Okay, fair warning—this is a bit of an unconventional interview. We've spoken with writer/director Joe Badon here at NFS once before, ahead of his short, The Blood of the Dinosaurs, showing at Fantastic Fest. Even back then, it was billed as a "prologue to The Wheel of Heaven," and it set the tone for a very eccentric, surreal world hailed as "weirdly wonderful" and "chaotic yet considered."

Follow us here. Badon gave us the opportunity to watch the completed Wheel of Heaven (which has been chopped into episodes, as a wacky, otherwordly miniseries) and to also participate in it as a character. We decided, sure, but since we'd be on a Zoom call already, why don't we have a conversation with Joe about making the movie? Two birds, one stone, etc.

We learned that Badon drew on inspirations like Agnès Varda and Adult Swim, but also used free association as a storytelling method. That means he really didn't know what the story would be until close to the project's final days, at which point he was blending behind-the-scenes footage, scenes from table reads, fake commercials, and more to figure things out. Surprisingly, it worked out.

We're not sure that method will work for most people. Despite this, Badon has some excellent advice for raising funds, getting into festivals, and finding cheap resources.

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

No Film School: I would love to know your inspiration for the film.

Joe Badon: I think the big thing is that I'm just a fan of these kinds of films. I have seen filmmakers that try to do something in a genre just because they feel like, "Oh, yeah, I have to do a horror movie, so this has to be in it and this has to be in it." It's not like they're a real fan of the genre, they're just filmmakers doing different genres or trying to get their foot in the industry.

For me, it's like I love fucking weird films. I've just been watching them my whole life. And so this is just bred out of a love for weird shit. I'm going to go to my list. I actually made a list on Letterboxd. Every time I'm working on a new project, I'll do a little Letterboxd list. It reminds me of all my inspirations as well.

But one of my biggest inspirations for this film was a movie called Jane B. for Agnès V. It's an Agnès Varda film from the '80s, and it's basically a biopic on Jane Birkin's life. The movie's amazing. It's just Jane Birkin and Agnes Varda just walking around having conversations. Every once in a while it would go into little mini-short films of Jane Birkin being a different character and playing a different role and being in this whole new world.

You start following five or six different versions of Jane around while we also watch the real Jane have a conversation with the director. That movie, that's the basis for this film, is that film for me. But yeah, I mean, so many other films, like Ham on Rye, I don't know if you've seen that one, but that's a little indie film that came out a few years ago.

Joe_badon_wheel_of_heaven_1'The Wheel of Heaven'Credit: Joe Badon

Badon: It's just such an abstract way of telling a coming-of-age story. Just trying to find films that are completely thinking out of the box as far as the way to tell a narrative at all. So lots of Adult Swim stuff as well because of that. That bleeds into the film a lot is the Adult Swim kind of vibe too.

NFS: Oh, I love those Adult Swim films too.

Badon: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Seen Unedited Footage of a Bear?

NFS: Oh yes, I love it. Obsessed.

Badon: Yeah, love how it just goes from a commercial into this wacky weirdness. Anyway.

NFS: Can we touch on theme too? Did you set out to make this sort of choose-your-own-adventure story, a movie about choice? Or did you arrive there as a result of situations and characters?

Badon: For this film, I think more than any of the other things I've done, I really tried to turn my brain off and just create something. You know word association?Where you're like, "Okay, I think of football, now I think of football stadium, now I think of goals." And so you're constantly moving that way. And so I tried to do as much plot association in this film as I could. So I was constantly like, "All right, one scene goes to the next scene just kind of by what's the next thing that pops in my head?" That's how I made this film.

For the rough draft, it was complete nonsense, and I kept chipping away at it. The story wasn't even really finished when we shot the film. I had written the story, and when we went to production, I said that we are going to shoot behind-the-scenes footage as well, and we're going to craft a new story out of that behind-the-scenes footage.

And so during post-production, while I was watching all the behind-the-scenes footage, I was trying to figure out another story to tell and also a way into the story that we already shot, like where's an entry point? There's an entry point towards the end of the film where the main actress has to make a choice about what is she going to do.

'The Wheel of Heaven''The Wheel of Heaven'Credit: Joe Badon

When I told them that we were going to do behind-the-scenes footage, I told the crew, "So during post-production, we were just starting to add behind-the-scenes footage throughout the film." And then I had to figure out an entry point into the film where I could collide the behind-the-scenes with the narrative.

You've seen the film, so I don't want to do any spoilers for anyone else, but there is [a moment] towards the end where the main character changes completely into a totally different object. And I remembered that and I thought, "Well, this is a perfect moment to collide the behind-the-scenes footage with the narrative."

That was the kind of evolution of the story. But in the end, after all of that, I stood back and realized this was just a lot of me having cathartic therapy on my own misogyny and my own dealing with control, just always needing control and me dealing with that, literally making myself the enemy of the story on purpose because I needed to confront some shit in my own life.

NFS: I mean, it ended up working out in a way that feels poetic, but it also sounds like potentially a very frustrating process. Is it something that you would do again? Do you like exploring story in that way?

Badon: We did have crew members that didn't get it, and even to this day. So it's kind of just trusting my own instincts, which is very scary, and just saying, "You know what, even if my collaborators don't understand, I'm the one driving the boat. I'm driving the ship. So as long as I understand, that's what's important." I was stepping out in faith with this one on that.

I loved continuing to write the story even until the end of the film. Even until the very end of the film we were writing the story with the behind-the-scenes footage. I love that because it just felt like I was able to play around with the narrative the entire time.

I'm excited. That excites me because I think people are scared to play around with narrative. People are scared that it won't make sense or that people won't get it. I feel like that's the brave new world of the future is telling poetic stories, telling stories that maybe you are the only person that will get it, and being brave enough to tell that story.

