I am very honoured to have the fabulous and groovy Jenna Payne over for an in-depth chat about her stupendous film making projects. Award-winning filmmaker Jenna Payne is building up momentum for an indie film coup with a line of projects as diverse as they are similar. Fun films-to-be build on healthy doses of camp, vamp, and current events to create alternate universes that are surprisingly familiar. Hailing from southern suburbia, Jenna saved up her summer lemonade stand money to move to New York City in the fall of 2003. Jenna waited tables, typed up prose, and spun records in some of the city’s darker dens before realizing that she knew no one in publishing and had seen more films than eaten hot meals!
Hi Jenna, how are things with you?
Hi Jim! Things are pretty good and very busy. I’m sitting in my tea and wine stained bathrobe wrapping up (computer) work for the day. I’ve been pimping out the crowdfunding campaign for my madcap webseries ZOMPIRE VIXENS FROM PLUTO! and organizing a staged reading of the first six episodes next Sunday in NYC.
Next up, I’m headed to a Fashion Week event or two. I guess I’ll have to change? Haha.
So where exactly is Southern Suburbia? And what’s the rent like?
I’m from Martinez, Georgia. It’s home of the Masters golf tournament and James Brown. Also, home to as many chain restaurants, strip malls, and traffic as you could possibly fathom. I have no idea what the rent is like there, as I’ve been happily absent for over a decade.
That must have been some lemonade stand to save up enough money to move to New York.
Haha. I actually moved to New York for school after a year in New Orleans. As far as the lemonade stand is concerned, I actually was a horrible entrepreneur at those tender ages. All the other kids would make money because they offered that nasty powdered lemonade mix. I actually made real lemonade with lemons and sugar, which is delicious. Unfortunately, it meant that my overhead cost was higher and the price was somewhat less appealing to passers by. I continue to be a bit of a foodie and do not regret offering a higher quality product. Now I would figure out a better marketing strategy though.
What was in New York that called to you?
There is just something about this city. I always knew that I belonged in New York, even before I ever moved here. I’ve spent time in New Orleans, Russia, Paris, Brussels, and LA, but I have never doubted that New York, specifically Brooklyn, is my forever home.
New York has this wonderful energy and great opportunities to meet people and make things happen. It is a terribly high (rent) price to pay, but you learn how to hustle in the Big Apple, and that just makes my work as a producer better. I’ve become quite a tenacious little scrapper.
Did you ever see Woody Allan?
I have never seen Woody Allen, but when I was working in Oakland over the summer, everyone was asking if I was in town for the Allen movie. I guess he was shooting there, and people assume New Yorkers follow him wherever he goes. Haha.
Was the performing arts always an inherent part of your make up?
Actually, no. I mean, I did drama a bit in middle school and high school, but I was never much of a visual artist or a performer. I always considered myself a writer. I wrote a novel by the age of 13 and worked on a series of short stories and a new novel in college through my mid-twenties.
It literally dawned on me that something about writing novels was not clicking and not making me happy. Well, that combined with my dreadful job as an executive assistant. I decided I needed an immediate change and took a job as a free PA on weekends for a tv pilot. The moment I stepped on set, things clicked for me, and I knew my life had changed.
So are you a fan of the horror genre?
Most definitely! I’ve written a feature-length slasher called THE BIG THREE ARE AFTER ME that I will shoot after ZOMPIRE VIXENS FROM PLUTO! I’ve spent two years doing research for both projects and just ingesting all the greatest (and worst) of zombies, vampires, slashers, and supernatural/sci fi. If it doesn’t involve fake blood, it is not a Jenna Payne flick.
Who are your favourite directors working in the genre?
I just caught Don Coscarelli’s tremendous new picture JOHN DIES AT THE END this past weekend. I love it so much that I’m headed in for a second viewing this week, so you can definitely count Coscarelli among them. Honestly, though, I tend to be more of a film fan than a director fan. There are tons of directors who I adore, but pretty much all of them have lesser films. I can’t think of a single one who doesn’t at the moment.
