A Chat With Director Joe Badon

I first met director Joe Badon last fall when I reviewed his film The God Inside My Ear. The beautiful imagery and rather complex storyline took me by surprise as so many indie films lack the resources and, frankly, expertise to compose a piece as visually stunning as The God Inside My Ear. My shock turned to awe when I discovered the film’s final budget was under $10,000.

I was excited to learn that Badon is currently preparing for his next feature film, titled Sister Tempest, set to start shooting this June. The film is nearly ready for production as the vast majority of the characters have been cast, with the exception of a few smaller roles. With the clock ticking, Badon is currently raising funds before the camera starts rolling on set of his new production.

So how did Badon manage to make such a consumable, visual movie on a tight budget? He claims it’s all about organization.

“Planning. Account for every shot with storyboards. Make lists of props and wardrobes. Prepare in every way possible because the last thing you want to do is show up on unprepared; time is money when the camera's rolling.”

Badon grew up in Slidell, Louisiana. He credits seeing a behind-the-scenes Star Wars special effects TV special when he was ten years old as first sparking his interest in filmmaking. But to say the Star Wars special piqued his interest would be an understatement; “I remember being really inspired to make films, or at least do something in film. I was a very easily inspired kid — and an easily inspired adult”.

An easily inspired spirit is what’s made Badon a unique storyteller, not committed to certain styles or genres that become worn out with time. As he explained, if he sees a great claymation film, he’ll want to try his hand at claymation. If he comes across an incredible short using miniatures, he’ll look into what it takes to build miniatures.

Courtesy of Joe Badon

Courtesy of Joe Badon

Though Badon draws ideas from other directors in the industry, he’s far from a copycat filmmaker. Instead, Badon takes bits and pieces of his favorite movies and reconstructs them into wholly unique films.

He lists Sam Raimi and David Lynch as two of his biggest role models. 

"It feels almost cliche at this point, since everyone and their brother is influenced by Lynch, but I really do love his shit. I think, for me, what I really love is that he's just doing whatever he feels like doing. He just comes up with an idea from out of his gut and he throws it in a story."

Citing Lynch’s affliction for doing whatever he feels, it’s clear the Twin Peaks creator inspired Badon, and the eccentric nature of The God Inside My Ear certainly exemplifies this.

“That's what I love: Writing from your gut. A visceral, manic creative style that, I feel, creates something far more meaningful and beautiful than when someone tries to purposefully create art with a deeper meaning.”

Joe Badon didn’t jump into filmmaking immediately after high school — he never even went to film school. He messed around and made some short films in high school, but nothing he would say he’s “proud of”. Before committing to cinema, Badon spent twelve years as a youth pastor at a church,

"I left the church after realizing I belonged to a Christian cult, and have had to spend years deprogramming myself out of those cult-like ways of thinking. I do still believe in God,” he laughs “But not in the ways most American Christians would be happy with”.

Badon has a seemingly effortless ability to pick up a skill at a moment’s notice and run with it. After leaving his church, he spent ten years pursuing a career as a full-time freelance illustrator and comic book artist (he didn’t attend art school either). He credits the comic book industry as launching him into his filmmaking career, after working on small press comics such as Frankenbabe; Pirates, Zombies and a Cowboy; Terra Kaiju, and The Man with Ten Thousand Eyes.

“Comics are basically a poor man’s moviemaking,” he jokes.

Sketches from ‘Sister Tempest’ [courtesy of Joe Badon]

Sketches from ‘Sister Tempest’ [courtesy of Joe Badon]

Needless to say, Badon is not formally trained in the art of moviemaking. He says he learns his skill by simply doing it. Being a comic book artist opened other doors as an illustrator, and he was presented with opportunities to work with directors illustrating storyboards for movies and commercials. These exercises helped drill some of the mechanics of filmmaking in his brain.

Despite the hands-on interaction Badon had storyboarding with directors, he insists there’s still a lot of “winging it” involved when making a film.

"I remember getting my first storyboard job for the movie Dermaphoria (later released under the title Desiree). I got the call for the job, I accepted it, hung up the phone and immediately hopped on the internet to learn storyboarding and filmmaker ‘jargon’. I had like three days to figure out what I was doing. I think I watched every YouTube tutorial on how to create storyboards.”

Life as an illustrator and making The God Inside My Ear has helped him jump into making Sister Temptest. Badon is surrounded by a community made up of film crew members and actors he knows he can work with, which he certainly kept in mind when writing the script for Sister Tempest. He says he wrote one character in the film specifically with actress Linnea Gregg in mind.

