Andy Dufresne: “There are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.”
Red: “What’re you talking about?”
In 2020, we’ve been battered – tested and stretched to the maximum. We’ve seen so many dark days. Instances in which we thought we couldn’t sustain. We’ve felt fear, uncertainty, despair and sadness. There are a handful of things that kept me moving forward this disastrous year – and yes, it was essential to keep moving – I had the good fortune to have a solid love at home – a steadfast and nimble group of co-workers that met over Zoom every day to brainstorm or to simply check on each other. I also had the movies — and writing about them. I never imagined last March that I’d be putting my thoughts together — and typing them up — day in and day out for over 200 missives. The truth is that writing gave me purpose and knowing that you were reading gave me hope. Knowing it meant something to you to receive these daily notes kept me and my staff motivated – and for that I’m indebted. It’s all about moving forward – one step at a time.
Since I saw writer and director Frank Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) there’s one scene that has always stuck in my mind. One of the main characters, Andy Dufresne (beautifully rendered by Tim Robbins) slithers through this narrow sewage pipe through five hundred yards of squalor. The narrator, Red (that gorgeous voice of Morgan Freeman), tells us that “I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to.” Andy endures five hundred yards. We’re told “that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.” In a tightly framed shot in low-key lighting we watch him prevail. It’s such a graphic scene I can even smell it. Through the years it has stayed with me because I’ve always wondered if I could undergo something like that. . 19 years of suffering – 19 years of planning – and those last five hundred yards through all the muck. Andy crawls to freedom – with determination, with purpose and hope.
If you’ve never seen this film – and even if you have – you should see it. Trust me when I tell you it will have a renewed impact on you. It will ring louder than ever.
It is an adaptation of a Stephen King novella – entitled “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” from his 1982 collection “Different Seasons.” It’s worth noting that the compilation is subtitled “Hope Springs Eternal.” Darabont’s first film was a short based on another King story named “The Woman in the Room.” The film went on to be short-listed for Oscar. This led to King offering a handshake deal for the rights to the “Rita Hayworth…” title.
It starts in 1947, when banker Dufresne is convicted for murdering his wife and her lover and sent to the Shawshank State Penitentiary to serve two consecutive life sentences. An African American inmate, Red, who befriends Andy becomes the voice of the film and we see the developments through his eyes. He muses, “I could see why some of the boys took him for snobby. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Yeah, I think it would be fair to say… I liked Andy from the start.”
Darabont has a deliberate pace to the narrative that gets you involved and draws you in. The middle of the film makes you feel the passage of time that leads to its cathartic and triumphant last reel. There are so many indelible moments full of expressiveness. The prisoners gathering to watch a film – “Gilda” starring Hayworth and Glenn Ford – and their reaction when she tousles her hair is one of the most glorious moments in cinema – and a testament to the power it has to give you wonder and escape when you need it most.
To this day, I relish in cinematographer Roger Deakins’ work. This is one of the greatest cinema painters – who went for many years being nominated for the Oscar without getting his due recognition. This is a master. Watch the way he shoots Andy’s arrival to the prison – with an aerial shot. That bird’s eye camera motif will be woven throughout. It appears when Andy offers Byron, the sadistic captain of the guards, help with inheritance taxes. The camera will hover above them as fate itself– and come down to eye level as Andy is able to take control over the situation. Of course – in the climactic now iconic last moments – when Andy raises his hands to the skies in gratitude – the camera will position itself – deus ex machina.
May 2021 bring us the redemption we all deserve. Hope springs eternal.
Andy: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Microsoft, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, FandangoNOW, Redbox, DIRECTV and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Based on the novella by Stephen King
Written and Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore
Bringing “The Shawshank Redemption” to the Screen
In 1983 a 20-something Darabont handed King a buck to make “The Woman in the Room,” one of the few amateur short films based on his work that the author enjoyed. But Darabont’s real obsession was a prison yarn, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” from “Different Seasons,” a collection of four novellas that represented King’s attempt to break out of the genre corner he’d written himself into over the years. With his ultimate goal a feature film, Darabont waited for his résumé to lengthen enough to support his aspirations before approaching King again. “In 1987, my first produced screenplay credit was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” says Darabont. “And I thought, Perhaps now is the time.” Once Darabont received King’s blessing, he set about adapting “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” The 96-page story is anything but cinematic, consisting largely of Red ruminating about fellow prisoner Andy, confounding Hollywood’s predilection for high-concept “Harry Potter meets Die Hard” loglines. Even King “didn’t really understand how you make a movie out of it,” says Darabont. “To me it was just dead obvious.” Still, Darabont says he “wasn’t ready” to sit down at his word processor right away, and five years passed, as he focused on paid jobs writing scripts for “The Blob” and “The Fly II.” Darabont, who “wanted to honor the source material,” mimicked the novella’s narrative thrust in his screenplay and even lifted some dialogue verbatim. Other plot points were entirely his invention, sharpening the film’s themes and adding dashes of cinematic violence. In King’s story, a minor character, Brooks, dies uneventfully in an old folks’ home. The movie dedicates a poignant montage to the now more pivotal Brooks’s inability to make it on the outside and his subsequent heart-wrenching suicide by hanging. Tommy, a young con who can clear Andy’s name, trades his silence for a transfer to a minimum-security prison in King’s version. The script has Tommy “chewed to pieces by gunfire.” And Darabont condensed King’s several wardens into the corrupt Warden Norton, who eventually blows his brains out rather than pay Lady Justice for his sins.
