The Shawshank Redemption is an enduringly popular movie about escaping prison and the nature of justice. It received seven Oscar nominations and, in the years since, it has reached the number one spot on IMDB's list of top movies and prime place in pop culture. It's hard to believe that, when it first hit cinemas in 1994, it was a commercial failure. At the Oscars, too, it failed to deliver on any of the nominations thanks to Forrest Gump's clean sweep.
To quote the movie, all you need is time and pressure, and with time, the movie has become quite legendary. Despite a bad release, the movie received a big re-release and went on to be a major hit in rentals. It was not a bad directing debut for Frank Darabont, who adapted the script from Stephen King's novella. The movie also shot lead Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman into the limelight.
Along with the growing appreciation of the movie, time has also uncovered many of the secrets, troubles, and weird facts from its production. The movie's popularity makes it a great source of anecdotes from the cast and crew, but it also attracts a lot of speculation and misinformation.
Here are 16 Secrets Behind The Making Of The Shawshank Redemption.
16 Stephen King Sold The Rights For Cheap
King's first encounter with Darabont came up through a deal the author made with many newbie directors. He sold the rights to many of his short stories for $1 and a promise it was for non-commercial use. King was impressed with Darabont's version of The Woman in the Room, and the two made a deal for rights to the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
He sold Darabont the rights to adapt it for $1,000 and never cashed the check.
After the film became a success, King framed the check and sent it back to him. Some versions of this piece of trivia put the figure at over $5,000. Supposedly the check was accompanied by a note reading, "In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve."
15 Frank Darabont's Big Decision
After Frank Darabont finished writing the script, he took it to Castle Rock studios to get them to help produce it. In fact, the name of the studio happens to also be a Stephen King reference. When the founder of the studio, director Rob Reiner, read the script, he flipped for it and wanted to make the movie himself.
Reportedly, he offered $2.4 million (or perhaps $3 million according to some sources) to Darabont for the rights -- Reiner wanted to direct with Tom Cruise as the lead. Darabont, down on his luck, was sorely tempted by the offer. Eventually, Darabont refused, later saying, “you can continue to defer your dreams in exchange for money and, you know, pass without ever having done the thing you set out to do.”
14 The Set Was A Real Prison
Prisons aren't famous for being comfortable places to live. The real-world prison that was used for on location filming was the Ohio State Reformatory, which had opened almost a century before. The place had been a prison since 1896, closing finally in December 1990, after the inmates won a class action suit.
The prison was overcrowded and the prisoners were living in inhumane conditions.
Most of the filming happened there, although interior sets were built, as it was cheaper than outfitting the cells for sound recording. The crew worked 15-18 hour days and the prison was not very comfortable. Darabont said it was "a bleak place". Interestingly, many of the extras were actually former inmates.
Now, it is a tourist destination and it's been the location for numerous other films, music videos, and TV shows -- including some paranormal investigation shows.
13 The Rooftop Tarring Scene
One of the first bright spots in the bleak first part of the movie is the scene where Andy gets some beers for the guys working on the rooftop. The scene opens with the cons tarring the prison roof in the sun and Andy gets some beers for the team in exchange for doing the captain's taxes. The scene is heartwarming, but it was not easy to make.
Morgan Freeman recalls: “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." The challenge was matching up the shot to Freeman's prerecorded voice over. After one of the many retakes, Darabont saw a crewman with a tear on his face, and he knew that was it. By the end of the day, Freeman said when they could, "sit down and drink that beer, it was very welcome.”
12 The Original Script's Ending
The film ends on a good note, as Red meets up with Andy on the outside in his beach paradise, but when Darabont wrote his screenplay, he followed King's novella quite closely for the ending. It was originally going to end with Red just getting on the bus, hoping to find Andy somewhere in Mexico, as there would be no confirmation that the two had met outside of prison.
Castle Rock's entertainment producer Liz Glotzer insisted they add the final scene we got.
Darabont felt that it was "the commercial, sappy version," but Glotzer wanted audiences to have the pleasure of a genuine resolution. The first draft was long and many scenes had to be cut. Even after having to trim the film down, she wanted that happy ending to stay.
11 Some People Don't Need Advice For A Role
Many actors favor method acting and doing lots of deep research for their roles, and one would think that, playing a prison officer, offers from real world officials would be more than welcome. Although, when numerous prison officers called actor Clancy Brown to give him advice and guidance for his performance, he turned them down.
Brown is unforgettable as the sadistic prison Captain Hadley. He turned down the offers for help as a kind of favor to the correctional officers. He didn't want his performance in the film to reflect badly on the real world people who wanted to help, "Nobody... wants me saying I based my performance on them."
Tim Robbins did do a bit of method research though, spending an afternoon in solitary confinement.
10 The Bible's Tiny Detail
The prop team on a film often puts in a lot of work for very small details and Shawshank Redemption is no exception, as prop master Tom Shaw found a chance to put a prop to very good use. The rock pick that Andy uses to tunnel out through the wall is smuggled in to him inside the pages of a Bible. When the warden discovers this, he opens the book to find the pages cut out to hide the tool.
In the few seconds it's on screen, you can make out the chapter he turns to: Exodus.
It's a fantastic little touch that the pick is hidden right at the start of a chapter all about escaping -- this shows just how close the attention to detail was across the whole crew.
9 Goodfellas VS Director's Block
One of the films Frank Darabont found inspiring was Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese's 1990 mob movie. The Shawshank Redemption is a very word-heavy story and Stephen King was worried that his story was "too wordy" to adapt to screen. Scorsese's movie used dialogue and narration to carry the passage of time in the story.
