There is something beautiful and endearing about films that embrace the bizarre. Perhaps it is the insanity of someone’s mind accepting that nothing makes complete sense that makes watching a surreal horror short like Joe Badon’sThe Blood of the Dinosaursa satisfying watch. 

Capturing your attention with its overstimulating visuals and non-narrative structure, The Blood of the Dinosaurs looks at the continuation of life despite this unknown yet overwhelming feeling that many of us have experienced over the last few years. The surreal work is creative, twisted, and frightening as it navigates genres, refusing to stay a part of anything for too long. This short film is a wild ride that embraces miniature sets, a constantly shifting aspect ratio, bright color palettes, and bizarre characters that live within Bandon’s mind. 

No Film School spoke with Badon to discuss the creation of The Blood of the Dinosaurs, which acts as an epilogue to his upcoming project The Wheel of Heaven, and how embracing the “high and lowbrow” cinema has influenced his unique style of filmmaking. 

Editor's note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: What is the inspiration behind The Blood of the Dinosaurs?

Joe Badon: It's a very weird evolution for the whole thing. I was writing another story called Follicle, which is about this werewolf boy that is just making his way in the world. The whole story for The Wheel of Heaven was a side story from inside that story. So I just pulled it out and I was like, "Oh, this is a nice little film right here." And Blood of the Dinosaurs was like Chapter One of The Wheel of Heaven, but it fits as a nice little short film by itself. We decided to shoot [Blood of the Dinosaurs] because it was cheap. 

The inspiration for it mainly is just my own wrestlings with the meaning of life and the circle of life and God, and we know our own finiteness of humanity, eventually, all of the civilization will probably be buried under ice or destroyed just like the dinosaurs were destroyed. It's that whole meditational and the circle of life, essentially.

NFS: I read in your interview with Horror Obsessivethat you said this short was “a big midlife crisis in poem form.”

Badon: Absolutely. That's 100% true. It just was the right timing for me. I'm 45 and I wrote the script at like 44 or 43 and [it was] just the right timing. Me just like wrestling with what the fuck is going on in the world and it's coming out in more like essay form, I guess, a poetic essay really.

NFS: Definitely. I would definitely say poetic form because it's a very loose narrative structure if there's one to follow.

Badon: Very loose.

NFS: How do you craft a non-narrative short while still keeping an audience engaged?

Badon: I think the main thing is just people want to be entertained above everything. If you can keep things entertaining, it really doesn't matter where you go in the story or where you go in the film. It's just really a matter of being entertained.

While we're editing the film, I'm just watching it going, "Am I enjoying this?" and if I'm not enjoying it anymore, then let's figure out how to make this enjoyable. That's really as simple as possible to say, instead of trying to figure out, [if] this makes sense. Letting go of that fear of making sense… [that was] my biggest fear when I was making God Inside My Ear, my first feature, was like, "Am I making sense to the audience?" That's what I cared about more than anything.

Then, I realized my favorite movies don't make any sense at all. Things like Eraserhead, Holy Mountain, or Mulholland Drive don't make sense, and the directors are unapologetic about it but you still feel like you're going on a ride. When you go to Disney World, Space Mountain doesn't make any sense. You can't even see where you're going. You're just going on the ride and it's fucking fun. That's all you care about.

I'm tired of the whole three-act structure of things and how people are so obsessed about having a story where there are no plot holes. I like every story that I grew up with that I love, even as a child, has huge plot holes. There's this obsession with getting everything perfectly right now that there used to not be. And so, I'm just like, "Throw that shit out the window." As long as I'm having fun and I'm entertained, that's all I care about.

Childrens_show_in_the_blood_of_the_dinos'The Blood of the Dinosaurs'Credit: Cosmic Family Films

NFS: Is that the mindset you have when you're approaching the writing process, too? 

