Life Imitates Art in Filming Wellman's Story
"Up Under the Roof"

Filmmaker Darin Read had been a fan of Manly Wade Wellman and his contemporaries for many years when he decided to directa film version of his favorite Wellman story Up Under the Roof. "I grew up reading horror stories and watching scary films because I was afraid of everything as a child and I wanted to overcome my intense fears", he explains. As a result, Darin became somewhat of an encyclopedia of the horror genre. "I have a special place in my heart for the horror writers of the early 20th century" he confesses, "when I went to film school, all I could think of for several years was how and when I'd be able to turn Up Under the Roof into a film. I could relate to the story so much because of my own childhood, but I also was very touched by the humanity of it." Darin called legendary literary agent Kirby McCauley every week for a year before I was finally granted permission by the rights holder.

Up Under the Roof is about a ten-year-old boy who hears disturbing noises at night coming from the attic in an oppressive household. Darin felt finding the perfect house was paramount in telling the story on the big screen. "The house is another character in the film," he often explains. "The house is a cage where the boy lives." Several months of location scouting proved fruitless and Darin and I were very close to giving up. He'd found a house in Perris, California that he fell in love with. It was an old Victorian with peeling paint and sinister gables. But the owner was extremely reluctant to allow filming and the interior was contemporary and not suitable. Not having the budget for capital improvements to someone else's home, we continued our search for another location to film the interiors.

Again, close to giving up on the film completely, a fluke contactwith a southern California real estate agent made out of sheer desperation led to a promising lead, which in turn panned out and provided a solution. Darin made contact with a local historic preservation group. They had the perfect house, a living museum bequeathed to them by an elderly resident after her death. This unique Victorian home (now a museum) is still furnished and dressed as if it were the 1930's. It's a time machine to the early 20th century. The heritage group had never allowed filming at any of its facilities, yet somehow we'd have to convince them to allow an entire crew and scores of equipment cases onto the property. After a presentation and several rounds of negotiation, swayed by his sincerity, the preservation society granted Darin permission to film Up Under the Roof at the vintage house-museum.

Filming inside the home was a delicate and painstaking process as the crew worked diligently to have as little impact as possibleeven while re-dressing rooms and hauling in heavy equipment. The biggest surprise the house had for us, however, didn't happen during the work day. It took place after dark, during those lonely hours between midnight and dawn...

Because this was an independent production and Darin was financing the project himself, there was no budget for security or a fleet of trucks to hold the equipment overnight. Instead, during the 5-day shoot, Darin slept inside the old Victorian home and guarded the house and equipment himself each night. Many people asked him if he was afraid. Darin simply replied, "no." "But what about the ghost," they'd ask? Darin assured everyone he'd be fine.

Turns out, this old grand house itself had a sinister history that equals the storyline in Up Under the Roof. The octogenarian resident had been murdered on the premises and local folklore maintains that the house is haunted. Capitalizing on the rumors, the preservation society also rigs the house to appear as if someone occupies the home to deter vandalism. A shape in the window at night… lights that come on by themselves… all help to keep the legend alive.

Working late at night at the home, many crew members were reluctant to go upstairs by themselves, including myself. The vintage lights weren't bright enough to cast away shadows and fears, and the floorboards naturally creaked. Everyone denied they were afraid, of course, but it was obvious and humorous how the upper floors and attic would quickly empty out when the crew thinned out for the night. The last two people on site every night were the producers: me and Darin. I worried for Darin. Each night I asked if he was going to be OK alone in the house overnight. Darin never flinched and sent me on my way to drop the film in Hollywood at the lab.

What did Darin see and hear on those lonely overnighters in the hulking Victorian alone? Did he get a glimpse of the proud homeowner herself, Mrs. D? "I've had terrible nightmares my entire life," he answers cryptically. "But were you scared," I would ask. "Did you have any unusual nightmares?"

Darin would just laugh and say "my worst nightmares are that we damage this house and that we don't complete the film. Anything else, I can handle."

So, the secrets of the beautiful home that appears on-screen in Up Under the Roof live on and remain unspoiled. A passionate fan of early horror, Darin believes mysteries are important in storytelling and as far as his experiences sleeping overnight, alone in a house rumored to be haunted are concerned, his lips are sealed.

If you get a chance to make one of our upcoming screenings, perhaps you'll be able to pry some information out of him regarding his perilous slumber in the venerable Mrs. D's home.

--Danielle Stallings
Producer, co-writer Up Under the Roof

Article copyright © 2010 Danielle Stallings
The Voice of the Mountains original content © Daniel Alan Ross, Paul F. Olson & Mark Cannon. 
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