The Shawshank Redemption is often hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. Adapted from a Stephen King novella, the tale of Andy Dufresne’s time in prison is powerful, emotional and compelling. Some of the tales of what happened while the film was being made, however, are actually just as intriguing…
20. The original title of the movie was longer
The original Stephen King novella on which the film was based was actually titled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, in reference to the poster that Andy keeps in his cell. And this was intended to be the title of the subsequent movie adaptation as well. However, Castle Rock, the company that produced the film, eventually changed the name to prevent people from thinking that the screen version was in any way about Rita Hayworth herself.
19. Rob Reiner came very close to directing the film
By 1994 Rob Reiner had already directed two very successful Stephen King adaptations in Stand by Me and Misery, and he had his eyes set on a third. He even offered Frank Darabont, who had written the script for Shawshank, a rumored $3 million to let him direct the movie with Tom Cruise in a lead role. And while Darabont did seriously consider the offer, he ultimately refused, instead helming the film himself.
18. The water that Andy crawled into was almost as dirty as it looked
At the end of the film, Andy crawls out of a sewage pipe into a muddy puddle. That puddle, moreover, looks pretty grim – and, by all accounts, appearances were not deceiving. A local chemist was asked to test the quality of the water, in fact, and deemed it “lethal.” As a result, Tim Robbins only agreed to get into it if there was a shower on hand for his immediate use afterwards.
17. One particular scene took nine hours to shoot
Frank Darabont is known for being meticulous, but there’s a fine line between thorough and crazy. And that line was arguably crossed during the filming of one scene in which Andy and Red toss a baseball back and forth, which took a staggering nine hours to finish. Freeman never complained, but he did arrive on set the following day with his arm in a sling.
16. Stephen King never cashed the check that he received for the movie’s rights
Stephen King has a patchy history with adaptations of his films, and it seems that he didn’t have very high hopes for Shawshank. Indeed, he asked Frank Darabont for just a $1,000 check for the rights to the movie; when he read the script, moreover, he thought that it was too “talky.” After the film’s runaway success, though, King actually posted the check back to Darabont.
15. There’s a clever reference to King’s other work in the film
If there’s one thing Stephen King loves doing, it’s dropping in little links to his other works in his writing. And some of the people who adapt his work for the big screen seem to be similarly inclined. In Shawshank, for instance, Red’s cell number is 237. It’s a double-headed reference to both the haunted Room 237 in The Shining and the amount of change that the boys put together in Stand By Me – $2.37.
14. The American Humane Association was very particular about the animals in the film
As it’s set in a prison, there understandably aren’t many animals in The Shawshank Redemption, save for Brooks’ crow. Nevertheless, the American Humane Association (AHA) visited the movie’s set to make sure that the animals involved were being taken care of. And it turned out that the crow wasn’t a problem – the maggots that it was eating, however, were. They’d been bought from a tackle shop, but the AHA insisted instead that they had to have died of natural causes to be used in the film.
13. The prison that the film was shot in came very close to being demolished
Much of the movie was shot inside the Ohio State Reformatory, which stopped operating in 1990 following years of protests about the inhumane conditions there. Indeed, the “hole” that you see in the film was in fact based on the prison’s real solitary confinement chamber. The plan had been to tear the prison down, but after it was used for the film it became a historical site. What’s more, it’s still open for tours today.
12. Frank Darabont used another iconic film to keep him inspired
Frank Darabont was initially very conflicted about using narration – a great deal of it taken verbatim from the book – in the film. He stuck with it, though, and during the shoot he watched Goodfellas every Sunday for inspiration and to remind him how effective voiceover narrative can be in cinema.
11. Tommy’s fate was very different in the story
The murder of the young, determined inmate Tommy is one of the most tragic subplots in the film. In the novella on which the movie is based, however, Tommy gets off a lot easier, ending up being transferred to a minimum-security facility. Darabont changed his story because he thought that it made Tommy a stronger character and the warden a worse villain, while also increasing the power of Andy’s victory at the end. Poor Tommy.
10. Frank Darabont had a rather hands-on approach to the film
It’s not uncommon for directors to make an appearance in their films. Quentin Tarantino frequently takes on speaking roles in his productions, for instance, and Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearances in more than half of his movies. In Darabont’s case, however, his appearance on screen was rather more limited. That comes when Andy is seen loading the gun: those aren’t Tim Robbins’ hands performing the task, but Darabont’s.
9. There are two generations of Freemans in the film
Early in the film, during Red’s first parole hearing, we see a picture of him when he was first incarcerated. No mugshot of a young Morgan Freeman existed to use, though, so instead they showed an image of Freeman’s son, Alfonso. Alfonso would go on to become an established actor in his own right.
8. The sewage in the pipe smelled a lot better than it looked
It’s hard not to feel a bit sick when you watch Andy crawl through the “river of s**t” that Red describes. In actuality, though, the sewage in the pipe was made using a combination of chocolate syrup, chocolate bars and dead leaves to replicate the look and feel of septic fluid. And the pipe apparently smelt chocolatey for some time after.
7. Red’s crime was a lot worse in the original story
Red is one of the only prisoners who openly admits to his crime – murder. In the film, that’s all we ever find out; in the book, however, it’s also revealed that he cut the brakes on his wife’s car to get insurance money. In the process, he killed his wife, their neighbor and her infant son. He probably would have been a less likeable character in the film if they had included those gruesome details, though.
6. There’s a good reason why it’s on TV so often
Shawshank is easy enough to find to watch – it’s on Netflix, for instance. Even before the advent of the screening service, however, it aired on TV very frequently. That’s because Castle Rock owner Ted Turner sold himself the rights to the film at a bargain price and then had it aired repeatedly on his TV channels from 1997 onwards. The move helped to immortalize the film as well as offsetting its lackluster box office performance.
5. There were a few real convicts in Shawshank
Not only was the film shot in a real prison that had only ceased operating a few years beforehand, but the filmmakers also used some actual former prisoners. During crowd scenes shot during the day, the Mansfield locals usually used were largely working, so the producers drafted in people from a local halfway house instead – many of them actual ex-convicts.
4. The role of Andy nearly went to a much bigger actor
Tim Robbins is a big name now, but he wasn’t anywhere near as famous in 1994. Tom Hanks certainly was, though, and he was originally tipped to star in The Shawshank Redemption. In the end, however, he chose to do Forrest Gump instead. And not only did Hanks triumph over Morgan Freeman to win the Best Actor Oscar for it, but the film itself also beat out Shawshank to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Shawshank has since been voted the greatest film to ever lose out on the award.
3. Tim Robbins did some hands-on study for the role
Robbins may not have had as much box-office clout as Tom Hanks, but he nevertheless took his work very seriously. Before starting filming on Shawshank, for example, he spent some time in solitary confinement to help him better understand prison life. Interestingly enough, the actor now spends time mentoring actual inmates in acting – Andy would probably be proud.
2. Things were pretty tense on set at times
These days, it’s a well-known fact that Frank Darabont likes things to be just so on set. But Shawshank was his first time directing, and so people weren’t used to his approach. According to Freeman, Darabont would shoot scenes repeatedly, even if they’d already been nailed. Understandably, this went on to cause a certain amount of tension on set between Darabont and the cast.
1. Clancy Brown turned down some outside help preparing for his role
While Robbins was spending time in solitary, Clancy Brown was deciding whether to spend time with actual correctional officers to help him prepare for his role as Captain Hadley. And though Brown declined the offer in the end, he did for a good reason. Specifically, he saw Hadley as an evil character, and so he didn’t want too much of a positive impression of real guards.