Alfred Hitchcock reportedly said some version of “To make a great film you need three things: the script, the script, and the script.” Robbins says of Darabont’s finished adaptation, “It was the best script I’ve ever read. Ever.” Freeman repeated a variation of that accolade—if not the best script, certainly among the top. Completed in an eight-week writing jag, Darabont’s script had the good fortune to land on the desk of a filmmaker with “a prison obsession”—longtime Castle Rock Entertainment producer Liz Glotzer. “I like reading about prison for some reason,” she says. “Any script that came in that was a prison movie, [my co-workers] would say, ‘Oh, Liz’ll read it.’ ” Prison films date back to Hollywood’s earliest days, and the genre includes such landmarks as “The Big House,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Papillon,” “Escape from Alcatraz,” and “Bad Boys.” But prison films have never been on the list of reliable moneymakers, which made Glotzer’s threat to quit if Castle Rock didn’t make “Shawshank” all the more nervy, but her passion had been stirred by her emotional response to Darabont’s script, becoming so engrossed in it she “didn’t want to finish reading.” Echoing Robbins and Freeman, she says, “It was the best script I’d ever read when I read it.” Luckily for her, director Rob Reiner—a founder and “godfather of the company,” according to Darabont—“flipped” for the script. Reiner then made the screenwriter an offer almost no one would refuse: a rumored $3 million to direct Shawshank himself. The figure was “something like that,” says Darabont, before pausing to “set the record straight . . . I’ve read so much speculation through the years, and now with the Internet every asshole who doesn’t know crap knows everything. I’ve heard versions of this where there was some power struggle over the script and the truth is incredibly simple.”
Reiner had himself mined “Different Seasons” and struck a vein when he turned the novella “The Body” into 1986’s Oscar-nominated “Stand by Me.” By the 90s, Castle Rock—formed after Stand by Me’s success and named for the movie’s fictional town—had a string of hit one-sheets on its office walls, from “When Harry Met Sally,” to another Reiner adaptation of yet another King story, “Misery.” Coming off the success of 1992’s “A Few Good Men,” Reiner saw that film’s star, Tom Cruise, as Shawshank’s Andy Dufresne. Though Darabont was attached to direct his script, Castle Rock asked if he would consider this alternative: “A shitload of dough,” according to Darabont, in exchange for allowing Reiner to make the movie with Cruise. Darabont, who had been born in a French refugee camp for Hungarians fleeing the 1956 revolution and subsequently grew up poor in L.A., was tempted. “In my struggling-writer days, I could barely meet the rent,” he says. The Shawshank payday, whatever its precise number, would have put Darabont at the top of a profession he’d been “trying to achieve membership in for a lot of years.” Glotzer confirms Darabont was “completely tormented” by the offer. As if to turn the screws, Castle Rock said it would finance any other movie he wanted to direct if he ceded to Reiner. Surprisingly, though Darabont was only 33, philosophical thinking won out because, he says, “you can continue to defer your dreams in exchange for money and, you know, die without ever having done the thing you set out to do.” Still, the decision to direct the film himself was “nerve-racking. People get fucked in this business all the time. Contractually, [Castle Rock] could fire me after the first meeting, say I wasn’t hacking it, and, oh, gee, we’re just going to bring in Rob Reiner.” True to his reputation as “a mensch,” however, Reiner acted as Darabont’s mentor instead—though, according to Glotzer, one detail needled the older director: “Rob joked, ‘[Different Seasons] is on my desk for years. You would have thought we’d have read the next story! But we didn’t.” (vanityfair.com)
Casting “The Shawshank Redemption”
With the director in place, casting calls went out. The narrator of King’s story is a white Irishman, hence the nickname Red. “My brain went to some of my all-time favorite actors like Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall,” says Darabont. “For one reason or another they weren’t available.” Producer Glotzer ignored the racial casting specs and suggested Morgan Freeman for the role…With a melodic voice that’s calm and authoritative, Freeman has commanded aural attention since his stint in the 1970s as The Electric Company’s “Easy Reader” on PBS, where he sang, “I groove on all the words around,” in bell-bottoms. Shawshank was “an absolutely delightful script,” says Freeman. “So I called my agent and said, ‘It doesn’t matter which part it is—I want to be in it.’ He said, ‘Well, I think they want you to do Red.’ And I thought, Wow, I control the movie! I was flabbergasted by that.” Offers went out to the 1990s’ usual suspects for the part of Andy Dufresne. Tom Hanks and Kevin Costner passed. And though Cruise loved the screenplay—even doing a table read with the filmmakers—he balked at taking direction from a green director. Cruise considered signing on if Reiner agreed to keep a watchful eye on the production. “And Rob said, ‘No, if you’re going to do it with [Darabont], it’s his vision,’ ” says Glotzer. “So then Tom Cruise didn’t want to do it.” Freeman insists that he suggested Robbins, and Darabont defers to his recollection: “If Morgan says that he mentioned Tim, I’m perfectly willing to take him at his word.”
