The remote wilderness near Lincoln where Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber, lived still has signs of his presence.
Filmmakers behind the new Unabomber movie, “Ted K,” found empty cans of food, a wooden ladder and Kaczynski’s initials in a piece of concrete. On a tree where his cabin stood is a carving that reads, “FBI,” left by a federal agent.
“The Unabomber’s property was pretty eerie actually,” said Colin Scott, a producer on “Ted K” who graduated from the University of Montana in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.
Kaczynski terrorized the country for almost two decades, starting in the late 1970s by sending bombs to those he believed were destroying the environment. Three people died in the bombings.
Scott worked on the movie with five other filmmakers from UM: Jeri Rafter, production manager, Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts 2012; Lauren Norby, set dresser, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing 2006; Tyler Grutsch, key grip, Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts 2010; Caelan Fisher, camera operator, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Arts 2017; and Brooke Swaney, first assistant director, adjunct professor in film production 2016.
The UM filmmakers were part of a small movie crew that built a replica of the Unabomber’s cabin and shot 400 hours of footage on the property, from February 2018 into the summer of that year.
Scott said he felt a bond with the other UM grads as they worked together on location. During the first day filming, the crew rode snowmobiles to the remote property.
“To be thrown onto the back of snowmobiles, on top of mountains, and into the elements on day one with an inherent level of trust, language and familiarity made for an extremely smooth entry into what would end up being a really unique, physical and very fun shoot,” Scott said.
The result was a feature-length movie that had its North American premiere Feb. 15 at The Wilma Theater in Missoula. It was released Feb. 18 online and in 20 theaters across the country, including in Missoula, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. The movie stars Sharlto Copley (“District 9” and “The A Team”), a South African actor who portrayed Kaczynski. The movie also is available on streaming platforms, including Amazon, Apple TV and VUDU.
Local residents from Lincoln also made appearances in the movie, and other residents fed and housed the film crew, said Caelan Fisher, a UM graduate who helped operate the cameras.
“The film wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for the locals being as open to the project as they were,” Fisher said. “A lot of thanks are given to them.”
Fisher, who runs his own production company, C. Fisher Media, said it was his first experience working on a feature film. He credits the connections he made as a film student at UM for being able to join the crew.
“It was my first job working in the assistant camera department and it was a wild ride,” Fisher said. “They gave me opportunities to camera operate which is pretty uncommon for someone just starting out. They actually let me shoot.”
The goal was to make an authentic movie that gets into the mind of the Unabomber without condemning or condoning his actions, Scott said. The movie does not tell the audience how to feel but rather lets them decide for themselves, he said.
“It’s supposed to be a very objective study,” Scott said.
Kaczynski, a Harvard-trained mathematician, left his academic career to live alone in his 10-by-12-foot cabin. From his cabin, Kaczynski built 16 bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others across the United States between 1978 and 1995. He led authorities on the nation’s longest manhunt but was eventually arrested by FBI agents at his cabin in 1996.
Kaczynski has since been in custody at a federal Supermax prison in Colorado. In December, the 79-year-old was transferred to a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina.
During the last stages of filming “Ted K” in February 2020, Scott and the film’s director, Tony Stone, visited the Colorado prison to get shots for the movie’s final scene.
Scott said it was surreal to be near the Unabomber and know he was still alive on the other side of the prison walls. Scott wondered how Kaczynski would feel about the film.
“I think he would maybe respect the intentionality and thoughtfulness,” Scott said. “And that we tried to portray him fairly.”