Saucy credits garnish high school foodstuff alongside screamingly mundane high school ephemera serving as cringe-worthy currency all the while inducing smile after smile. Aaron Ruell, who also plays Kipland "Kip" Ronald Dynamite, designed the opening credit sequence for Jared and Jerusha Hess' Napoleon Dynamite with the White Stripes' "We're Going to be Friends" easing in childlike qualities.
We had an opportunity to speak with Hess about the unique openings to his films. This week follows on from Gentlemen Broncos, with a discussion on the genesis of the Napoleon title sequence.
A discussion with Director JARED HESS.
Tell us how this sequence came about.
JH: When we made Napoleon it was very low budget and we made the whole thing for under $400,000; when we screened the film at Sundance we did not have an opening title sequence at all - it opened cold. It went from a black screen right to Napoleon standing in front of his house waiting for the school bus, and we had a very basic credit roll at the end of the film.
When we sold the film to Fox Searchlight I remember they test screened the film a couple of different times and one of the silly questions that kept coming up in the focus groups afterwards (adopts voice of Brutus from Gentlemen Broncos) "What year does this take place? I mean it's like everybody's wearing clothes from the 80's and the 90's, yet they have the Internet, I'm really confused." So this question came up a few times and the Fox Searchlight marketing people were like "maybe we could do something to say that this is happening now" because I kept explaining to them that I grew up in a small town in Idaho and that things are more, you know, functional and fashion doesn't matter as much, so those things are very normal.
Jared Hess speaks about the screening process:
For whatever reason people didn't understand that rural way of life, so Fox said "why don't we do an opening title sequence." I wanted it to feel organic and match the film, so 8 months after the film had been completed and before the theatrical release, we shot the title sequence. It's kind of weird, but because they wanted to show that the film takes place now, there's a title where a hand pulls Napoleon's school ID out of a wallet and it says '2004' - that was like the big deal for Fox, hoping that would put to bed anyone’s question as to when it happened.
We filmed it in my cinematographer's basement. Aaron Ruell, the guy that plays Kip, is an amazing photographer and one of my closest friends so I spoke with him about the design. I really wanted to do a cool title sequence and after talking with him about a couple of ideas he just kind of ran with it and came up with the food and plates and tiles etc., and I knew a guy in my neighborhood who owned a carpet shop and we went and got all the backgrounds there. It was really low budge' man. It was shot just with a 35mm camera and a Kino Flo in the basement.
We actually had Jon Heder placing all the objects in and out [of frame], and then showed it to Searchlight who really liked it and thought it was great, but some lady over there was like "There are some hangnails, or something -the hands look kinda gross! It's really bothering me, can we re-shoot some of those? We'll send you guys a hand model." We were like "WHAT?!" This of course was my first interaction with a studio at all, so they flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder. So we reshot, but they're now intermixed, so if you look there are like three different dudes hands (our producer's are in there too.) It all worked our great though and was a lot of fun.
There is one title shot with a trapper keeper with the micro machines, and in grade school me and my buddies would hide stuff in there. Those were some of the initial ideas, to have the credits be these embedded objects that were a part of Napoleon's life.
Which is very similar to Bronco's titles in that setting.
Absolutely. Both films geographically are very similar -we shot Napoleon up in Idaho and Broncos was shot in Utah- so a lot of the inner mountain west aesthetic is present. You can tell so much about your characters before you even see them onscreen through a title sequence and we knew that with Broncos we wanted to really begin to tell who this person was and what he was into by showing the pulpy sci-fi novels.
And what about Nacho Libre?
The titles are super over the top, but once we found that song "Religious Man," we knew it would be a great way to open the film. That came from the editing, where initially we had all this footage of the kid with a lot more dialog, but we ended up just cutting it down. We shot a few extra pieces like him building his cape, after the fact, just to massage it with the other shots we already had. I feel like so many titles sequences are ultimately a waste of time, so you might as well be using that time to help tell your story.
In researching Napoleon's opening we found that Aaron Ruell's inspired title design was misattributed to title design legend Pablo Ferro but that Ferro did work on the film. How did this opportunity come about?
Pablo Ferro happened to be working at the title house that did our closing credits. Learning that he did the titles for Dr. Strangelove was really cool. Pablo designed the handwritten "Napoleon Dynamite" title that appears over Napoleon's desk during the current event scene [about three minutes into the film]. That was the only opening title we had when we screened at Sundance. When we went back and shot the stuff Ruell designed, some people incorrectly assumed it was Ferro.
So what's next?
We have been busy working on a Napoleon Dynamite animated series right now that will be on FOX. We're finishing up the pilot, it has all the original people from the film doing the voices and we're writing all of it ourselves. We always felt that these characters warranted 'the further adventures.' I mean the movie, to be honest, is kind of a live action cartoon anyway so it's fitting to continue the adventures in a cartoon world.
View the credits for this sequence