In passing, though, I would say I’m a massive fan of Mario and Lamberto Bava (Demons!!!), Dario Argento, Val Lewton, Robert Wise, Edgar Wright, and many, many more.
Do you have a favourite period in horror history?
I have been culling a lot from Italian giallos of late. I love their color palette and style. I mean, what else could you possibly get when you do a fashionable Italian horror flick?
Your latest project Zompire Vixens from Pluto, is currently underway, can you tell us about this film?
Absolutely! ZOMPIRE VIXENS FROM PLUTO! is a little undead brainchild of mine in webseries form. Foxy zombie/vampire hybrids attack Brooklyn in retaliation for the declassification of Pluto as a planet, rendering the Zompires ineligible for intergalactic aid.
It’s a series that really explores my love of camp, vamp, exploitation, paper mache planets, and gallons of gore. Zompires are sexy like vampires but forgetful like zombies. They are undead and also unable to heal themselves if they get maimed. And to kill them, you have to stake them through the ears, which takes our intrepid humaoids eight episodes to figure out.
There’s adventure, romance, hilarity, and tons of delightfully geeky practical effects. Most of all, it’s just going to be a really fun ride with a stellar cast and crew.
So how was the fist Zompire created, did a Vampire bite a Zombie, or did a vampire and a zombie get up to some sort of unthinkable hanky panky?
You know, I leave this up to interpretation in the series. I sort of imagine them as being an extraterrestrial species native to Pluto that used to run amok throughout the solar system, creating the Voodoo myths of zombies and Slavic tales of vampirism.
You are funding the film through Seed And Spark, why did you decide to do this?
I have funded through Kickstarter twice but not for almost three years, and I have been trying to stay away from crowdfunding in the interval. Raising money from your friends, family, and attempting to win over strangers is so incredibly hard. I’ve been working 12 hour days (plus or minus) every day since the campaign launched on January 15th.
I chose Seed & Spark because it’s a brand new platform with some really cool features. You get to breakdown the script into an actual budget that non-film people can look at and say, “Wow, that’s what it takes to make a movie?”
It also gives people the opportunity to sponsor specific items that they can point out to their friends, like Vixen corsets, brainstems, and even favorite characters. Even more than all of that, Seed & Spark will accept loans on the site. Making movies is all about resources, so you can actually raise a lot of the budget for a film by calling in favors. In other words, if you run a stage in NYC and think it would be cool for ZOMPIRE VIXENS FROM PLUTO! to shoot there, then please let me know!
You are offering some great special offers to those who help fund the project, how did you decide on some of these offers. I particularly like the idea of a personilised video of a Vixen sliding her garter off, can I borrow some money for this one please?
You should definitely borrow some money for that one! Just not from me. Haha. The whole theme of this show is exploitation, so we’re happy with giving you as much of a peek behind the curtain as you would like. I did think really hard about the incentives and people have been pretty receptive. That said, though, the big ticket incentives are a pay to play kinda scheme. Who’s got a dirty old uncle who also happens to be filthy rich?
How well is the funding going?
I believe I mentioned that crowdfunding is hard. It’s so fucking hard. We’ve doubled our Facebook fans during this campaign, I’ve received a ton of encouraging emails, compliments, and connections, but that hasn’t translated into a huge injection of cashflow yet. We still have 3 days, so I’m not throwing in the towel or anything close. If 1,160 people put in $25, we would be fully funded. That sounds like a lot of people, but it really isn’t. Our ZOMPIRES IN THE PARK! teaser has over 15,000 views across multiple platforms, but it’s up to each viewer and fan to decide to contribute. We want to bring the world some really awesome content, but we do need a little help!
And what can the readers of this blog do to help?
Jim, I’m glad you asked! Each reader can click through to Seed & Spark and peruse our wishlist or just make a cash donation. Every donor gets a free ZOMPIRE VIXENS thank you e-card if you send us your email.
