Behind the camera
New star-studded, Texas-backed movie sends viewers on a Wild West murder mystery
Texas movie producer Kelly Frazier is a Western kind of gal.
Born and raised in Houston, the former music-video producer (she's worked with such country artists as Shania Twain, George Jones, and Billy Ray Cyrus) has been working almost exclusively in the genre of cowboy fiction. "I did about seven Westerns in a row, which are always the most fun to shoot," says Frazier, who's been in the business ("scarily enough," she says) for 30 years.
The latest oater she's involved with is Murder at Yellowstone City, which has just been released in select theaters and on digital and boasts a cast of familiar Hollywood legends, stars, and starlets.
The movie is actually something of an whodunit: A man (Zach McGowan) who strikes gold in a run-down Montana town is murdered. When the sheriff (film legend Gabriel Byrne) immediately locks up a traveling stranger of color (Isaiah Mustafa, he of the Old Spice commercials), several townspeople — particularly the town preacher (Thomas Jane star of The Punisher) and his wife (Anna Camp of Pitch Perfect) — suspect someone else is responsible.
Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss, Nat Wolff, and Aimee Garcia also star as some of the town's inhabitants.
Frazier and her K7 Storytellers company got involved with the project when actress Scottie Thompson (who serves a a co-producer and plays the victim's widow) approached her with a script filmmaker Richard Gray (who directed Thompson in The Lookalike and Broken Ghost) wanted to direct next. "He had shared the project with her, to potentially act in it," says Frazier. "She brought it to us — she's dipping her toe in producing these days — and, so, we all worked together to get a plan in place that made sense."
Of course, the plan involved scaring up some money to make the film, and that's when another Texan joined the party. San Antonio-born businesswoman Julie Stagner joined the circle of producers, using her background in asset management and other financial services to build a budget for Murder. "[Kelly] was looking for some investors to help with the film," says Stagner, "and I came on as an executive producer with the film and had the wonderful opportunity of working by Kelly's side on this project, being on set and getting to produce in post-production. It was a phenomenal experience learning from some of the best in the business."
The film was shot in spring 2021 at the Yellowstone Film Ranch, a location co-owned by Gray, in Montana. ("We were just super-fortunate that we didn't have any COVID issues on set, and we were able to do that," says Stagner.) Frazier and Stagner weren't the only Texans involved in the production. Houston-area teen actress Isabella Ruby has a supporting role as a young, gun-wielding gal who lives and works at the town saloon/house of ill repute.
"There are so many talented people in Texas," says Frazier. "There are great crews. There's great talent — like Izzy — and tons of great actors. There are so many Texans out here in L.A. that say the same thing that I do: If there was a big-enough [film] community in Texas, we'd all move back. You know, people like [Matthew] McConaughey and Mike Judge and [Richard] Linklater and Robert Rodriguez have that luxury. But there's such a deep talent pool there."
Frazier would love to bring more film productions to the Lone Star State. However, with the current tax incentives on film and TV productions (5 to 20 percent, according to the Texas Film Commission) being lower than other states (Montana is 25 percent), making some horse operas around here isn't financially feasible right now.
"I would shoot every movie in Texas, to be able to be home and close to family," says Frazier. "So, the great thing about Texas is it can be literally any place you want it to be. You've got the beach. You've got, you know, the swamp country of East Texas. You've got the big mountains of the Big Bend and everything in between. So, there's so many looks you can get in Texas, and it would be great... Financially, if it made sense, I would shoot every movie in Texas."
At the moment, both Frazier and Stagner hope that their townsfolk will take in this murder-mystery in the Old West. "I think [audiences] will feel a lot of emotion," says Stagner, "and they'll be entertained in a great way from all the classic and traditional things that you'd find in a Western."
But don't forget about the movie's meaningful message. "As cliched as its sounds, do the right thing and search for the truth," says Frazier. "If you see an injustice, do something about it, and don't always take things on the surface."
Murder at Yellowstone City is now playing in select theaters and on streaming services such as iTunes and Amazon.