Interview: Writer/Director Joe Badon on Horror, Indie Filmmaking, Kickstarter, and SISTER TEMPEST

By: Paul Farrell

Joe Badon Avatar (variant)

Last year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to review Joe Badon’s fascinating debut, The God Inside My Ear (now available on Blu-ray), as part of the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival‘s lineup. It concerns Elizia, a woman whose entire world is thrown into chaos after her boyfriend leaves her to join a religious cult. The film is impressive on multiple levels, moving fluidly between the grounded psychological quirkiness of an independent, dramatic horror picture and the more cosmic, existential concerns typically embedded within epic science fiction. It makes for a movie just as capable of comic irreverence as it is deeply felt solemnity (read my full review here).

Joe Badon’s new project is called Sister Tempest and it is currently raising funds via Kickstarter (found here), with just two weeks left to meet its goal. The Kickstarter campaign describes the film as “a full length surrealist thriller, sci-fi, body-horror, art-house, dark comedy.” There’s also an elevator pitch on the page suggesting the movie is “Mulholland Drive meets Zardoz meets Holy Mountain.”

The project seems even bigger in terms of ideas, scope, and execution than his first feature, and I thought it would be fun to reach out to Joe with some questions about his filmmaking history, influences, and general process. Joe was kind enough to share some personal insight into his first horror movie experience, his favorite theatrical moments, the independent scene, and more!

So, please take a moment to get to know Joe Badon — and if you haven’t already, check out The God Inside My Ear. I think you’ll agree, Joe is a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on (and an ear open to)!

What was that first horror film you saw when you were younger that made you fall in love with the genre (or that scared you enough to leave a scar)?

Evil Dead 2 in high school. Until then, I was too scared to watch much horror and I stuck mainly to science fiction, but when I saw Evil Dead 2 and how it so wonderfully mixed gore and comedy, I was hooked! After that, I became obsessed and watched that film every weekend for about 2 years straight. I also tracked down everything Sam Raimi ever made, including his college student films with him and Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell — all kids, making movies! I think those student films really inspired me to want to make movies.

When did you first pick up a camera? Do you remember the first film you made or  how showing it to other people made you feel?

I did home video shorts with friends in high school, and even did Super 8 shorts with my dad and brother in elementary school. But it wasn’t until my first feature, The God Inside My Ear, that I actually made something legitimate. And the first screening of The God Inside My Ear (the cast and crew screening) was one of the most incredible moments of my life. I remember watching the final shot and the credits roll and me and my wife, Tonya, clutching each other crying and everyone applauded and screamed. It was beautiful!

What was the best theatrical experience you ever had? What type of experience and reactions do you hope to create with your own work?

I don’t know if I could pin it down to one. I remember bawling at Cinema Paradiso when my dad took me to see it when I was 10. I remember being blown away by Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and feeling like God spoke to me. I remember, last year, feeling truly and awfully disturbed when seeing Hereditary. I would hope for people to have all of those feelings (all at the same time) when seeing my films.

Horror is in many ways experiencing a renaissance at the moment. What are some of the modern-day independent films that you truly love?

Mandy, Under The Skin, Hereditary. Movies that have a lot of balls just to be themselves. Under The Skin though, I think, will go down as one of the greatest films of all time.

Sister Tempest 1
Concept Art for Sister Tempest. “Astronaut” and “Her Majesty” illustrated by Joe Badon. “Flight Attendant” illustrated by Spencer Epps.

When did you get the idea for The God Inside My Ear and why did you decide to make it?

I got the basic idea while watching Carnival Of Souls, but I didn’t get truly inspired to actually write it until I saw a movie called Essex Spacebin (2016). It’s a Troma movie and it blew me away. It was so fresh and fierce and wild and gutsy. It struck a chord in me and I was compelled to make The God Inside My Ear.

What sorts of movies do you watch to prepare for a film, if any? Do you give your actors film homework or would you prefer they clear their mind to be open to your vision?

For The God Inside My Ear, I watched a bunch of movies that I wanted to pull influences from. Namely, Carnival Of Souls, Essex Spacebin, Suspiria (1977), Repulsion, The Tenant, The Trip (1967), Repo Man, 3 Women and Ms .45. For my next film, Sister Tempest, I watched a bunch of films as well, including: The Monkee’s Head, Quentin Dupieux’s Reality, Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, Danger 5 (TV series), The Prisoner (TV series), Mulholland Drive, and a few other movies and TV shows. I do give my actors and my crew films to watch. So they can prepare for the look and feel of the film. For instance, I gave all my actors the homework of watching The Spanish Prisoner because I love the cadence and delivery of the dialogue in that film.

How much do your own influences show up in your films? Conversely, what makes your voice unique?

My films are all about my love of cinema and putting all my favorite films in a blender! I think that is what makes my voice unique, especially in today’s creative landscape. I hear a lot from creators nowadays about how scared they are of ripping off someone else’s style or that they’re scared that their film is too similar to another film. Because of this, new films are extremely vanilla, especially in the indie world. A unique voice comes from loving homages to other unique voices. Pulling your favorite things from your favorite artists, remixing them, and making them your own. That’s a beautiful thing that I fear is becoming lost.

Crowd-sourcing a film via Kickstarter provides your fans and viewers the ability to directly contribute to your project. How does leveraging that tool affect your approach to a film (or does it)?

It doesn’t affect the process at all. At least I hope not! And it’s much more freeing than being held captive by big money producers who take hold of your script and slice it up until it’s unrecognizable in order for you to create the least offensive, most sell-able product possible.

Sister Tempest 2
Concept Art for Sister Tempest. Illustrations by Joe Badon.

Sister Tempest, your upcoming feature, looks to be an incredibly ambitious project, combining cosmic horror and art house drama. The God Inside My Ear dealt with similar themes. What drives you toward such big idea stories and why do you think they’re important to tell at an independent level?

I think that the most important thing you can do on a micro-budget, indie film is to tell as big of a story as you can! So many books on how to make a micro-budget movie teach you to make the entire movie with a tiny cast and in one location. And everyone is doing that! And it’s boring! If you’re going to do that then just write a play instead. Back in the 50s and 60s, tiny production companies would make no-budget sci-fi and horror and load it up with as many locations and paper mache monsters and cheap effects as they could! In the 70s, there would be car chases and explosions and blood and crazy shit on no budget. I want to take that kind of ballsy attitude toward filmmaking and bring it back.

Why is Sister Tempest the next story you’re driven to tell?

Because it’s personal to me. It’s striking a chord with shit going on in me emotional and spiritually. That’s why I want to tell any stories at all. If it doesn’t strike those chords, then I’m not really interested to tell it.

What is your dream project? If money were no object, what story would you want to share?

Ha! I guess it would be this film, Sister Tempest. I really can’t look that far into the future. I wrote Sister Tempest knowing that I could make this movie on a shoe-string budget or on a giant budget. Either way, it could be made! But the more we raise on this Kickstarter, the bigger this movie will be!

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