Interview: Jenna Payne. Writer, Director, Producer
Interview conducted via email. Questions by Tony Frame. Answers by Jenna Payne.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m a fun-loving gorehound who writes, directs, and produces. My partner, Kelly Krause, and I are launching a genre production company called Disaster Capital aimed at supporting emerging filmmakers.
I’m in pre-production on a medical revenge feature inspired by my own battle with autoimmune disease and the US healthcare system called HYSTERIA, and my first comic book Zompire Vixens from Pluto is available for digital purchase over at Kypsel.
I’ve worn a lot of hats and am keen to uplift fellow marginalised creators by helping them get their first features made!
Who or what are your inspirations for your work?
I was always a little goth. My favourite bedtime stories were ‘The Little Match Girl’ and the Alfred Noyes poem ‘The Highwayman.’ At 7-years-old, I asked my mother for a horror movie for my birthday slumber party, and she chose Robert Wise’s The Haunting. I was hooked.
I grew up in the southern part of the US. It’s more conservative there, so while I wasn’t exposed to Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley as a child, I still found a few badasses in characters like Scarlett O’Hara (problematic but unstoppable!).
When I went off to college, I expanded to horror around the world and eventually found slashers. My Bloody Valentine (1981), The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and Black Christmas (1974) top the list for me.
I dove in after working as a production manager on a low budget vampire film. There is nothing more fun on this planet than blood tubing!
What has been the hardest part of doing what you do?
A few years ago, my health began to decline. Aside from the odyssey that was being diagnosed with a cross-section of autoimmune disease, endocrine, and viral issues, I became disabled. Even when I was healthy, I thought set hours – often 16 hour days or longer – were life-shortening, but I found out how right I was before turning 35.
After confirmation of Ankylosing Spondylitis (a severe, degenerative arthritis), I was unable to continue working in production and wondered if I would even be able to work on set again as a director. The emotional loss in addition to my physical losses was a tragic and traumatic low point for me.
What are your plans for the future in regards to your work?
With some time and thousands and thousands of dollars, my health has improved significantly. Some of the damage from the arthritis has rolled back instead of further disintegrating, which is a huge triumph.
I would not qualify this as remission (yet?!), but I haven’t given up on my dreams for which I laboured so long and hard. Someone recently described my love of horror as springing from my own history as a sort of Final girl.
Covid-19 can’t even stop me! I’m working on a proof of concept of HYSTERIA as a live action cross with stop motion animation, and it will be safe to shoot even during a worldwide plague. The future looks bright – and bloody!
What would be your dream job?
My ideal future is writing and directing my own passion projects, including creating television, as well as giving other up-and-coming creators the support that I wish I had had about five years ago.
For many marginalised filmmakers, the difference between making it and not is truly a matter of someone saying yes. I want to be the person who discovers and green-lights fresh, awesome talent and launches their careers, and we’re going to build a sustainable network of mentorship while making movies.
Do you have a strange story to tell? This could be a celebrity you have met, a ghostly encounter? A strange coincidence that has happened?
*Editor’s note* The following story below is from Jenna’s Twitter thread without the intermittent Keanu GIFs which add to the story! To read that original thread with the Keanu GIFs included click on this link! Otherwise keep reading to experience it without the Keanu GIFs. *
I used to host at an Italian restaurant in the East Village, and Keanu (Reeves) came in on Valentine’s Eve. I offered him his table, but he said he was fine waiting at the bar and having a glass of wine.
Keanu gets his glass of wine, and a woman shows up to meet her boyfriend. They engage in small talk and pleasantries. The woman finally asks, “So what do you do?” To be fair, he had a bit of a beard but also his TM cadence.
Keanu is incredibly nice and doesn’t want to embarrass her. He answers, “I’m an actor.” She nods politely and follows up, “Oh really? Do you do theater or film?”
He paused. “I do film.” She smiled and asked, “Anything I might have seen you in?”
I was dying. Keanu maybe thought about which title to drop and finally went with, “Have you seen… The Matrix?”
At this point, I could not control myself. I doubled over laughing and sort of ran/crawled to the kitchen in tears.
1. I would like to apologize to this woman who made my night and possibly Keanu’s? It was amazing, and I was a jerk.
2. I hope I can have half as much class as Keanu Reeves when next faced with this sort of situation and save my giggles for the bathroom.
Thanks to Jenna for taking the time to answer these questions! Links to her work and social media channels can be found below: