Plucky 'Broncos': Jared and Jerusha Hess on Gentlemen Broncos

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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jared Hess, 30, and Jerusha Hess, 29, met in film class at Brigham Young University and together wrote a little independent movie called Napoleon Dynamite, which Jared directed. Released in 2004, the movie was a once in a lifetime success story, earning a genuine cult following and inspiring a generation of dialogue-quoters and "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt wearers. Hollywood loved it too, and it wasn't long before the Hesses were in charge of the bigger budgeted Nacho Libre (2006). Despite considerably less flattering reviews, the film went on to gross over $80 million, more than doubling its production budget.

Both films contained the same kind of off-kilter rhythms and dry, almost-but-not-quite cruel humor that fans seem to love. Their new film, Gentlemen Broncos (opening Oct. 30 and Nov. 6), is more complex in the plot department but still hangs onto these unique rhythms. Michael Angarano stars as Benjamin, a home-schooled teen who is also a burgeoning sci-fi writer. His widowed mom (Jennifer Coolidge) sends him to a writer's camp, where he submits his manuscript, an epic called Yeast Lords, to a contest to be judged by his hero, published author Ronald Chevalier (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement). Lacking in new material, Chevalier senses the greatness of Yeast Lords and steals it for himself. Meanwhile, Benjamin's new friends Tabatha (Halley Feiffer, daughter of cartoonist/playwright Jules) and Lonnie (Héctor Jiménez) offer to make a low-budget film of the manuscript; Benjamin watches as they makes a royal hash out of it. We also see "footage" from the "real" Yeast Lords, played out as a slightly more expensive sci-fi epic starring Sam Rockwell as hero "Bronco."

The Hesses recently journeyed to San Francisco and took time out to sit down with GreenCine for a discussion about the film.

Let's start with the title. Where did "Gentlemen Broncos" come from?

Jared Hess: The title came from a child-rearing book called, "So You Want to Raise a Boy" that my mom had.

Jerusha Hess: That both of our mothers had.

Jared: I come from a family of six boys and she has seven brothers, and is the only girl.

Jerusha: They needed the book.

Jared: So it was like this old book that this guy wrote, and he refers to each adolescent stage.

Jerusha: There was one, "Freewheeling at 15" about getting your license. You're so excited to drive.

Jared: And in one chapter there was one called the "gentlemen bronco."

Jerusha: And that stage is when boys get their... when their "man spread" starts to come in, they take off their shirts and strut around.

That never happened to me, that stage.

Jared: It was just this guy's theory. The book was written in the 1950s. Not with my body. I didn't do that at all.

There was something very briefly in the movie about home schooling. Is that a theme?

Jared: Yeah. Totally. We don't spend too much time on it obviously. I grew up with friends that were home-schooled, and we're actually right now home-schooling our kid because we travel so much.

Jerusha: We gently poke fun at home-schooling. We're such fans and supporters of it, but there is a stigma, and it's a funny stigma.

The stigma is that they're socially repressed because they don't have anybody to play with?

Jared: Exactly. They don't have any social skills...

Jerusha: But they're really smart. They might be wiping their bums with cut-up sheets. Jared's home-school friends growing up, they were a big eco family. They had rolled up little sheets in a basket.

Jared: It was weird. They would wash 'em, but they wouldn't bleach 'em. It was sick. I don't know, man.

Jerusha: That was a real side point. I'm sorry.

Jerusha and Jered Hess at a Q&A in L.A.

Okay, moving on...What were the benefits of shooting at home, in Utah?

Jerusha: We got to go home and have dinner every night. We also provided work for a lot of locals. They loved it. Some of them told us that they would have done it for free.

I laughed a lot during the movie, and was trying to figure out how to describe the quality of your writing. The best I can come up with is that you like stuff that you yourselves find funny. For example, there's a scene on the bus in which Tabatha asks Benjamin to massage her hands, and then Lonnie starts moaning in her ear for no reason!

Jared: That scene is something that kind of happened to me.

Jerusha: You didn't have the moaning.

Jared: Well... I had the ear blowing. It's all very autobiographical. I was going from Idaho to a Shakespearian festival in Southern Utah with a bunch of thespians. I didn't know too many people; I had just moved into town. I was sitting next to this girl and this guy and that started to happen. She didn't ask me to massage her hand or anything, but there was blowing in the ear and weird crap. The kind of crap that happens in the back of band busses.

Jerusha: So she blew in your ear?

Jared: No she didn't blow in my ear, he blew in her ear. And then everyone thought I was weird because I was part of this ménage-a-tois. Just because they were sitting by me. And so that's where that comes from. It's very autobiographical.

Even so, it's a gift to be able to take the stuff you've heard in real life and be able to translate it so that it sounds like movie dialogue, and that it's funny.

Jerusha: And then string it along so that they work in a story. I don't know how to do that very well!

We hear it. We hear the rhythm of it. We know that this line is funny if you take out this word. I think it's a rhythmic thing.

Jared: Part of it ends up being direct transcripts of family members or things that have happened to our family members... it's not scientific.

Jerusha: I think we are pretty smart, Jared. I'm trying to get that out there.

Jared: No. We just remember the details that are important to us.

Jerusha: Jared's got a real humility schtick going.


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