I think that's the wave of the future because I see a resurgence in absurdism and Dadaism, and I feel like this new generation is super absurd. This new generation of filmmakers is playing around with narrative, playing around with style way more than I've seen any other filmmakers except for maybe the fucking dadaists of the '20s. So it's an exciting time.

'The Wheel of Heaven''The Wheel of Heaven'Credit: Joe Badon

NFS: Why did you decide to structure the movie like you did in episodes?

Badon: Because I love films like Kentucky Fried Movie or films like The Boob Tube. There were lots of movies back in the '70s and '80s that were basically like you were watching TV and they were just changing channels for you. That kind of disappeared. Amazon Women on the Moon was another one. There was a little time period when it was really popular.

I saw this one, it was [Mr. Mike's Mondo Video]. It was this movie that Saturday Night Live made that was a feature film. It's kind of a lost film that kind of resurged. It's a play on all those kinds of Mondo films and all those kinds of Kentucky Fried movies. And that movie was a huge inspiration for me with this film. It was this idea of sitting down and letting someone just change the channel for you and you're just watching someone's television.

I like that idea. We live in a TikTok kind of generation now. We live on Instagram. Things are constantly changing. There are just constant reels. You sit down and you open up your phone and you're going to watch a little heartfelt thing, and then you're going to watch a recipe, and then you're going to watch a cartoon. You're just watching all these little how-tos, and then you're watching a clip from a movie.

I wanted to translate that kind of ADHD kind of brain that now we have in entertainment into a feature film. So that was the idea, but then still using the touchstones of the old-world miniseries and commercials and credits. So it gives us that comfort of just sitting there and binging a television show, you know?

'The Wheel of Heaven''The Wheel of Heaven'Credit: Joe Badon

NFS: What did your production timeline look like? I know you did a Kickstarter.

Badon: Yeah, this was about two years total. There were some issues, which is why it took so long, because our other two features that we did, The God Inside My Ear and Sister Tempest, were about a year each from writing to finally playing it in a theater. This has been about two years, but the production time was me writing the script and then doing a Kickstarter, and that lasted about a month.

Kickstarters are like you working 40 hours a week basically just trying to raise money and sending out emails. I'll give everyone the secret for Kickstarters because there's a very simple secret that all these guys that are trying to make a bunch of money selling you secrets. It's very simple. One thing it had already figured out, but I sent out emails to other people that had successful Kickstarters to figure out what they did too, and it's all the same.

You send out emails, texts, messages, and phone calls to every person you know or every just acquaintance you have. Even if they don't know you but you're a friend with them on some sort of social media, you directly message them and say, "Hey, can you check out my stuff? You don't have to give anything," but just politely say, "This is what I'm doing and any kind of support even a share would be super cool." That's it. That's it. If you get a whole crew to do that, then you can raise a shit ton of money, but that's it. That's the deal.

But it's like 40 hours a week of you just constantly doing it, and then getting the Kickstarter done, which is a whole production in itself. And then we did table reads and we shot the table reads, and that became part of the narrative, of course. Table reads and gathering all the props, which takes about two or three months.

'The Wheel of Heaven''The Wheel of Heaven'Credit: Joe Badon

It's a big deal as soon as you have the script and you have all the props listed out. Then for me, going to eBay, going to Amazon, and trying to find the cheapest possible that matches what I'm looking for. There's a lot of finding just shit that's just super cheap that might take two months to get here because it might come from China or somewhere, but it's pennies on the dollar. So you wanted to get as many props as you can soon as you can, because props, the closer it is to production that you're getting them, the more expensive they get.

Anyway, about three months of pre-production, which is table reads, casting, and wardrobe, which fills up my house, which is really fun. Then I connect with local prop houses, with one main local prop house, Lawrence at Sideshow Props, and he has just been a godsend with a production. We get a lot of props from there.

Finding all the locations, which for me, usually writing locations that I already know I can find is the main thing. But taking those two or three months to find all the locations. And then it's the production of shooting, which I think ended up it was 21 or 22 days over the course of like four months because we kept having to push shots around, which became very frustrating because some of my crew, they had to take a job that actually paid money because we raised $20,000 for 75 minutes worth of film because we had already Blood of the Dinosaurs before, so we didn't have to shoot that again. So we just had to shoot the next four parts.

So yeah, that was about four months. After that was editing. We had a hurricane, so my editor's roof got ripped off, and it ended up him taking six months of time to get his house back in order.

But then after that, we had post-production, which was Joseph, my editor, doing the lion's share of the work while Jason Kruppa worked on a bunch of the music. I worked on a bunch of the music. I also find a lot of the music through things like freemusicarchive.org. Joseph and I work on the majority of the foley together, and I find a lot of the foley through freesound.org, which is a great resource for foley.

Then, it's just doing all that for the next about a year. We just wrapped that up very recently.

'The Wheel of Heaven''The Wheel of Heaven'Credit: Joe Badon

NFS: Anything else you want to add that you think readers would want to know?

Badon: Well, I guess the last step of the whole thing is festivals. I will say what's been really great to do with festivals is to introduce yourself. It's something that we did with Blood of the Dinosaurs and one of my main actors for Blood of the Dinosaurs, Vincent Stalba, who has been wonderful with this as well.

But when you submit a film, send an email, send them the trailer, and just say, "I'm so excited to submit the film, and I hope you guys dig it. Here's the trailer just in case you want to see more about it."

Also, if you've already been to big festivals, when you send that email, be like, "We've already hit these festivals and we're excited to be in your festival." That was huge. That made all the difference in the world and got the festivals' attention a lot more than anything else. So that's a little bit of advice I think might help people.