More than that, sharing the series with friends, enemies, frenemies, and everyone else you can think of puts us in front of more folks who might have $1 to $10,000 (which comes with an Executive Producer credit!). We appreciate every bit of support. It really means a lot to us, and we can’t make our dreams come true without your help.
Lets talk about your first feature film. Can you remember what first caused to pick up a film camera?
FELINE FRENZY is actually a short, but it was a really incredible experience to direct my first film. I had kind of a brief, fringe experience with moviemaking in high school but really never considered it an option for myself until I was so over my day job that I had to get out of there and do something creative or someone was going to die (possibly me).
I co-wrote the script with the brilliant and hilarious Carrie Miller and took a weekend screenwriting workshop with the infinitely supportive and amazing Ela Thier. I left that workshop and said, “I am going to direct this movie. Next month.”
One Kickstarter campaign and a ton of amazing support later, I made FELINE FRENZY in the dead of winter in New York City. We did some of the things we were supposed to do in professional film (like get permits) and some of the things you’re supposed to do in indie film (like sort of breaking into a location – ha!) and some of the things you should never do (like feed the crew pizza). I had an incredibly experienced and kind Director of Photography on board named Leland Krane, without whom I do not think FELINE FRENZY would be watchable, and a great editor named Ben Conrad who did some amazing work piecing together my directorial debut. I was hooked!
The purrfect crime: a kindly stranger offers the promise of a final supper and one last caress only to lure each ginger to her grizzly death. Just what have you got against us Gingers?
I’m after your nuts obviously.
You described it as a part Noir Thriller and part Gindhouse, why did you decide to meld these two distinct genres into one film?
It’s no secret that I’m a total noir junkie. I’m all aflutter whenever some hardboiled gumshoe asks me to be his moll. Or something like that. In any case, I have a deep appreciation for the dark (cinema) arts and love creating new stories by combining tropes from different genres. The common thread is that the stories I really love usually involve violence and some kind of dark undercurrent to humanity, even if it’s used for good. Again, fake blood.
How did you go about bringing the film together, did you for example go through a series of casting auditions?
Casting was maybe the easiest part. Three of the actors, Richard Brundage, Tyler Cook, and Karen Teune, were people who I immediately approached and asked to take each of their roles. I am prepping a new project featuring them now actually. Ciara Griffin and John Budge were recommended to me and ended up working for their roles in the film.
I dove into the whole project in a way that I haven’t really jumped into anything before. I took a low budget film production workshop, again offered by the inimitable Ela Their, and was just determined to make something decent. I was told by multiple people that your first film won’t be a showpiece, and by hell or highwater, I was going to prove people wrong. I’m stubborn like that. Haha. I mean, it was never going to go to Sundance or anywhere close, but I’m still pretty proud of the end result.
In any case, making a movie involves a lot of moving parts. Most of the people I know who are building their careers as directors do not work in production for pay, which is the department that makes everything happen by organizing. Most people learn something technical, like cinematography or editing. For me, production just clicked, and I really have an iron will when it comes down to squeezing blood out of a stone. No is not an answer. It’s an opportunity to find a new solution. In other words, I slept very little and wrote 50-100 emails daily. I operate pretty much the same way now.
How easy was the shoot? Did you know what you had to do, or was it more a case of learning as you went along?
As I said, I think it would be unwatchable if it weren’t for my DP Leland Krane. He really brought me back to earth when I was like, “But I want this shot.” You know, some of the real magic that happens in film comes from compromises. I can’t imagine envisioning a film in my head and then actually making it look exactly like that in real life. First of all, that sounds boring since you’ve already seen it in your mind’s eye from start to finish. Secondly, we would be missing out on a ton of collaboration with the different departments. A friend of mine, Simone Scalici, pretty much built the entire animal shelter set in my living room and just was a real rock for me when I was like, “Oh my word. What have I gotten myself into?”
Being my first real shoot, it was a huge learning experience. Each time I make something, I learn more, and I really hope that remains true forever. I always want to learn more in my craft. There’s just so much to tinker with and discover!
What was the hardest part of the shoot?