…By the early 90s, Robbins had broken out of minor roles in “The Love Boat” and “Top Gun.” His ascent to stardom began when he was cast as the lunkhead pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh in 1988’s “Bull Durham.” When he won best actor at 1992’s Cannes Film Festival for his role in “The Player” as a deliciously sleazy Hollywood studio executive, Newsweek named Robbins the “man of the moment.” Robbins used his A-list status to insist that Darabont’s inexperience—he’d directed only one made-for-TV movie, “Buried Alive” —be counterbalanced by a seasoned cinematographer, Roger Deakins, whom Robbins had worked with the year before on the Coen brothers’ film “The Hudsucker Proxy.” (Deakins would go on to shoot the death-row drama “Dead Man Walking,” which Robbins directed.) The cast was rounded out by Bob Gunton, then primarily a stage and TV actor, as the sanctimonious Warden Norton; Clancy Brown (who had played a delinquent opposite Sean Penn in Bad Boys) as the sadistic Captain Hadley; and veteran character actor James Whitmore as beloved elderly convict Brooks Hatlen. James Gandolfini passed on playing Bogs, a prison rapist, for a role in “True Romance” that entailed sucker-punching Patricia Arquette. Brad Pitt, cast in the role of Tommy, dropped out after his brief but shirtless appearance in “Thelma & Louise” initiated his rise to leading man. (vanityfair.com)
The Making of “The Shawshank Redemption”
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…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.” Darabont recalls the scene as a complicated “technical thing,” because he had to match a camera move very precisely to some narration that Freeman had pre-recorded, requiring take after take. “Then I remember we got a nice take. I turned around, and somebody behind me had tears rolling down their face, and I thought, O.K., good, that one worked.’ ” By the end of the sequence “we were exhausted,” says Freeman. When the cast finally got to “sit down and drink that beer, it was very welcome.” (vanityfair.com)
Screenwriter and Director Frank Darabont Reflects on “The Shawshank Redemption”
“The most revisited day of filming for me was the simplest day of directing, which was having Tim and Morgan sitting in the shadow of the prison against the wall and they’re talking about Mexico. It’s just this five- or six-minute dialogue sequence between these two friends. It was just such a pleasure to shoot that. I think we did three takes and then we were done. These guys just delivered the movie in that scene. There was nothing complicated about those set-ups. You pointed the camera and let the actors do what they do. I remember sitting on my apple box and just, you know, letting that moment wash over me because both of them were just so damn good. I sat there and I thought, “OK, I think we have the movie.” This is the key scene of the film, really, where all the truth is out between them. It’s just the honesty and the friendship that’s flowing between them, except Andy’s got a little secret. He’s got this hole in the wall of the cell and he’s going to take off. But as far as the emotional level of the communication, it’s just a very honest and very beautiful scene. I’m so proud of both those guys.” (deadline.com)
About Author Stephen King
Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947, the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his parents separated when Stephen was a toddler, he and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother. Parts of his childhood were spent in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his father’s family was at the time, and in Stratford, Connecticut. When Stephen was eleven, his mother brought her children back to Durham, Maine, for good. Her parents, Guy and Nellie Pillsbury, had become incapacitated with old age, and Ruth King was persuaded by her sisters to take over the physical care of the elderly couple. Other family members provided a small house in Durham and financial support. After Stephen’s grandparents passed away, Mrs. King found work in the kitchens of Pineland, a nearby residential facility for the mentally challenged. Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS. He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student Senate. He came to support the anti-war movement on the Orono campus, arriving at his stance from a conservative view that the war in Vietnam was unconstitutional. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.A. in English and qualified to teach on the high school level. A draft board examination immediately post-graduation found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet, and punctured eardrums. He and Tabitha Spruce married in January of 1971. He met Tabitha in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine at Orono, where they both worked as students. As Stephen was unable to find placement as a teacher immediately, the Kings lived on his earnings as a laborer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men’s magazines. Stephen made his first professional short story sale (“The Glass Floor”) to “Startling Mystery Stories” in 1967. Throughout the early years of his marriage, he continued to sell stories to men’s magazines. Many of these were later gathered into the “Night Shift” collection or appeared in other anthologies. In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted the novel “Carrie” for publication. On Mother’s Day of that year, Stephen learned from his new editor at Doubleday, Bill Thompson, that a major paperback sale would provide him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.
