Born in Preston, ID, an idyllic rural town that would later serve as the prime location for his breakout movie, Hess determined early in life to become a filmmaker. After graduating from Preston High School, he began working as a camera assistant for T.C. Christiansen, a director of photography for IMAX films, before moving on to attend Brigham Young University. It was there that he studied film and met his future wife and collaborator, Jerusha Demke. Hess forged another significant relationship at BYU with actor Jon Heder, who later became famous as the titular "Napoleon Dynamite." Before making the feature, Hess wrote and directed a nine-minute, 16mm black-and-white precursor, "Peluca" (2003), which told the tale of Seth, a loveable geek enamored with ninja books, unicorns and fanny packs - all the familiar obsessions Hess and his brothers shared growing up. The film was one of 12 to compete in the shorts program at the 2003 Slamdance Film Festival, where it was well-received. The successful short secured Hess funding to film a feature-length version.With a script written with his wife, Jerusha, Hess went on to direct "Napoleon Dynamite," which echoed "Peluca" in terms of story, though he chose to rename the character after an older Italian man he met in Chicago after being sent home from a two-year Mormon mission to Venezuela due to illness. Meanwhile, he cast his BYU friend Jon Heder as the lead - the only actor Hess felt could pull off the role. Shot for just a few hundred thousand dollars, Hess relied on his friends and hometown community to pitch in as much as possible; people opened their basements for the crew to sleep in while locations allowed Hess to shoot gratis. The result was a refreshing take on the teen comedy that focused on a seemingly clueless high school übergeek (Heder) who battles with his smarmy Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) and even geekier brother (Aaron Ruell) while vying for the attentions of Deb (Tina Majorino) and helping new friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) become student council president. First appearing at the Sundance Film Festival, where it quickly became a fan favorite, "Napoleon Dynamite" was purchased by Fox Searchlight for $3 million and became a surprise indie hit, earning a whopping $44 million in its run and even achieving cultural significance with numerous celebrities sporting "Vote for Pedro" tee-shirts. Most importantly, the movie made a star out of Heder and earned Hess considerable Hollywood attention.Hess moved on from "Napoleon Dynamite" to direct his first studio picture, "Nacho Libre" (2006), a rude-and-crude comedy starring Jack Black as a monastery cook whose awful food prompts him to go on a quest to raise money for the orphanage. Along the way, he moonlights as a lucha libre wrestler despite objections from church elders and becomes one of Mexico's top wrestlers. Because of Jack Black's rising star power and little competition for its opening weekend, "Nacho Libre" became another surprise hit for Hess, earning over $80 million at the box office. Hess next directed "Gentlemen Broncos" (2009), a goofball comedy about a home-schooled teenage outcast and aspiring sci-fi writer (Michael Angarano) whose life goes awry after his author hero (Jermaine Clement) plagiarizes his work. Savaged by critics upon its release, the bizarre movie disappeared from theaters after a very limited release. Licking his wounds, Hess brought "Napoleon Dynamite" to the small screen in animated form, with Heder reprising the role - this time in voice only - for a series that was set to air on Fox in 2011.