Badon: Yes, and also I'm trying to view film as more of like an artist would view a visual painting. Like Jackson Pollock, that shit doesn't make any sense at all. It's not like you stand at the painting and go like, "Oh wow. I wonder where this line is going." There's no structure at all. There's such a need for structure in film, and it's an art form and it should be treated as an artform more than a form of commerce. That's where we're at right now, like film is business, but we're not touching people deep in their core when you put business and commerce first.

I think we need to get back to film as art first. 

NFS: I think audiences are at a place where they want some sort of familiarity, but they are also exhausted by familiarity because it's being commercialized.

Badon: Yes, completely. Then, anything we love now has like four TV shows and three sequels. And it's like, God, there are five different Batmans, five different Spider-men, it's ridiculous. Let's create new things and bold new things.

Also the pandemic, I think, has made everybody go like, "What is important?" I think what's important above everything is the need for artistic expression. Film is like the new cathedral. Film is the new Oracle for messages, for sermons essentially. We need to put film and television on a better pedestal than we've been putting them. We need to treat it with a little more respect. 

Look at the movies in the 60s and 70s. It's such a golden moment for Hollywood because it went from the old way of life, they were just doing musicals and they were pumping out all these really bad B-movies, sci-fi, and just whatever. And then there was this big overturn and they started hiring all these arthouse filmmakers because like a lot of the old movie production companies shut down and they didn't know what to do. They didn't know what was cool or anything. All these old men smoking big cigars just started hiring guys right out of film school who were watching French New Wave, arthouse, and German expressionism. They got to do whatever they wanted and it was this big revival in filmmaking.

Hopefully, through the pandemic and through films, people are now ready for something new, I hope.

NFS: I think blockbusters are very fun for everybody, but they can give people who want to make arthouse films the ability to be like, "It's kind of like Jaws," and people will go watch.

Badon: Well, I think it's the embracing of all film styles, the highbrow and the lowbrow. That's what I want. There should be no snobbery on either side. I see so many people gatekeeping for Star Wars and superheroes and they're like, "No, this is great." It is great but [so is] Possibly in Michigan or Eraserhead. That is great. It should be exalted and it should be put on the same platform as these superhero movies. 

Back in the 70s, you had drive-ins that were showing Seven Samurai and they were showing Piranha. It would be that both those movies are fantastic and they should both be elevated to a place in a public forum. What's happened is that movies are too expensive and Hollywood is so scared to give money to something that might not make any money, because for some reason they think they have to spend $100 million, which is crazy.

The_blood_of_the_dinosaurs_joe_badon'The Blood of the Dinosaurs'Credit: Cosmic Family Films

NFS: I like that. So you're saying we should go back to embracing low-budget films?

Badon: Yes, of course. That's the crazy thing. If Hollywood would just make lower-budget movies, they could take risks all day long and find out new things that work. 

NFS: What freedoms do you find in working with a low budget? 

Badon: Oh, you can do whatever the fuck you want. That's what's great about it. My first feature was $10,000. Most of that came out of my own money. Then, [the] second feature, Sister Tempest, we did a Kickstarter. We raised like $25,000 and nobody gives a shit if you're making a feature for $25,000. You can do anything. The freedom is what's great about it. 

But at the same time, the thing is that most people are working for free or barely anything. That's what's not great about it. People are killing themselves for these small little films and not making any money at all. If I even had 100 grand or 250 grand, that would be amazing just to be able to pay everybody, and, still, you would have so much freedom. At that level… [y]ou can take chances that you can't take at higher budgets.

NFS: Another thing you said earlier that I want to circle back to is this idea of making something that is both lowbrow and highbrow. I think you find that balance in the short very, very well with a moment that makes me laugh where there is this intense speech on a tiny little TV, then it cuts to you explaining the scene, and then it cuts back to a woman giving birth to a demonic creature. Was that the original idea on paper or was that something that just developed along the process?

