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Video: How ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ became Hollywood’s template for Middle America

It was the ‘Gosh!’ heard around the world — and it changed the way major movie studios handled small-town indie comedies. We visited Preston, Idaho, where ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ was filmed, to explain how.

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Jon Heder in "Napoleon Dynamite."

Jon Heder in “Napoleon Dynamite.”

PRESTON, Idaho — Fifteen years ago, on June 11, 2004, “Napoleon Dynamite” was released in theaters nationwide.

I spent most of April learning everything I could about the indie comedy from those who made it — writers, actors, directors, producers, you name it — and compiled those interviews into a two-part oral history. But a true deep dive into “Napoleon Dynamite” isn’t complete without a trip to where it all started: Preston, Idaho. So I went there, too.

The director of “Napoleon Dynamite,” Jared Hess, grew up in the small rural community near the Idaho/Utah border. He and his wife, Jerusha Hess, wrote the script with Preston in mind, and filmed the movie there.

It paid off. “Napoleon Dynamite" made nearly $200 million in box office and home video sales combined — all on a production budget of only $400,000. That’s pretty unheard of. The unlikely success of “Napoleon Dynamite” changed Hollywood’s relationship with certain kinds of indie comedies. And for a time, the movie became Hollywood’s visual template for Middle America. Take a look.