When zombies roam the quiet streets of the Great Oak community in Prince William County, neighbors know there's nothing to fear.
It's just John Poague making another movie.
"Gosh, at first we were like, 'What's going on over there?' " said Debbie Bardwell, who lives across the street from Poague, admitting it did give her a bit of a start the first time she saw actors clad in scary costumes emerging from Poague's Colonial-style home.
Then she remembered that Poague was filming "The Wickeds," a low-budget, blood-spattered horror flick that was released on video earlier this month.
Now, Poague has moved on to making "Big Foot," another horror film starring a sasquatch terrorizing young people. He hopes the film will be another step toward building a Hollywood-sized business in Northern Virginia.
While not an ardent fan of horror flicks or creature features himself, Poague hopes these scary monsters can lead him to his dream of making bigger-budget movies. He owns a landscaping company, Four Seasons Ground Maintenance Inc., that he said employs 13 people and generates revenue of $1 million a year to help finance his passion for making movies.
Along with the scary movies, he has a fantasy playing in his head: "What I want to do is build a mini-Universal Studios here."
He and fellow producer Tony Summers began collaborating on a studio -- they foresee it being a $500 million project -- after they both returned home to Prince William County from Los Angeles a few years ago, and though they couldn't pull it off, they haven't given up on it.
Poague, a native of Catharpin, had sold a local trash company he owned to finance his move in the early 1990s to Los Angeles, where he hoped to pursue his dream of producing a movie.
During his six-year stint in Los Angeles, he managed to snag small roles in commercials, television shows and movies, and he took script-writing and budget-filmmaking courses. He said he received investor interest but never made a movie there. Instead, he returned to Prince William to produce an independent and violence-filled film called "In the Name of Justice," which went directly to video.
During that filming, Poague shot car chase scenes in Old Town Manassas and shootouts in Summers's parents' home in Manassas and decided careers could be made here.
"I realized what a great market D.C., southern Maryland and Virginia was," Poague said. "We could be a Hollywood of the East Coast."
The Virginia market offers labor rates that are cheaper than Los Angeles or New York City, and it has only two studios -- one in Petersburg and the other in Hampton Roads, he said.
In 2003, the economic value of the film and video industry in the state was about $175 million, with scenes for the ABC series "Line of Fire" and the NBC series "The West Wing" shot in Virginia, according to the Virginia Film Office, which says there's potential for more.
"Technology is changing the industry vastly, so it's decentralizing," said Mary Nelson, spokeswoman for the Richmond-based film office. "It's not all about L.A. anymore or London or New York."
Virginia's proximity to the District also provides good backdrops.
"By shooting in Washington, D.C., audiences around the world recognize that," said Charlie Puritano, who owns Alexandria-based Puritano Media Group, a media production company.
Film and video makers spend up to $8 million a year in the city shooting scenes for such movies as "National Treasure" and "The Manchurian Candidate."
More studio space, Poague figured, would attract more projects, so in 2000 he and Summers set out to find investors and build a studio. They signed a contract for about 180 acres of land in Prince William County, persuaded local production company executives like Puritano to lease space if a studio was built, and found some investors.
First the stock market cast a shadow, and then Sept. 11 spooked investors. Poague pulled out of the land deal.
"I pulled the plug twice because I don't know enough wealthy people," said Poague, who was bitten by the acting bug when he briefly attended college and acted in a play. "I don't know the [Donald] Trumps of the world."
So he went back to making movies with budgets of just $100,000 in hopes of attracting the attention of studio executives who could hire him to produce bigger-budget movies.
"I'm hoping once I get a little bit more successful with this, it will open more doors for me," said Poague, whose company is called Capital Film Studios LLC.
For now, making a movie with so little money takes some creative financing and planning for every aspect of filmmaking -- from finding actors to feeding them.
He has persuaded aspiring actors like Anna Bridgforth, 20, to wait until filming is complete to get paid.
"Actors will work for anything," said Bridgforth, a Vienna native who will star in "Big Foot" and also starred in "The Wickeds." "We're sort of banking on the fact that it will make a whole bunch of money and we can cash in on that."
As Bridgforth and other actors gathered in Poague's home last week, they brought their own clothes and selected their wardrobe for the movie. Some plan to bring props such as childhood pictures of themselves to decorate their fictional, on-screen bedrooms.
Plans are to film in the Shenandoah Valley, where fledgling actors will stay in Poague's camper, or in a friend's cabin, where scenes will be shot. Some of the crew members will camp. And Poague plans to feed his cast and crew -- some of whom are college students earning more experience than money -- by buying groceries and cooking out.
"They'll work for dramatically less because they need gas money and food," said Summers, who now works for the National Wildlife Federation.
In the past few years, Summers has witnessed Poague find free locations for filming by offering parts and on-screen credits to strangers.
"First thing he starts up with is: "Do you want to be in a movie?" Summers said, laughing. "It's an instant icebreaker."
For his latest movie, Poague said he has persuaded a bed-and-breakfast in the Shenandoah area to cut rates so more established actors have a place to stay.
"That's low-budget filmmaking," Summers said. "You beg, borrow and steal."
Now Poague is taking on a hairy, 6-foot-tall character in the woods.
He's not out to prove that Bigfoot is real, although, "I believe there could be a Bigfoot just like there could be UFOs," said Poague, as he sat surrounded by his young cast, who giggled as they read some of their lines.
And he wants to portray a different Bigfoot from the warm and fuzzy sasquatch seen in some movies.
"I'm tired of seeing the 'Harry and the Hendersons' Bigfoot," Poague said, referring to a 1987 film.
"If you run into my Bigfoot, you're not going to survive it."