At the end of the summer of 1973, the Kings moved their growing family to southern Maine because of Stephen’s mother’s failing health. Renting a summer home on Sebago Lake in North Windham for the winter, Stephen wrote his next-published novel, originally titled “Second Coming” and then Jerusalem’s Lot, before it became “Salem’s Lot,” in a small room in the garage. During this period, Stephen’s mother died of cancer, at the age of 59. Carrie was published in the spring of 1974. That same fall, the Kings left Maine for Boulder, Colorado. They lived there for a little less than a year, during which Stephen wrote “The Shining,” set in Colorado. Returning to Maine in the summer of 1975, the Kings purchased a home in the Lakes Region of western Maine. At that house, Stephen finished writing “The Stand,” much of which also is set in Boulder. “The Dead Zone” was also written in Bridgton. In 1977, the Kings spent three months of a projected year-long stay in England, cut the sojourn short and returned home in mid-December, purchasing a new home in Center Lovell, Maine. After living there one summer, the Kings moved north to Orrington, near Bangor, so that Stephen could teach creative writing at the University of Maine at Orono. The Kings returned to Center Lovell in the spring of 1979. In 1980, the Kings purchased a second home in Bangor, retaining the Center Lovell house as a summer home. Stephen and Tabitha now spend winters in Florida and the remainder of the year at their Bangor and Center Lovell homes. The Kings have three children: Naomi Rachel, Joe Hill and Owen Phillip, and four grandchildren. Stephen is of Scots-Irish ancestry, stands 6’4″ and weighs about 200 pounds. He is blue-eyed, fair-skinned, and has thick, black hair, with a frost of white most noticeable in his beard, which he sometimes wears between the end of the World Series and the opening of baseball spring training in Florida. Occasionally he wears a moustache in other seasons. He has worn glasses since he was a child. He has put some of his college dramatic society experience to use doing cameos in several of the film adaptations of his works as well as a bit part in a George Romero picture, “Knightriders.” Joe Hill King also appeared in “Creepshow,” which was released in 1982. Stephen made his directorial debut, as well as writing the screenplay, for the movie “Maximum Overdrive” (an adaptation of his short story “Trucks”) in 1985. Stephen and Tabitha provide scholarships for local high school students and contribute to many other local and national charities. Stephen is the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts. (stephenking.com)
About Director and Screenwriter Frank Darabont
Frank Arpad Darabont was born in 1959 in Montebeliard, France, the son of Hungarian refugees who had fled Budapest during the failed 1956 revolution. Brought to America while still a baby, Frank graduated from Hollywood High School in 1977 and began his film career as a production assistant on a low-budget 1980 horror movie called “Hell Night.” After working nine years in the industry as a set dresser and production assistant while he struggled to master his writing craft, Darabont sold “Black Cat Run” in 1986 (it took over a decade for the story to reach the screen as an HBO film in 1998). Since then, Darabont has written extensively in film, many times in the horror and SF genres, co-scripting such screenplays as “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” (his first produced credit), “The Blob,” and “The Fly II.” He has also done uncredited rewrites on such films as Eraser and Saving Private Ryan, as well as writing eight episodes of George Lucas’s television show “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” In 1980 Darabont wrote to Stephen King, asking him for the rights to adapt his short story “The Woman in the Room.” King assented, and Darabont wrote and directed his first short film. Then in the late ’80s Darabont again approached King, this time asking permission to adapt King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” His screenplay “The Shawshank Redemption” (which he also directed) would win him the USC Scriptor Award (shared with Stephen King) and the Humanitas Prize—in addition to being nominated for an Academy Award, a Writers Guild Award, and a Golden Globe. (web.archive.org)