The story goes that Darabont watched Goodfellas on Sundays while working on the film. He said his tape was his "talisman" during filming. The golden rule of story is: show, don't tell, which worried Darabont over his wordy script. As a new director, he found the process and compromises of filming exhausting. When he was "feeling blown out and depressed," he could put Goodfellas on to be inspired.
8 Little Bit Of A Bug Problem
In one scene, Andy finds a maggot in his food. Brooks asks him, "Are you gonna eat that?" Andy gets worried that the man is about to eat it, but then Brooks feeds the maggot to his baby bird. When animal control inspected the movie to make sure no animals were harmed, the crew were anxious about the baby bird in Brooks' pocket. Nobody guessed that the real problem was actually going to be with the maggot.
The inspector felt that feeding a live waxworm to the bird would be cruel, therefore filming stopped and the crew waited around a bucket of squirming worms until one stopped moving all on its own. They then could feed the bird in good conscience and declare no animal was harmed in the making of the movie. That was one of the stranger delays for the production.
7 Freeman's Injury
There are many stories of actors being injured while on set, but this is one of the strangest. Freeman's injury wasn't from a dangerous stunt, but from throwing too many baseballs. In one scene of the movie, Andy approaches Red (played by Freeman) while he is practicing baseball.
The filming took a grueling nine hours to complete, with Freeman constantly tossing the ball for each take. He didn't complain, but the next day he came to work with his arm in a sling.
The filming was very tough on the actors in general, and Darabont was a hard taskmaster -- he wanted as many takes to make sure he'd get a good one. Quite often, Freeman would flat out say no, "Acting itself isn’t difficult. But having to do something again and again for no discernible reason tends to be a bit debilitating to the energy,” he said in an interview.
6 Robbins' Toxic Water Scene
One of the brilliant pieces of foreshadowing in the movie is Red saying Andy's hopes of freedom were a "pipe dream." The climactic and disgusting escape through the sewers was actually a dangerous scene to shoot, so much so that a local chemistry expert was called in to test the quality of the water in the stream below the sewage pipe outflow. According to production designer Terrance Marsh, the chemist told them it "was absolutely lethal."
Robbins was not very excited to hear that the sewers weren't safe, but they shot the scene anyway after promising him a warm shower right away.
For some of the shots, though, they used a different pipe filled with something a lot more pleasant: a chocolate syrup thickened with sawdust. They say the pipe still smells of all the chocolate used to simulate the effluent.
5 Opening Night Solitude
It was a tradition in Hollywood that, on the opening night for a film in cinemas, the director and producer would tour the local movie theaters to gauge the public response. Frank Darabont tried to do this and was met with a director's worst nightmare. He and Liz Glotzer, the producer, arrived at the Cinerama Dome because it "was the coolest theater", but when they arrived, they were the only people in the 900-seat movie theater.
Glotzer blamed a bad review in the L.A. Times for putting people off. She and Darabont actually cornered two girls outside and begged them to watch the movie, promising that if the girls didn't enjoy it, the Castle Rock production company would refund them. Unfortunately, the film's opening was a false start that took awhile to recover from.
4 The Second Coming
Looking back on The Shawshank Redemption, it's hard to believe that the opening night was such a failure. After not even making a million on the opening weekend, the film managed to scrape together around $16 million in total. Adjusted for inflation, that puts its gross at $27 million today. It fell $9 million short of breaking even, but that wasn't the end of the story.
Despite not winning much in the awards season, the buzz justified a second release, as well as a boom in video rentals, becoming the most-rented movie in 1995.
Even if there could've been more relevant factors, Morgan Freeman lays the blame on the title. He said: “Nobody could say, Shawshank Redemption. What sells anything is word of mouth."
3 A Crow - The New Clapper
This is the second piece of bird-related production trivia for the movie. For the scene in question, Andy comes into the library looking for Brooks. Jake, the crow the old con raised, is sitting right by the door in the shot and Andy asks him "where's Brooks?" Tim Robbins had to contend with the bird in delivering his line, since the crow couldn't be trained when to squawk.
Apparently, Robbins learned to predict the bird's patterns so that he could deliver his line uninterrupted. This, among the many other great moments from Robbins in the movie, really impressed director Darabont.
Going back and watching the scene again, one can see Robbins keeping an eye on the crow for a cue to deliver his line.
2 There Wasn't Only One Freeman Involved In The Movie
Before we had CGI to de-age Robert Downey Jr. into a twenty-something superhero, directors had to be creative when they needed a photo from a character's past.
In Shawshank, they needed a mugshot of Red as a young man, so they used Morgan Freeman's son as a double for his father's character.
While that's a fairly well-known piece of special effects trivia, Freeman's son also has a small speaking role. Early in the film, Andy has the scary reality of his life in prison hit home, as he and the other new cons arrive at the prison compound. One of the prisoners starts shouting out, "we got fresh fish." It's a very unsettling moment that sets the tone for the early part of the movie, and those lines were delivered by Alfonso Freeman. He would also go on to portray the son of Morgan Freeman's character in The Bucket List.
1 Tim Robbins' Classic Improv
A great moment of Andy's growing defiance is when he blasts opera through the prison's PA system -- he goes into the Warden's office and finds a turntable going. In the original script, he was going to turn it off, but Tim Robbins felt that they could do more with the scene and suggested he should turn it up.
Red narrates that he has no idea what the women were singing about. The piece of music in question comes from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. The soprano duet involves revealing a husband's infidelity -- an ironic inversion of the events that lead to Andy Dufresne's imprisonment. Thanks to this scene, the piece was nominated for a place in the American Film Institute's list of 100 top movie songs.
What was your favorite bit of trivia about The Shawshank Redemption? Let us know in the comments!