Veteran movie producer, Fred Fontana, couldn’t hide his excitement while talking to the audience in attendance of the trailer for the upcoming movie, “Pellett” last Wednesday afternoon in the Toole County Courthouse. Fontana has produced such films as “Vegas Vacation,” “The Next Karate Kid,” “Pure Country,” “Soldier” and “The Specialist.”

It was 68 years ago that Frank Dryman was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to hang by Judge Hattersley in the Toole County Courthouse. What should have been the end to this story turned into a beginning, as Dryman didn’t hang, but in fact was given multiple trials before ultimately being sentenced to life in prison. The story did not end there. Dryman was paroled a few years later and absconded, living 38 years as a free man in Arizona until the grandson of the man he shot and killed tracked him down and put him back where he belonged, behind bars. 

Over 20 people gathered in the same courtroom Dryman was originally sentenced in almost seven decades ago to watch the trailer for the movie “Pellett,” produced by Fred Fontana, Clem Pellett, Peter Sobich and Jeremy Oliver Miller. The movie has been in production now for a few years and tells the story of the murder of Clarence Pellett and the events that followed, all the way up to Clem Pellett finding Dryman in Arizona in 2010 and putting him back in prison.

“We like to call this a ‘teaser’ instead of a trailer,” said Pellett to those attending the Aug. 28 showing. “Dryman was sentenced to hang, twice, in this courtroom. It was packed, this was a big deal. And here we are now. So much has happened since I found those newspaper clippings.”

Pellett had only been told that his grandfather had been killed by a hitchhiker and it wasn’t until after his father had passed away that he uncovered the whole story, finding a box full of newspaper clippings telling the sad tale of what really happened. When he realized that Dryman was still out there, somewhere, living a life he didn’t deserve, Pellett went into action, seeking justice for his grandfather. Through perseverance, investigation and determination Pellett accomplished his goal. It didn’t end there, as this story was too great to not be told, so Pellett wrote a book, “Dastardly.” And now, a movie.

“Movie making is a team sport,” said Pellett. “And it’s not quick. Every team has a captain and Fred Fontana is ours. These gentlemen are dedicated to doing this film in Montana.”

“We are in the third year of making this movie,” said Peter Sobich. “It does take time, but recent tax legislation will make it easier for us. We held fast to shooting in Montana.”

Being stubborn paid off as the film, to date, has been shot entirely in Montana, in Toole and Cascade counties, as well as Deer Lodge, where the events happened. Classic cars, courtesy of Lin Markuson, Warren Iverson and others line Shelby’s Main Street in the teaser, taking the audience back to another time. The fact that Main Street, and other area landmarks haven’t evolved much over the years made shooting different scenes that much easier.

“Usually we are creating scenery, making sets,” said Fontana. “This film is just filming, it’s incredible. The movie will have an authentic feel.”

Visiting and filming at the old Deerlodge prison didn’t require any special effects or creating either and all voiced the opinion “that place is haunted!”

“We did some filming in Deerlodge,” said Parker Alexander, part of the cinematography creative team. “It’s definitely haunted. I crashed a drone on site for the first time ever at Deerlodge.”

Issues with the camera also plagued the crew during their day trip to the facility. But crashing drones, cameras with a mind of their own and all around creepiness didn’t stop them from filming.

The filming isn’t the only thing that is still in the process, the cast is not yet complete either, with the leading role of Clem Pellett yet to be decided.

“The main star, Clem Pellett’s role, has not been cast yet,” said Fontana. “We are holding off as we want this to be as big as possible. It’s a matter of availability. We are in a decision period and want this as perfect and big as it can be.”

The movie has a total of 85 roles, some of which they are looking to fill with locals. The crew hopes to be shooting the film by the end of the year or shortly after the holidays. 

“The cooperation of Shelby, the Hi-Line, Great Falls, it has been fantastic,” said Miller. “This will be a movie the state will be proud of.

“We’ve appreciated the hospitality,” added Miller. “Everyone has been great!”

“We love Montana,” said Alexander. “We want to showcase the state and make you proud.”

The film features documentary commentary, as well as flashback scenes, sticking to the actual facts as much as possible.

“The film is about 95 percent accurate to the real story,” said Fontana.

Comments of “wow,” “no comment, just tears” and “very emotional” were heard throughout the courtroom after the viewing. If the crowd’s response to the teaser was any indication the crew of “Pellett” are well on their way to showcasing Montana and producing a movie the HiLine can be proud of.

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