“We did a lot of experimenting when editing The God Inside My Ear, so I had those new techniques in mind when writing this new script,” he told me. Badon is more confident in himself as a director and in his crew’s capabilities, and he’s ready to push the limits to see what else he can do.

Sister Tempest has been described as a thriller, art-house, body horror sci-fi, surreal dark comedy — a mouthful, to say the least. But Badon doesn’t seem concerned that the film is trying to do too much. In fact, he’s up for the challenge.

"'Too much' is what I love. My favorite movies have 'too much'. Movies like Holy Mountain or Hausu –– these movies are too much, and it's glorious. I believe the next frontier in cinema (that I can see) is genre mashing, where contrasting genres and feelings are mixed together. For me it's all about contrasting and layering feelings.”

He compares this idea of “genre mashing” in cinema to the musical style of The Pixies in the late eighties. He believes the quiet musical moments in contrast with louder ones are what paved the way for the rock sounds of the nineties.

"I love that sort of contrast. It throws you onto a rollercoaster ride. It makes things feel more like an amusement park." 

Hollywood has been tapping into this idea of mixing genres for decades, but in less obvious ways. In order to appeal to large audiences, most major feature films (or “shitty blockbusters” as Badon describes them) consist of three different components: action, romance, and some kind of comic relief. In short, they genre mash.

Badon, like so many others, is sick of the templated action, romance, comedy films that consistently dominate box offices. He’s ready to break the tired and worn cycle with fresh ideas. 

“It's exciting. I feel it could pave the way for new types of cinema and storytelling.”

There’s a lot to unpack in Sister Tempest’s description as a thriller, art-house, body horror sci-fi, surreal dark comedy. Curious as to how Badon could possibly tackle so many moods in one film, I specifically addressed his mention of body horror. For those unfamiliar with the term, body horror is just as gruesome and unsettling as it sounds (you can reference Cronenberg’s The Fly as a prime example of the genre). 

When asked what makes Sister Tempest a body horror piece, Badon answered, “Boils! Lots of boils”. He explained one of the characters suffers from a skin condition that causes her body to break out in boils. The condition can only be kept in remission through eating raw meat.

Badon teases, "It’s fairly disgusting.”

Not only will Sister Tempest be a dramatic mash of genres, it will also utilize various cinematic elements from decades past. However, Sister Tempest is not a period piece; according to Badon it’s set in modern times, except on another timeline to Earth in a “total fantasy world”. Badon dislikes the new technology audiences see in movies. Therefore Sister Tempest will not romanticize technology like laptops and cell phones, but instead pay homage to elements from various decades.

As he explained, “Give me an old TV, payphone, or newspaper — that’s romantic”. 

Still from ‘The God Inside My Ear’ [courtesy of Joe Badon]

Still from ‘The God Inside My Ear’ [courtesy of Joe Badon]

For a film that’s yet to be shot, Sister Tempest already seems a bit cluttered. I asked Badon what he believes makes a film objectively good. His response was standard, technical answers: quality audio, cinematography, and editing.

But Badon went on to say he dislikes looking at film from an objective lens, as films can follow a proper template with good technical qualities and still lack originality, style, and (in his words) balls.

In addition to unique storyline and breaking the mold of genre expectations, Badon also relies heavily his cast, and looks for actors who can quickly “get” in their role. Like most directors, Badon wants to see that his actors are connecting with their characters and making it their own. Pulling inspiration from John Waters, Badon enjoys a mixed bag when it comes to on-screen talent with a cast consisting of film and theater-trained actors, as well as non-trained actors. The varying acting styles makes the film feel off-kilter, he says — and it’s exactly what he’s going for.

As he crowdfunds in preparation for Sister Tempest, Badon seems to have a positive outlook on the future of his career.

“When making The God Inside My Ear, I was so blessed to have had a fantastically professional crew to work with. Daniel Waghorne, our cinematographer, can make any scene look gorgeous. And Joseph Estrade, our editor, could edit even a school play into something beautiful.”

It’s easy to interpret Joe Badon’s enthusiasm as overzealousness. Seeing how much he not only trusts himself as a director, but also the expertise of his cast and crew, it seems that any genre-mashing, decade-crossing, fantasy art-house thriller Badon creates is bound to be an enjoyable one.

"Surrounding myself with technically outstanding people allows me to focus on the wacky, weird stories that I want to tell.”

Sister Tempest is set to start shooting this June. 
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