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kottke.org posts about The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption, 20 years on

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2014

The Shawshank Redemption came out 20 years ago and promptly bombed. Now it’s one of the most popular movies of all time. Here’s how it came to be made.

Filming on location is often something to be endured, and Shawshank’s schedule was particularly brutal: workdays were 15 to 18 hours, six days a week, over three humid months inside the former Ohio State Reformatory, in Mansfield, and on nearby constructed sets, which included the huge cellblock. “We were lucky to have Sundays off,” says Darabont.

A bakery in Mansfield now sells Bundt-cake replicas of the Gothic prison, which these days is a tourist attraction that draws Shawshank pilgrims. But in 1993 the defunct penitentiary-closed three years earlier for inhumane living conditions-“was a very bleak place,” according to Darabont. Robbins adds, “You could feel the pain. It was the pain of thousands of people.” The production employed former inmates who shared personal stories similar to those in Shawshank’s script, “in terms of the violence of the guards and throwing people off the top of cellblocks,” says Deakins.

Robbins remembers “going to that place inside for three months. It was never depressing, because Andy had this hope inside. But it was, at times, dark because of the situations that the character goes through.” Deakins confirms that working on the film was “a very intense situation. Sometimes the performances really affected me while I was shooting it.” The scene that gave Deakins “a tingle down the spine” is also Robbins’s favorite: the prisoners drinking beer on the sunny license-plate-factory roof. Coming more than a half an hour into the movie-and two years into Andy’s sentence-it’s the first bright spot in a film heretofore gray in palette and tone. Andy risks being thrown off the roof by Captain Hadley in order to procure a few “suds” for his fellow prisoners-a moment when the character shifts from victim to burgeoning legend. That Andy himself doesn’t drink is beside the point.

The scene was shot over a “hard, hard day,” says Freeman. “We were actually tarring that roof. And tar doesn’t stay hot and viscous long. It tends to dry and harden, so you’re really working. For the different setups you had to keep doing it over and over and over and over and over.”

I was one of the few who saw Shawshank in the theater (I watched at least two or three movies a week back in those days) and loved it immediately. (via @aaroncoleman0)