The cats! Good lord, my cat was the biggest diva on set. They say no kids, no period pictures, and no animals on your first flick. Again, I ignored convention and had to deal with the fallout. We catnipped the shit out of those creatures only to have them get the munchies and then get REALLY paranoid. We had to stop shooting while my meowser, Hemingway, ate his way out of his cage and went to his trailer (aka my room). I haven’t written an animal into any of my scripts since!
And what would you say was the single biggest lesson you learned from it?
I learned that I could make movies and that it’s the only thing that I really want to do. When you’re lost for a significant amount of your ‘20s and don’t know what the hell you’re doing in the world, that is the biggest life lesson you can ever learn – that you have a place – a calling, even.
The film won a Skullie Award at the 2010 Royal Flush Festival, that’s pretty good going for your first feature. Did you have any inkling that you were creating an award winning film?
Not at all! It was in my dreams, of course, but I really tried to stay level. I knew then, and even more so now, that FELINE FRENZY is ultimately a little flawed. It’s still entertaining and even endearing, but it’s definitely not Midnight Madness material. I’ll get there someday, though!
Your second feature Grauman’s Last Hero tackles another unusual subject, that of Hollywood impersonators outside of Mann’s Chinese theatre. Where did you come up with the idea for this?
I actually can’t remember! I tend to get these really bananas concepts from the simplest inspiration, like a newspaper article. Actually, that rings a bell. I think I saw something about the character impersonators getting arrested in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre in LA on Gawker and just went off the deep end with the storyline. GRAUMAN’S LAST HERO follows an out of work actor as he uncovers the conspiracy behind the mortgage crisis in Los Angeles. Take that, Gawker!
How did you decide on the cast of characters?
For this one, I did hold auditions and found some really terrific performers through Mandy, as well as culled some from my own contact list.
Humour obviously plays an important role in your films, is this a reflection of your personality?
I like to laugh. Making movies makes me infinitely happy, and I want to share that. I do have some more serious material in the works, like the slasher, but even that still has its moments of humor. We’ve all had some melancholy times in our lives, but I’ve always had a comedic sensibility. Well, sometimes sardonic. In any case, I appreciate directors who can bring out the hilarity in tragedy and vice versa. David Gordon Green, for example, really has a knack for that. I think both are part of life, and that’s a huge piece of what I’m trying to capture.
Can you talk about your time in Hollywood? Or is it a case of what happens in Hollywood stays in holloywood?
Eh, Hollywood is Hollywood, right? Except that most of the time, I was on the West Side. There is a bit of a rivalry there, so I should come clean about being near the beach for most of my stay in Los Angeles.
Basically, I’ve lived in New York for nearly a decade, so I thought I would go see what it’s like on the other coast. It just felt like a good move, and maybe I was Vitamin D deficient. I (sort of) sublet my apartment, packed a couple of bags, and left on a jetplane. Renting a car is kind of pricey, so I went out to LA planning on just paying for the car and couchsurfing. For seven weeks. That didn’t end so great, but it was an incredible experience.
While I was there, I casted a Canon commercial, directed a short film (BOT-E’S REVENGE for the 48 Hour Film Project), produced a music video, and worked a ton. LA is still not my town, but I’m looking forward to working out there again, as a director or a producer. Hopefully both!
Can you tell us about any future projects?
Sure! I have the first instalment of the feature-length slasher trilogy THE BIG THREE ARE AFTER ME written and ready to go into the funding stage. It’s like Juno meets Michael Meyers set against the backdrop of the collapse of the American auto industry in Flint, Michigan. I’m really excited to do a location shoot and work with some real Detroit muscle.
Aside from that, I’ve been slowly researching to write a Western. I love picking a genre and then seeing what fun I can have with the clichés and tropes of that body of work, so I’m reading Jim Kitses’ and Gregg Rickman’s THE WESTERN READER to cull some ideas for my story of friendship and greed.
I also might be back in LA within the next few months and line producing a feature sometime soon. Basically, I like to keep busy and have tons of options. What’s not to love?