Locals Getting an
Education on the Business of Filmmaking
By: Jonathan Weaver
Nightmares At The Mill, LLC & Forever Young Productions


ROWAN BUSINESS - Ten years ago, Salisbury’s Harry Welch Jr. had no exposure to the film business other than routine visits to the cinema and video store rentals. If you’d have told him then that in 2005 he’d be on the cusp of shooting his own horror film with show business veterans, he wouldn’t have believed you.

But here it is, 2005, and that’s exactly what Welch is doing.  CONTINUED

Through Forever Young Productions, a company he recently formed, Welch continues hash out the details of Cabin #3, a budget-minded thriller about a killer terrorizing an exclusive summer camp. He’s also in the throes of pre-production on Nightmares at the Mill. Though no official start date has been set, Welch believes principal photography on the film will commence no later than January. And he wants to shoot as much as possible in Rowan and surrounding areas.

The experience, Welch says, has been an eye-opening education into the moviemaking process – from script and talent concerns to the all-important budgetary and financial matters.

It is, after all, show business.

Welch hopes the team he’s assembled can produce profitable films well into the future, bringing a revenue jolt to an area drained of industries like textiles. In fact, the storyline for Nightmares at the Mill was inspired by Welch’s visit to a vacant textile mill in Landis.

Welch’s foray into filmmaking started with a chance meeting several years ago at a conference in North Wilkesboro.

Welch was there researching his book manuscript on bootlegging when he met screenwriter Paul Edwards. The two chatted, and Edwards told Welch that if he ever composed a screenplay he should send it to him.

Welch liked the idea of a writing a movie, so he bought a how-to manual from a book club. Six months later, he finished Got Time to Die, a 200-plus-page opus stuffed with big explosions, car chases and other cash-draining scenes.

He sent it to Edwards. And waited.

Eventually Welch called Edwards. The two chatted about family and such. Soon Welch popped the question.

“So what did you think?” Welch asked.

“He told me ‘I don’t know where you’re sitting, but you need to pick it up and throw it in the nearest trash can.’” Welch said.

The script was way too long. Normally, a script page equals one minute of screen time. Even established Hollywood players would have a hard time selling a three-plus hour movie.

“He told me that I shouldn’t try to reduce the story as much as I would need to get a shorter script,” Welch said.

“I spent the next year doing exactly what he said not to do.”

Welch whittled the script down to 119 pages, and then sent it back with a question: “How feasible is this?”

Edwards talked him out of the big-budget action fest, suggesting instead that Welch write a low-budget film and try to produce it himself.

“He asked me, ‘What do you know about horror?’” Welch said.

Welch’s experience with the genre was limited to viewings of latter-day scare flicks with his son.

But he figured he could pull something together. He had a couple of ghost stories that he’d told around campfires through the years. Maybe he could meld those together to create a movie.

Welch sat down and started writing. The result: Cabin #3. The plot and setting – teens stalked by a killer at summer camp - may sound familiar on the surface, but something about the script caught the attention of a couple of film business veterans.

Welch began talking to any locals he could find with experience in the film business. Through those discussions, he contacted a Rowan County man who had worked as an extra on several productions. That man, in turn, introduced Welch to Maxann Crotts-Harvey, a South Carolina native with an extensive background as a casting director and producer.

Her credits include The Fugitive television series, Carrie 2: The Rage and several other feature films shot in the Carolinas. Crotts-Harvey was an executive producer of A Tale About Bootlegging, a production that filmed scenes at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer last year.

Welch and Crotts-Harvey talked often. She saw potential in the script, so she sent it to Ralph Singelton, a producer she’d met during the making of Juwanna Mann several years before.

Singleton is a film veteran, serving as a producer, director and unit production manager on many Stephen King film adaptations, including Pet Semetary and its sequel; and Graveyard Shift. He was a co-producer of ‘90s action films like Clear and Present Danger, Last Man Standing and Murder at 1600. In the 1970s, Singleton worked as a second assistant director on such influential pictures as Taxi Driver, Network, and Three Days of the Condor.

Singleton recently executive produced Because of Winn-Dixie, an adaptation of the popular children’s book. His wife, Joan, wrote the screenplay for the film.

