Joe Badon has a penchant for the absurd. His films The God Inside My Ear and Sister Tempest are roller coaster rides of surreal metaphysical visuals that often mix genre elements from science-fiction and horror while adding the levity of farcical confusion. When Badon contacted me about his latest short film, The Blood of the Dinosaurs, I expected nothing less than the acid trip I received.
The Blood of the Dinosaurs is all of the adjectives. Funny, confounding, unsettling, trippy, weird, and utterly original. The stuff Badon comes up within less than twenty minutes would leave David Lynch asking, “What the f*ck?” Nevertheless, it’s a head trip worth taking. The short begins in meta fashion, with someone outright asking Badon what his short is about before chronicling the death of the dinosaurs and framing it up to become Wes Anderson’s worst nightmare. Utilizing bright color palettes, miniature sets, and a 4:3 aspect ratio, we enter into an educational children’s program with an exceptionally bizarre host, Mr. Bobbo.
Mr. Bobbo (Vincent Stalba) talks expressionlessly over a constant electrical humming, building a tension of unsettling melancholy you can’t escape. Staring through you from the other side of your screen with the cold, soulless eyes of Dora the Explorer when she waits for the answer to some benign question. Hilariously achieved by the sheer situational awkwardness, the story dives into the strangest of territories, conjuring satirical monologues resembling A Charlie Brown Christmas and sadistic humor similar to the irreverent Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, eventually concluding as an existential exercise about humanity’s place and upcoming extinction.
The Blood of the Dinosaurs was a short I watched and rewatched. Having seen Badon’s work prior to his latest effort gave me an idea of what to expect, though he’s selling it as “an Adult Swim style surrealist Kids’ Show for deranged adults,” and it is an accurate description. I sat down with Joe Badon for a brief discussion about Blood of the Dinosaurs, which was shown last week as part of the WTF (Watch These Films) block at Chattanooga Film Festival and will be showing at the Fantasia International Film Festival beginning July 14. I strongly believe watching our conversation is worth it because Badon and I laughed a lot. Whether discussing his films or the hubris of more serious directors, this interview was a lot of fun, and Badon’s animated exuberance may not translate well into the transcription.
You can watch our interview or read transcribed pieces from the conversation below.
Joe sits all smiles in his white recliner, likely excited to discuss his latest project, The Blood of the Dinosaurs. Having just watched it and being a fan of Badon’s work, it’s equally exciting for me to conduct this interview. Badon’s work is quirky, strange, and entertaining beyond anything else. Knowing what I was in for, his seventeen-minute short did not disappoint. Like Kali Russell’s character in the film, I wanted to know what the hell Badon’s movie was about; the first thing I asked from Badon was to give us a synopsis for The Blood of the Dinosaurs.
“It’s just a demented children’s show, if you want to just keep it simple, about this guy Uncle Bobbo who teaches children where oil comes from, which is basically from the blood of the dinosaurs. And that’s just the simple version. The non-simple version it’s just a big existential crisis is really what it is. It’s a big midlife crisis for me in poem form. And I think that’s just more like an existential crisis that I think we’ve all had from the pandemic and things like that. It’s just an essay about God and sexuality and religion and…oh God, just all the different things that I’ve been pondering.”
My next question was fan-centric. Having watched all of Badon’s films, I asked if all of this existentialism would lead back to a sequence in his first film, The God Inside My Ear, where the main character Elizia (Linnea Gregg) tripped out on ayahuasca. It was a ridiculous question, but Badon took to the idea because the overall arch of what The Blood of the Dinosaurs will become isn’t that far off.
(Jokingly) “Yes! We will make like a God Inside My Ear sequel that will just be basically [Elizia] finally coming out of it. That’ll just be the whole movie. Oh, God, all these movies! It’s kind of brilliant. I like that. I would totally do that now! We would actually start the movie with this and then go forward. That would be fantastic!”
I laughingly told Badon I’d be happy to help, and we tapered off into the unique art direction of the film. Going from an ethereal Terrance Malick mocking to toys and miniatures for further world-building, I wanted to know why he decided to give the film this look and feel.
It’s just the cheapest way to do it. That’s all. It was like $25, so I was like, “Yes, that’s what I’m going to do.” I built the mountains out of just paper, like poster board, and it was all from the Dollar Tree. So, it’s just like all hardboard—poster board and then soft posterboard and calk. I just calked the whole thing, and then I spray painted it. So, yeah, that was like $7. So, I was like, ‘Yes, that’s cheaper than CGI. Yeah, I will do that,’ but also, it’s because I just love the old Godzilla movies. I love things like—Danger 5 is one of my favorite TV shows, and that’s all miniatures. And Wes Anderson does the same thing as well. He does a lot of miniature work. It’s just a really great look that’s really cheap to do.”
Before I could ask the next question, Badon decided to stop me and comically edit his answer:
“I’m gonna make it sound like I know what I was talking about. It’s kind of like a Sesame Street version of the Terrence Malik sort of thing which works really well. I didn’t just think of that ’til just now, but that is f*cking great! It’s brilliant, and I meant to do it!”
Joe Badon had me in stitches throughout this conversation. He presents himself as extremely down-to-earth, a strong contrast to the out-there themes in his films. Suddenly declaring in Kanye fashion, “Hey, I’m a genius. I just want to let you know that.” Then proceeding to cover his eyes as he laughed off the notion, humbling his own work by calling out another’s.
