me and my brothers growing up."[3]

Hess then developed a second movie, Nacho Libre, and a third, Gentlemen Broncos. Disney hired him to direct The Pet, and he wrote and directed Don Verdean. The movie Masterminds, which he directed. It was announced in May 2015 that he would team with Jack Black again for a comedy titled Micronations.[4] Hess also directed the television series "The Last Man on Earth," which ran for four seasons. He also directed three episodes of "Making History" and one episode of "Son of Zorn."

He also produced an animated Napoleon Dynamite series that lasted from January until May 2012. It was later released on DVD. The Hesses also produced music videos for The Postal Service’s third single, “We Will Become Silhouettes” and the Killers’ fifth annual Christmas charity single “Boots.”

Jared directed the three-part documentary, “Murder Among the Mormons” (2021), about forger Mark Hofmann, and “Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators.”

In early 2024, Jared and Jerusha Hess were surprised when their animated short film "95 Senses" received an Oscar nomination in the category for best animated short. Jerusha said, "this is another stepping stone that we never thought we would get, because we make big dumb comedies."[5]

They also worked on the animated feature film “Thelma the Unicorn,” which hits Netflix later in 2024. Jared is filming “Minecraft,” based on the mega-popular video game, slated for release in theaters in 2025.

“Napoleon Dynamite” returned to the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, running Jan. 18-28 in Park City and Salt Lake City, for its 20th anniversary.

Hess and his wife are the parents of four children and live in Utah.