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Brooklyn Filmmaker Brings Campy Sci-Fi to the Small Screen

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A young, bespectacled 20-something sits in the park, beneath a tree, playing with a pencil as she studies. Suddenly, a scantily clad woman with sharp teeth and a menacing look creeps up behind her. 

Thinking quickly, the girl rams the pencil into the creature's ear. An exaggerated death, a pause for laughs, and then, splat: a shot of fake blood from the corpse's head.

That's a scene from "Zompire Vixens from Pluto," a campy sci-fi/horror web series created by Bed-Stuy filmmaker Jenna Payne.

"I have a real soft spot for violence, and prosthetics, and masks," Payne said. "All of those movies that you see at Sundance with two people in a room are not really movies that resonate with me."

Now thanks to a successful campaign on the fundraising site Seed & Spark that raised more than $25,000, the campy web-series is in production, and was picked up by startup web media company for distribution.

The plot revolves around an invasion from three beautiful part-zombie/part-vampire aliens from Pluto, upset about the celestial body's real-life 2006 declassification as a planet, which, in the film, makes it ineligible for intergalactic aid.

Facing off against the sometimes slow-witted invaders are protagonist Olivia, an "astronomically brilliant but romantically clueless" scientist's apprentice, her lovelorn neighbor Chase and a ragtag group of Brooklynites culled from a local sci-fi marathon to fend off the "zompires," who can only be killed by driving a stake through their brains.

Campy B-movies are Payne's forte. The Georgia-native's first film, another crowdfunded project from 2010 called "Feline Frenzy," is a 12-minute short about a detective "who risks everything, including herself, to catch a vicious serial killer who has an insatiable craving for gingers."

"I really gravitate towards lots of fake blood, and lots of violence," Payne said. "There's a sense of humor I appreciate about those, whether it's intentional or not. They're always entertaining."

Despite her recent work in film, Payne says filmmaking isn't something she ever anticipated getting into. She moved to New York in 2003 and studied journalism at NYU, having worked at the Associated Press in Brussels and the New York Times in Moscow, according to NYU's website.

She also had an interest in creative writing, putting together a book of short stories and some unfinished novels, Payne said.

In 2009, while working as an assistant at a law firm, Payne took a trip to Portland, Ore., and on her way home to New York realized she dreaded the idea of going back to her job. That's when Payne said she started reevaluating what she wanted to do with her life.

"It suddenly occurred to me that I just watched a lot more movies than I was reading books anymore, so maybe I should start making movies," Payne said.

She quit her job, took a weekend screenwriting workshop and began making "Feline Frenzy," which in 2010 won the "One of a Kind" award at the Royal Flush Festival, an independent arts festival held at the Knitting Factory.

"I knew, absolutely, after doing that film, that this was the love of my life," Payne said.

Now Payne said she does freelance work making commercials to support her dream of filmmaking. In addition to "Feline Frenzy" and "Zompire Vixens from Pluto," Payne's work includes "Grauman's Last Hero," a film noir about impersonators at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and "Darktown," a thriller she filmed a day after Hurricane Sandy about two former lovers trying to make it back to Brooklyn from Manhattan during an unexplained power outage.

For now, Payne is focusing on completing "Zompire Vixens," and seeking brand sponsorship for the show in order to make additional money. In the future, she said she'd like to make a full-length feature, and possibly throw Rocky Horror-like parties for the show.

"I just like having fun with my films," Payne said. "Making movies, this is my career. I can't do anything else."