Badon: Yeah, that was not the complete idea. I had basically that idea, like her on the TV but it was in different spots, and Joseph [Estrade], my editor, he came up with the idea of throwing in that little spot of me being interviewed, and then it cuts to the hospital delivery room scene. He rearranged everything to do that. But yeah, it's a lot of meditating on the mood and the idea of what we're doing. There's a lot of meditating in the bathroom. That's where I meditate a lot, like in the tub, just like running the water and just thinking about the scenes and moving them around and trying to figure out what works best.

It's all about instinct. That's what I'm trying to do more than anything is create out of instinct instead of out of what have I been taught or what traditionally would work. I'm trying to turn my brain off and figure out what my heart wants, which is a very hard thing to do when you have a whole cast and crew, and you're worried about what [everyone on set] thinks. You're so worried that people are not going to understand, but the main thing you need, I think, is hubris and instinct. That's what I've been trying to do with my filmmaking is be like, "I don't give a fuck what anybody else thinks. I'm going to try to instinctually create, like automatic writing.”

I'm also a musician and we would play what we call prophetic music. There was something about playing in the spirit that I still try to do. I still try to turn my brain off and create from my heart. 

The_blood_of_the_dinosaurs_joe_badon_0'The Blood of the Dinosaurs'Credit: Cosmic Family Films

NFS: I also read that Vincent Stalba, who plays Uncle Bobbo, had a unique interpretation of the character, and embraced his idea. I am interested in how you embrace these ideas while still keeping your original vision intact? 

Badon: Well, one philosophy I have is that I want to at least get 50% of what I want on the screen. The other 50% goes to everyone else that I'm collaborating with because filmmaking is collaboration. It is playing with a band. You're not just doing this by yourself, right? 

As much as I say, "I don't give a fuck about what anybody thinks,” I'm also very well aware that I'm working with a bunch of other talented, creative people that have their own voices. When I originally wrote, the character was a lot more bumbling, like sweaty, more a mentally challenged uncle that is obviously not right. When [Stalba] did the audition, he basically was like what you see and it totally changed the character as much as, "Oh, this guy never really developed past a young child. There's something wrong."

Whenever I audition people, I basically let them interpret the characters the way they want. I just let them interpret it. I don't really give them much more than that unless I hate it. If I don't hate it, then that's great. And then there's every once in a while there'll be a scene or a moment that I have something very specific. I'll be like, "This is exactly what I want," but everything else is up to interpretation because if not, especially when you're working on this stuff where people are working for free if you're just going to be like a complete dictator about the shit, nobody's going to want to work with you.

You've got to let them have fun and let them have their breathing room. That's what I want. I want things to be fun on set. If it is not fun, then I do not want to do it. That's what blows my mind is these directors who are such control freaks. I don't even know how they get people to want to work with them because it's miserable. I just don't want to be around misery. I want this shit to be fun and collaborative. 

So that's what I do, 50/50. I get 50% of me on the screen, and the other 50% goes to my editor, my cinematographer, music, all those people. 

Opening_of_blood_of_the_dinosaurs_joe_badon'The Blood of the Dinosaurs'Credit: Cosmic Family Films

NFS: Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring filmmakers?

Badon: Just go for it. Go for it unabashedly and unapologetically. I think that's what everybody wants to see is they just want to see people that have that unabashed hubris, that they just go out and do it. They do it with cell phones and they do it with shitty cameras and they do it with good cameras and they just do it with anything you have, just go out and do it. Don't worry about what people think. That might not make you popular, but it might also be the key to success. 

Even if you're making good money, even if you're being successful, if you have worn a groove in your life where you have to be successful by making something sellable, commercially viable, to please other people, you've set yourself into a trap that you can't get out of. You might as well go and just work a regular job because you'll have the same amount of joy in life. And I don't want that. I want to do things that I love and make a living doing them.

The Blood of the Dinosaurs will premiere Tuesday, July 19, at Fantasia International Film Festival.