Joe Badon knows a thing or two about working on a tight budget. The New Orleans native blindsided the indie film community last year with the release of his art-house, surrealist horror flick The God Inside My Ear. Outside of weird absurdity of the film’s plot and visuals, the project made headlines for being so well-made on a shoe-string budget of $8,000.
Not one to rest of his laurels, Badon has jumped right into a mysterious new project titled Sister Tempest. Powered by a Kickstarter campaign, Sister Tempest purports to be a gumbo stew of genres, mixing art-house drama with surrealism, body horror, and sci-fi with a psychedelic flair
In this exclusive interview, Badon sits down with BeatsBoxingMayhem to reflect on the creative power of women, myth, and spirituality to his fantastical new film.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: Spiritual concepts like reincarnation played heavily into the ending of The God Inside My Ear. Upon hearing your new film is called Sister Tempest, my first immediate reaction was wondering if these films are linked.
Joe Badon: It’s funny because someone else asked if the films are in the same universe. It’s not something I plan on doing. But I can say they have the same feel — that spiritual, surrealist thriller sort of film mixed with dark comedy. A lot of the same genres are present in this one.
Sister Tempest is also told from the perspective of a woman like God Inside My Ear.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: What does having a female lead allow you to explore that you wouldn’t have the ability to do otherwise?
Badon: I love the female perspective in films — I don’t know why I’m drawn to that. I like writing from a female voice and I know that can be controversial with me being a male.
That’s the beauty of art. You can imagine yourself as anyone. You can be a deer or have an alien’s perspective. I grew up in a household of mainly women. My dad left at an early age and my older brother went off to the military. My mom and sister in many ways raised me. My best friends were always females so I feel connected with them more.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: You’ve dubbed this film as containing a mix of Holy Mountain, Mulholland Drive, and Zardoz. So when you’re creating a gumbo mix of sci-fi, body horror, art-house elements, and comedy, how are you able to balance all these influences without making the film clunky and unfocused?
Badon: I think the base is always creating a fantasy world [first]. Yes, Sister Tempest is set in “Anytown, USA” but it’s set in a Twin Peaks world, like an alternate reality, that Twilight Zone world where anything can happen. I love movies like that.
I just watched a film from Michel Gondry called Mood Indigo. It’s set in normal France but it’s like a fantasy version of France where shoes walk on their own and all sorts of strange little things. But it’s still a “normal” world with familiar technology and set in the present day. I love it. When you put characters in that type of fantasy world it means anything is possible.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: Part of the appeal with surrealist films like Holy Mountain is the outlandish outfits that really drive home the other-worldly atmosphere. Having to be budget conscious, were you still able to retain most of this crucial element?
Badon: The great thing for me is I live in New Orleans and work in an art market. I have cultivated a large family of artists where we’re friends and all help each other out. So there’s a lot of artists who love costumes and cosplay. When you have a big creative family like that it’s easy to get the help that’s conscious of a tiny budget. We all want to help each other out to get our visions made.
If I came from a straight filmmaker point of view where I’m simply writing out checks for stuff to companies, there’s no way I could get this done on my budget.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: How are you feeling about meeting your Kickstarter goal?
We’re a little over 60% of the way there. Usually, the first and last week are where you get the bulk of your money. I have a lot of friends waiting for the last week and I’m like “please don’t forget!” [laughs]. A lot of people don’t realize when you pledge it doesn’t come out right away. It does when the Kickstarter ends.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: What was the biggest lesson you learned from making God Inside My Ear that you took into Sister Tempest?
Badon: I learned the importance of delegating. The first time around I was line producing, directing, doing the food, wardrobe, props… just A LOT of stuff. Now we got everything done, but all this made for very little time to actually direct. I was running around too much. This time I’m ready to be focused completely on the directing aspect.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: What can you tell us about the plot of Sister Tempest?
Badon: It all revolves around this main character named Anne and her sister Karen. Their parents die at a very young age so Anne steps up to be a mother and father figure to her younger sister. Anne kind of grows up too fast without ever having a childhood.
Anne grows up and becomes an art teacher but Karen becomes a rebellious teen that runs away and goes missing. Anne is of course worried but as time goes on she tries to move on with her life. She eventually gets a new roommate, Ginger.
That roommate starts controlling Anne’s life and being very manipulative. At the same time, Ginger has a thirst for human flesh that creates a whole other subplot to bring in the body horror stuff.
As all this is happening, Anne is transported onto a spaceship where she has to answer for the disappearance of her sister, their relationship and the new relationship with her roommate. Essentially, they’re picking apart her life and making her answer for all she’s done wrong and the meaning her life. There’s a lot of philosophical elements that go on there.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: Considering these elements were in God Inside My Ear, did you grow up in a religious or spiritual household?
Badon: Yes, I grew up a “charismatic Catholic,” meaning a lot of speaking in tongues and being “slain in the spirit.” I grew up with personal experiences with God and later got into the charismatic, non-denominational faith and became a youth pastor. I was that for 12 years.
I grew and looked back on my youth I realized there was a lot of cult and controlling elements in the faith that weren’t healthy. I had to get out of religion and deprogram myself. I still have faith — I believe in God and redemption. I never want to get rid of those things but I had to shed that Western culture of conservative religion that can be very destructive.
A lot of times when we do that we throw out spirituality all-together. I don’t want to do that at all — I believe all human beings have a spiritual component. We need that and I want to express that through my art.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: Through all religion, we see the power of myth as a teaching tool. For example, we wouldn’t look at a myth like Noah’s Ark from a scientific perspective…
Badon: Absolutely! So many of those stories are for teaching. We can even go back to the great stories of Greek mythology — they’re just great stories for morality and philosophical teaching.
I love those kinds of stories. One of my favorite shows is Samurai Jack. Shows like that are all about creating new myths to tell morality stories. That’s what I feel like I’m creating here, especially with Sister Tempest in comparison to God Inside My Ear. This film is a mythology of Gods and the purpose of life.
The Sister Tempest Kickstarter campaign runs through Friday April 26.