Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of a banker named Andy Dufresne, who is sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and lover although he he claims to be innocent. The film follows him over the decades, highlighting his experiences in the prison, and the relationships he builds along the way. Upon its release, the film didn’t do nearly as well as expected, although it went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards and is now regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Check out these lesser-known facts about The Shawshank Redemption.
It’s Based On A Stephen King Novella
Although it may differ from many of King’s other works, The Shawshank Redemption is actually based on King’s novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The story was one of a collection of four novellas titled Different Seasons, with three of them being turned into films including The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and The Body (Stand By Me).
King sold the film rights for his novella for $5,000 although he never cashed the check. Years after the film was released he framed it and sent the check to director Frank Darabont with the inscription, “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
There Was Almost A Different Director
After purchasing the rights from King, director Frank Darabont was offered $2.5 million from Rob Reiner to hand over the film’s rights. Although it was a tempting offer, Darabont ultimately turned Reiner down, claiming that it was his “chance to do something really great,” and he was ultimately right.
Under Reiner, the film would have taken a totally different direction as he wanted Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise to play Red and Andy respectively. Nobody is complaining that Darabont held onto the film.
Morgan Freeman Wasn’t The Only Option For Red
In King’s novella, Red is described as a middle-aged Irishman with graying red hair. In order to fit the profile, actors such as Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Harrison Ford were all seriously considered for the role.
However, Frank Darabont always saw Morgan Freeman as Red for his natural demeanor and voice and made the executive decision to hire Freeman. To honor King’s original character, Darabont added “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish,” when Andy inquires about Red’s nickname.
The Maggot Dilemma
In the film, the elderly man Brooks, who works in the prison library has a pet crow. Because they were working with a live animal, the scenes with the crow were heavily monitored by the American Human Association.
In the scene when Brooks feeds his crow a maggot, the AHA stepped in claiming that it was cruel to the maggot and that they would have to use a maggot that had died of natural causes. Amazingly, the production team found a maggot that met the AHA’s standards and the scene was filmed.
The Number 237 Makes An Appearance
If you’re familiar with Stephen King’s work, you know that he likes to plant Easter eggs in his writings, connecting them in one way or another. One small detail that he has sprinkled through some of his books is the number 237.
Frank Darabont decided to include this in the film when the guards shout “Open 237!” before questioning Red about where Andy went. The number 237 is also the same number as the room in The Shining, and the amount of change the boys have in Stand By Me.
In the film, when Andy asks Red why he’s in Shawshank, he responds by saying “I committed murder.” While much of his story is left to mystery in the movie, the novella goes into much greater detail. It’s explained that Ellis Boy “Red” Redding is serving three life sentences for murdering his wife, neighbor’s wife, and his neighbor’s son.
Red had disconnected the brakes of his wife’s car in order to collect an insurance policy, however, he didn’t anticipate that his neighbor’s wife and son would be riding in the vehicle.
The Movie Helped Boost The Local Economy
Although the film is set in Maine, it was filmed in Mansfield, Ashland, and Upper Sandusky, Ohio. The three towns shared 13 sites that were used as filming locations which have become increasingly popular tourist destinations since the film’s release.
According to the Mansfield/Richmond County Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourism has increased every year since 1994, bringing over 18,000 visitors to the area and an estimated $3 million to the local economy as of 2013.
Not Andy’s Hands
Although Tim Robbins played Andy Dufrense, the close-up shots of his hands are not his, but rather those of director Frank Darabont. The scenes that show Dufrense’s hands loading the revolver in the opening scene and carving his name into his cell wall were done in post-production and were finalized by Darabont.
The reason that Robbins’ hands weren’t used was that Darabont wanted the scenes to be done in a particular way and decided he needed to do them himself to create the final product he envisioned.
It Was Considered A Box Office Flop
While The Shawshank Redemption may be considered a classic today, the film didn’t do well at the box office upon its original release. In fact, it only initially grossed $18 million, which didn’t even cover the cost of the film’s production. However, after earning numerous Oscar nominations, the film made another $10 million but was still labeled as a box office flop.
Even though the film wasn’t successful in theaters, Warner Home Video shipped 320,000 rental copies across the United States. This aided the film in becoming one of the top-rented films of the year even though its distribution was considered to be risky.
More Than One Freeman
Unknown to most, the mugshots of a young Red attached to his parole papers isn’t Morgan Freeman or anyone random. They’re actually photos of Morgan Freeman’s son, Alfonso Freeman.
Alfonso even had a cameo in the film chanting “Fresh fish! Fresh fish today! We’re reeling em’ in!” This wouldn’t be the first time Alfonso appeared in one of his father’s films either. A year later, he was featured as a fingerprint technician in the film Seven.
