Jared Hess: Behind the scenes at filmmaker’s next production in Utah
By Keith Manley on March 12, 2014 @keithmanleyjr
A very tall fellow sporting a long full beard, locks, white shirt, black pants, and hat meandered up a short but steep trail leading to the set. For a split second I had a flashback of living in L.A., eating breakfast at Lulu’s and watching groups of Hasidic Jews walking to synagogue on Shabbat. I looked again because I thought the big guy looked familiar. It was Jared Hess decked out in full costume.
Hess is here in Utah filming his new movie, Don Verdean: Biblical Archeologist. The film is a comedy about an archeologist lured by the promise of cash and fame who falsifies his findings after his mishap filled search for the skull of Goliath. The film stars the likes of Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Will Forte, Danny McBride, and Jemaine Clement and of course, Jared Hess.
Jared was polite and gracious but very focused on the task at hand. I turned to Producer Dave Hunter and with a huge grin said “I have got to interview Jared.” Dave quickly shot me down and with an uncharacteristic seriousness told me that “it would be impossible when Jared is in character. He’s absolutely 1000% focused on what he is doing.”
Hunter was right. Jared quickly took control of the chaos, did some brief coaching and started rolling film. Probability of interview, zero.
Hunter said that “normally, as a producer, I would be all over everybody trying my best to control normal inefficiencies in the film making process, but I have Jared and Jared is running the show. What am I going to tell Hess about staying on schedule and budget? What am I going to tell him about making a movie?” This coming from a guy with 16 films under his belt. Hess seems to successfully manage a balance between perfectionism and efficiency.
Hess is big time. Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. Enough said. Although some would argue that considering his last few projects he may be in a bit of a slump.
Gentleman Broncos, to some, considered one of the strangest films ever made, sits with a 19% rotten tomatoes rating and a paltry worldwide gross of $118k.
Although I personally think the episodes were brilliant, Napoleon Dynamite, the animated T.V. series, was cancelled by Fox after only two months of air time.
Hess has his work cut out for him.
Since Jared was focused and busy, Hunter introduced me to a thin, short haired, strawberry blonde woman chatting with other visitors on set.
It was Jerusha Hess. I was instantly struck by her natural beauty and charm.
Jerusha is very easy to talk to. You kind of feel like you’ve been besties forever. She immediately began the inquisition about who I was and what I was doing there. She was interested and did not in any way come off superficial. She spoke to me the way you interact with someone you want to put at ease.
Jerusha is coming off co-writing and directing Austenland, starring Keri Russell. Although the movie received mixed reviews, the film shows flashes of directorial brilliance. It will be interesting to keep an eye on Jerusha Hess as she navigates her way to more solo projects in the future.
After some playful banter, I fired a couple of questions at her about Don Verdean: Biblical Archeologist. She informed me that she and Jared had been working on the script for about a year, however, the project came together much quicker than expected. Three months quick to be exact. The time was originally scheduled for another project carrying the weight of a big named actor. Said actor ended up having a last minute conflict which pushed Team Hess to reschedule. The time was open so they switched gears to make Don Verdean.
Hess rallied Hunter. Hatfield rallied the production crew. Hunter rallied Andersen to raise the amount necessary to cover the budget.
Sounds easy right?
Despite the smiles in the picture, these guys are stressed and none of them are green to the movie business.
A combination of having reputation on the line, their own and other’s money at risk, long production days/nights, multiple locations, constant meetings, keeping stars happy, closing distribution deals, etc. can take its toll.
Andersen said his son called that morning, crying wondering when he was going to be home. There was a tinge of guilt in his voice as he related the story.
Some may say, “big deal. It’s just a movie.”
I get it.
There are people away from their families, putting their lives on the line with no chance for significant financial upside, who may deserve much more sympathy. I’m not advocating the cause of sympathy for film makers.
My point is that the movie business is not all glitz and glam. The majority of the work is very unsexy and tedious. There are many long, intense hours.
Through it all, some of these folks just do not stop working.
Case in point, Sam Rockwell.
Each time during a break, I would look over to see if I could get some time with Sam.
There wasn’t a chance in hell.
He’d be walking around mapping out a scene, script notebook in his hand, and headphones on listening to his voice coach.
He’s the definition of intense.
All the intensity combined with financial risk and an uncertainty make for an interesting cocktail of anxiety and adrenaline.
Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Rio) summed it up best.
He said, “You can never tell how funny it is going to be… you know… and you try all different ways and different takes… from goofy ones to more serious ones…then leave it up to Jared and the editors to figure out the tone later…it’s really hard when you’re doing one job to see what the risks are going to be…” and Jemaine, in my opinion, is as funny as they come.
Hess and crew will wrap up shooting this week. They’ve filmed on location in St. George, Tooele, Mill Creek, and downtown Salt Lake City.
All Photos credited to: Anna Pocaro Photography