“You know how much bullsh*t directors do like that, though? I mean, honestly, I am just having fun. And so many directors will pretend like there’s so much more meaning than they really have. Like, come on, James Cameron. You’re an idiot. That sh*t is not deep. Don’t try to make it deep. It’s just fun entertainment.”
Fighting off the laughter, Badon directs me to keep going, “Let’s see how far I can dig my grave.” So, I asked him why Uncle Bobbo is such an intensely creepy character.
“What’s cool about that was that was so much of Vincent [Stalba], the actor, because I wrote the script and had kind of a different idea in mind; a much more bumbling kind of predator that’s very sweaty. You know, that kind of vibe. And he came at it like he was missing half of his brain, and I was like, ‘Wow, that is so creepy. That’s so much creepier than I thought.’ So, we leaned into the creepy and the slow. That really was going to be a much faster short film, but Vincent came at it so slowly and so precise. It was so terrifying. So, we had to lean into it. The whole scene with Uncle Bobbo ripping the baby doll head off and it’s like in the dark room, that whole scene was because Vincent had played it so creepy, and then my DP, Daniel Waghorne, came up with that scene on the fly just from Vincent’s creepiness. So, we went to Daniel’s. Daniel had a house that was like half-done. They were working on it, so it looked like a predator would live there. It was perfect. We did it like on the fly, really leaning into Vincent’s performance.”
I complemented Vincent Stalba’s performance. He’s excellent as kid’s show host Uncle Bobbo who’s suffering from some sort of mental collapse, and I told Badon that people are going to get a charge out of it, to the extent they may have to check in on each other after the seventeen-minute mind-blowing experience is over.
“Well, I hope so! it’s a non-narrative, but I wanted people to feel like they were still on the journey, and that’s really, really hard when you don’t have a singular narrative, you know?”
I don’t think it’s hard for people to see the outlying themes Badon sets in The Blood of the Dinosaurs. It’s easy to see themes of existential, religion, and pandemic crisis without looking very hard at Badon’s unconventional overture. For anyone else who has seen any of Badon’s work, they also present similar themes resonating slightly deeper under the absurd surface. To that effect, I told Badon, when The Blood of the Dinosaurs ultimately reveals this is only a prelude to another chapter, it felt like Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and I hope they only continue to come.
“Well, there’s three. There’s going to be at least three more chapters, and we filmed it all, and we’re editing it right now. It was gonna just be another short film that was gonna be like thirty minutes instead of like seventeen, but we just shot so much—and we’re adding more into it. I don’t want to go too far without feeling like I’m spoiling the style, but it’s basically a movie inside of a movie, inside of another movie, inside of a book, inside of a side of a behind-the-scenes of what’s really happening, and then it all wraps together, and all those stories kind of converge in a weird way.”
Badon tells us about the incredible amount of B-roll and behind-the-scenes footage he asked for while shooting, which I guess will end up as part of the primary story during one of these shorts. I make him a promise that I’m watching all of these, and I absolutely mean it. Badon’s films are my jam. They’re bonkers strange, undeniably creative, and somewhat touching while profoundly engrossing you from start to finish. The next part to Badon’s four-chapter short collection is The Wheel of Heaven, and I asked him if he wanted to share anything with us about what we could expect.
“It’s basically the main core short, or the main core story. [There’s] this woman that’s a mechanic, and she buys a choose-your-own-adventure kind of book—we can’t call it that, but we call it determine-your-own-destiny, and the book’s called Wheel of Heaven. And so, she goes and reads the book. So, you’re watching the movie be filmed on one end, and then you’re watching her go into the book on the other end. And then there’s a couple layers deep on both sides of that because there’s also a mentally challenged woman that is also an artist who is creating this story about her as a captain of a spaceship. And so, that’s also happening, and that actually converges into the other stories, and they kind of fly in and out of one another. So, that’s basically what’s happening.
“All the main female characters in all those different stories are all played by Kali Russell, and then all the main male characters in all those various stories are played by Jeff Pearson. So, there’s like two main actors that tie all these stories together by playing different characters. So, there you go. The main theme really is kind of the death of misogyny. That’s really the main theme. And that’s really something that I’ve dealt with in my own life being a Generation-X kind of guy and having to…you know? Like, you grow up, and the world changes, and you realize how wrong you are in a lot of ways. So, you realize how misogynist you are, and there’s a lot of things that need to be changed and that’s kind of me dealing with that in a nutshell. Also, a giant existential crisis all the way around it.”
Badon may be onto something when he says, “he’s a genius,” and I don’t mean that facetiously. I’ve certainly never seen James Cameron face demons such as these, just Terminators, Aliens, and Avatars. Badon’s determination to wrestle with such a heavy and personal topic is very relatable. We all grow up with values projected onto us by our parents, and our parents’ values aren’t always who we find ourselves wanting to grow into.
“Well, every one of my films really has been [personal], just masked with a lot of sugar and weirdness. Because I like that saccharin coated […] like the puppet show stuff, and all like the all the weird art show stuff, it’s just like great masks to hide behind. You know, instead of just telling autobiographical stories that are like so personal that you’d be embarrassed to show anyone. This gives it a personality of its own, and people can interpret it however they want to, you know? But the problem with that is it’s like not commercially viable at all. So, there you go. I’m just making movies for my own pleasure!”
Well, Joe Badon has at least one fan, and I hope after audiences see The Blood of The Dinosaurs that number will steadily rise.
The Blood of the Dinosaurs played as part of the Chattanooga Film Festival and can next be seen at the upcoming Fantasia International Film Festival. I can’t recommend this short enough. You can also see Badon’s debut feature, The God Inside My Ear, currently available on Tubi.