Singelton had some suggestions for Welch’s script. But he liked it.

Some time later, Singleton came to Rowan County and he and Welch spent five days together, staying up until 1 and 2 a.m. working through the screenplay and planning.

Singleton prodded Welch to write another script. Welch and his wife, Terri, devised The Gorge, another minimal-budget terror show in “about five long days and nights,” Welch said. The Gorge is more of a psychological horror story than Cabin #3, he said.

In the spring of 2005, Welch introduced his projects and plans to N.C. State Rep. Fred Steen II of Landis.

“The motion picture industry has a lot of potential,” Steen said. “I spoke with several folks in Wilmington at the Screen Gems Studios during a legislative tour this April. We compared notes and I realized how the film industry could economically impact a local community and our state in a positive way. The conversations with Harry and Ralph (Singleton) were making sense after discussions in Wilmington. Everything started to add up to where we are today.”

Steen co-sponsored a bill that passed in August, providing tax credits to companies that produce movies or television series in North Carolina.

The incentives, expected to cost about $5.4 million a year, allow a production company that spends at least $250,000 in the state to receive a tax credit equal to 15 percent for all the goods, services and labor it purchases in North Carolina. The maximum a company can receive is $7.5 million for a feature film, which would require an investment of $50 million.

A press release from Gov. Mike Easley’s office said the passage of the incentive plan helped NBC decide to film the television show Surface in the Wilmington area. The incentive also contributed to bringing the Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy filmed over the summer in Charlotte, the release said.

The more Steen learned, the more he realized that Welch had done his homework in planning the project. “I’ve talked with many (film business) insiders and they’re impressed that Harry has put together a formula that should spell success: an original screenplay, an exciting film, and the staff to get the job done,” he said.

As planning continued, the veterans decided the best bet would be to shoot two films at the same time.

But where?

Welch wanted to shoot as much as possible in Rowan County and the surrounding area, using as much local talent as he could. He still hopes that’s possible.

Meanwhile, he talked up his project to anybody who would listen. Around Rowan County, however, many folks aren’t accustomed to the entertainment industry. The area has been the site of some productions. But for the most part the cast and crew rushes into town and then moves on just as quickly.

When the team talked about the project, they didn’t receive much response. “We got, ‘that’s neat’ and that type of response,” Welch said. “And that’s it.”

“For many people, (talking about the film business) is like talking a foreign language,” Steen said.

The team scouted locations in Burke County and was welcomed with open arms, Welch said.

Statistics show that local economies see a return of three to four times the budget of a film that is shot entirely in one location.

“Bringing film (productions) to this county … is a boon for the economy,” Crotts-Harvey said. “Money will have to be spent by the filmmakers and crew to eat, to buy supplies and clothes” and other items.

Crotts-Harvey that said she is “very excited” about the opportunity to work again in Rowan County. “Being able to work with some of the experienced producers and directors as well as crew is wonderful.”

It’s no secret that North Carolina has long been a hub of film production. For more than 18 consecutive years, the state has consistently ranked third in the nation, behind California and New York, for filmmaking states based on direct revenues from production.

In 2003, revenues totaled $209 million from 150 major productions. Twenty-four of those productions were feature films and 126 were television projects and commercials and industrial production.

Since 1980, North Carolina has earned revenues of more than $6 billion from the productions.

To gather investors for the project, Steen and Kannapolis accountant Mark Dalton formed NC Films, LLC. A letter to potential investors says that financial participation in the film begins at $25,000. An investment club has been established for those wanting to put in a minimum of $2,000 or more, up to $24,999.

Those involved are the first to admit there’s a risk associated with making a film. “You’re creating a product just like everything else,” Steen said. “This product goes into a can.

“I’m impressed with how the industry can manufacture a highly technical film with little cost and have the potential for big profits for the investor while impacting the economy at the same time,” he said. “It’s definitely a different type of manufacturing than I have been exposed to in the past.”

NC Films and Forever Young Productions are looking to create a business that can continue “for the next film and the next one and the one after that …” Steen said.



Web Design by:  SparX

Nightmares At The Mill, LLC & Forever Young Productions