Filming begins for Montana movie chronicling 1950s murder

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jul 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-24 19:55:32-04

GREAT FALLS – Sixty-seven years after Clarence Pellett was killed, filming for a movie chronicling his murder and his grandson’s hunt for justice is set to begin.

The cast and crew of “Pellett” were in Great Falls on Monday evening to introduce the movie and discuss the process of bringing Clarence Pellett’s story to life on the big screen in Big Sky Country.

In April of 1951, Clarence Pellett stopped to pick up 19-year-old Frank Dryman who was hitchhiking near Shelby. Dryman shot 59-year-old Clarence several times in the back, stole his vehicle, and fled to Canada.

Dryman admitted to the murder after he was arrested and was sentenced to prison in 1955. After serving almost 14 years in prison, he was granted parole. He then vanished without a trace.

Clem Pellett, Clarence’s grandson, learned of his grandfather’s murder and Dryman’s disappearance years after Dryman was released. Clem hired a private investigator who tracked Dryman down in 2010. He was operating a wedding chapel and notary business in Arizona City under the alias Victor Houston. Dryman died in November of 2017 at the Lewistown Infirmary while serving a 100-year sentence.

Fred Fontana, the film’s director, writer, and producer, said he knew Montana was the only location to shoot the movie, however, filming in the state is difficult.

According to Montana Film Commissioner Allison Whitmer, Montana doesn’t have financial incentives that attract filmmakers even though the scenery and people often do. The Montana Film Office announced on Monday that “Pellett” received a $100,000 Big Sky Film Grant to help the project move forward.

“They were rewarded a grant because it’s a Montana story, it’s a Montana production,” she said. “It’s helping to bring real stories back to where they happened.”

Filming begins in Great Falls this weeks at places such as the Civic Center and the County Courthouse. The crew will also travel to Shelby and Deer Lodge.

“This is what we call a trailer shoot,” Fontana said. “We’re just gonna be shooting some stuff to show our investors in New York, which is where the particular investors for this film are coming out of, what this movie’s all about and what it’s going to look like.”

Some proposed actors in the film include Lindsay Wagner, Kam Dabrowski, and Isabel Glasser.

Jeremy Miller, the director of photography, explained that drones will be used to help capture Montana’s landscape.

“What we really want to showcase is all of Montana,” he said. “The towns like Shelby, which is so eclectic to the time and period.”

For Clem Pellett, the movie is about his grandfather, an Oilmont resident and father of six.

“Instead of being a murder victim, I think he’s going to become a person,” Clem said. “He’s going to become the patriarch that he was when he was murdered.”

Reporting by Natalie McAlpine for MTN News