Nightmare at 'The Mill'
By Katie Scarvey
Date January 15, 2006
Nightmares At The Mill, LLC & Forever Young Productions


Salisbury Post

It's Tuesday night, and the parking lot of the old Parkdale Mill on North Meriah Street in Landis is full all night long. Mill production is back in full swing.

In this case, however, production means digital movie footage, not bolts of cloth.  CONTINUED

The man behind the venture is Harry Welch Jr. Welch, who started Forever Young Productions in Salisbury, wrote the screenplay for "The Mill" and put together a team to shoot the project, which is in the middle of a two-week shooting schedule.

Welch hopes that the end result will be a horror/suspense film that will have movie-goers screaming and throwing their popcorn up in the air.

He doesn't want to divulge any secrets but will say that the scary things in the movie are related to nature. He offers a clue: Air, Land and Sea Pets has been very helpful to the production.


It's 7 p.m. Tuesday -- two hours into a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. shooting schedule -- and director Grainger Hines is setting up a scene in which college students arrive with beer, backpacks and sleeping bags for a night of partying at an old mill.

Elsewhere in the large industrial area, dimly lit to establish the eerie atmosphere the scene requires, crew members are about their business.

With a can of hairspray, one woman sprays and poufs, trying to get just the right tousled look for actor Austin Hines. Another production assistant is spray painting a metal drum that serves as part of the set. Techie-looking types in headphones are doing techie things. Occasionally, the sound of a hammer rings out. A man in a China Grove Fire Department T-shirt examines an oil lantern that isn't working properly.

Welch is sitting in a red director's chair and lends a hand as necessary. He's familiar with the creepy setting -- before the shooting started, he and N.C. State Rep. Fred Steen II and a few crew members spent the night at the mill, just for kicks.

He's clearly enjoying himself and the process. As he looks around at the able crew he's assembled, it hits him: "These people are here because I put something on paper."


Steen was on hand for the first day of shooting last weekend, which took place in Salisbury near the Bell Tower.

One of the first dates he ever had with his wife was to see the movie "Halloween" when it came out in 1978.

"I think she ended up sitting in my lap," he says, laughing.

Now, more than 25 years later, Steen is excited to be seeing a horror movie produced locally.

He'd love to see "The Mill" follow in the tradition of "Halloween" -- a low-budget horror film that made a big splash. Steen knows that at the very least it will provide a boost to the economy as cast and crew members spend money locally, visiting chiropractors, buying meals and having work done on their cars.

Steen has a special interest in the film, not only because a comment he made helped inspire the screenplay but because he co-sponsored a bill, now law, granting financial incentives to movie companies filming in North Carolina. The law gives a 15 percent tax credit to companies spending more than $250,000 (but not more than $50 million) to produce a film in North Carolina.

Catching the bug

Welch, who worked in the radio industry for more than 25 years, got interested in writing screenplays about five or six years ago while he was in North Wilkesboro to research a book about bootlegging. While there he met Paul Edwards, a screenwriter for "Baywatch." Edwards told Welch that if he ever wrote a screenplay, he should send it to him.

After reading a book about screenplay writing, Welch set to work, writing a 220-page screenplay for an action film called "Got Time to Die," which he sent to Edwards.

After reading the script, Edwards called.

"Harry, where are you sitting?" Edwards asked him.

"At the table in the dining room," Welch said.

"Well, look around and find the closest trash can and throw it in there and start over," Edwards said.

Edwards told him that he wouldn't be able to get anyone interested in producing a three-hour movie.

"Maybe it's the Irish in me," Welch said, "but I didn't listen." He spent a year trimming the script.

After reading the whittled-down version and warning Welch that it would be nearly impossible for someone with no track record to get a big-budget action film made, Edwards suggested that Welch write a horror film and produce it himself.

Welch, who is nothing if not disciplined and motivated, was up to the challenge. This is the guy, after all, who earned seven different world records in the 1980s for doing push-ups. When he has a goal, he's not afraid to pursue it.

Assembling a team

After he had a few scripts in hand -- "Cabin # 3" and "The Gorge" -- Welch was able to wrangle an introduction to Maxann Crotts-Harvey of South Carolina, who, with Welch, is serving as the film's executive producer. Crotts-Harvey, who has more than 20 years in the film industry as a casting director and more recently, a producer, was interested in helping Welch develop his scripts, which she liked.

She enlisted Ralph Singleton as producer. A well-known movie business veteran, Singleton worked in the 1970s as second assistant director on such heavy-hitting movies as "Taxi Driver" and "Network."

More recently, he produced "Because of Winn-Dixie," a popular children's book. Singleton also helped produce and direct many Stephen King film adaptations including "Pet Sematary" and "Graveyard Shift," so he's familiar with the horror genre.

"Doing horror films can be a lot of fun," he says.

The mill setting resonates with Singleton, whose engineer father helped build textile mills in the south in the 1940s and 1950s.

After Welch, Crotts-Harvey and Singleton began to seriously discuss making "The Gorge," Harry and Terri Welch made some trips to the mountains to scout out possible locations.

After realizing that filming at Linville Gorge would probably not be feasible, Welch began to scout around Rowan County for an old building to convert to a sound stage.

Steen offered Welch a tour of Parkdale Mill #24. Even though the tour day was bright and sunny, Steen said, inside the mill it was "spooky and scary." As they walked through the bowels of the building, Steen suggested that Welch write a screenplay about an old mill.

A few weeks later, Welch and his wife went to the beach. While Terri Welch went shopping, Welch started writing what would become "The Mill." Crotts-Harvey liked it enough to want to be involved in producing it, and one of her film industry connections, Grainger Hines -- whom you might have seen last fall as Chief James Burton on "CSI: Miami" -- signed on to direct. In the fall of 2005, auditions were held and things got rolling in earnest.

Welch has some investors for "The Mill" but would love for more people locally to feel comfortable investing in movies. It's a truism in the film industry, he says, that low-budget horror films can yield phenomenal returns.

He lucked out, he says, being able to shoot in January, which is typically a slow time in the industry. He's gratified with the level of talent he was able to assemble through the connections of Crotts-Harvey.

The town of Landis, Welch says, has been extremely welcoming, offering the use of emergency services personnel and helping with equipment.

"They just can't do enough for us," he says.

Welch is pretty exhausted these days because of the grueling nighttime shooting schedule. After the "day" is over at 5 a.m., he sometimes has to stay up working on the script, so not many hours remain for sleeping.

Still, he's having fun.

He hopes that "The Mill" will give him a track record to help him get future projects off the ground.

He's penned more than a dozen other screenplays in different genres, including suspense thrillers and westerns. He'd like to keep making movies in this area and would love to do a family movie in the future.

And who knows? "The Mill 2" has a certain ring to it.

Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@ salisburypost. com.




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