Working With A Bird
In the scene when Andy arrives at the library to begin his new position as Brooks’ assistance, Brook’s crow Jake is squawking. In order to film the scene, Robbins had to time his line, “Hey Jake, where’s Brooks?” so that the bird didn’t squawk while he was talking.
Over time, Robbins became acquainted with the bird and began to pick up its squawking pattern so that it never ruined a scene, something that Darabont commended him for. if you look closely, you can see Robbins paying close attention to the bird, waiting for it to squawk before saying his line.
The Scene That Took Nine Hours To Shoot
In the scene when Andy and Red converse for the first time, Red is throwing a baseball back and forth with Heywood. Although it may be a rather basic scene, it was anything but basic to shoot.
The brief conversation took a grueling nine hours to film with Freeman throwing a baseball the entire time. Yet, he didn’t complain and threw the baseball every time that the camera was on. The following day, Freeman showed up on set with a sling because of the damage caused to his shoulder.
Although the film feels complete, there were a few scenes that were cut that added a little more depth to the plot. One of these was the inmates finding Brooks’ pet crow dead in a field and giving it a proper burial after Brooks’ is paroled. In another scene, Tommy’s wife visits him, which encourages him to turn his life around and focus on getting his GED.
Finally, in another removed scene, Red has a panic attack in a grocery store and retreats to the bathroom because it reminds him of his cell. This makes his visit to the tree and rock wall more meaningful, as it’s the opposite of what Brooks decided to do.
There Was A Recording Issue
Known for its narration by Morgan Freeman, the voice-over by Freeman was actually recorded prior to filming and was played out loud during production to set the rhythm for each scene. Freeman recorded the entire narration in Iowa in just 40 minutes.
However, something went wrong and there was a noticeable hiss to the track that the sound engineers in Los Angeles were unfortunately unable to get rid of. So, they had to re-record the entire thing in a proper studio, except this time it took three weeks to complete.
Changing The Title
Although the original title of King’s novella is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the title was eventually shortened to The Shawshank Redemption. This was done because people in Hollywood were beginning to think that the film was actually a biopic about the life of actress Rita Hayworth.
Before shortening the title, director Frank Darabont was even receiving audition requests from young actresses and supermodels who wanted to play Rita Hayworth in the film. The trick is that she only appears when the inmates are shown her film, Gilda.
Not Entirely A Real Jail
Although the interior of Shawshank Prison is incredibly convincing, it’s not an actual prison. The exterior shots of the prison were filmed at the abandoned Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, except the interior was too far gone to be saved.
So, many of the interior shots were filmed on a sound stage because the filmmakers figured they would be cheaper to build rather than try and renovate the interiors of the decaying prison. Definitely fooled us!
References To Shawshank
Like many other of Stephen King’s writings, the story of The Shawshank Redemption takes place in Maine. However, he alludes to the prison in countless of his other novels, short stories, and novellas.
For example, in the film Dolores Claiborne, based on another one of King’s novels, Dolores yells at her husband that he will do time in Shawshank for what he did to their daughter. Shawshank is mentioned in several of King’s other works, including The Fifth Quarter, Needful Things, Sun Dog, and more.
Using Ex-Cons As Extras
Initially, the citizens of Mansfield, Ohio were thrilled that The Shawshank Redemption was being filmed in their town. Not only would it help to increase tourism, but it also meant that some of the locals would be featured in the film as extras.
Many signed up to play extra prisoners, however, their normal jobs got in the way and many could only work for one day. So, in order to fill the positions, the filmmakers went to a halfway house to recruit extras. Many of them were even ex-cons.
Portraying Correctional Officers Correctly
Prior to filming the movie, Clancy Brown was approached by several real-life correctional officers to work with him to help make his portrayal of Captain Hadley as realistic as possible. However, Brown turned them all down.
He knew that Captain Hadley was written to be an evil character, and he didn’t want to misrepresent actual correctional officers. So, he decided to make the role his own, transforming Captain Hadley into one of the most least-likable characters by far.
In the climax of the film, Andy Dufresne, escapes from Shawshank Prison by tunneling through the walls and leaving through the sewers. During his escape, he is forced to crawl through a sewage pipe that is full of human waste from the prison.
Obviously, the sludge that Andy crawls through isn’t human waste. It’s actually a mixture of Chocolate syrup, sawdust, and water. According to visitors of the prison, the pipes still smell like chocolate decades later.
The Set Almost Burned Down
The cell block of the prison was built on a set and they used opaque plastic sheeting over windows so that lamps could be used to simulate daylight. During a break between scenes, director Frank Darabont and extra Michael C. Poole decided to grab a cup of coffee.
On their way to get coffee, they were alarmed when they discovered someone had placed a lamp too close to the plastic. It caught fire and the two quickly extinguished the flame, saving the set.
You Can Buy Shawshank Souveniers
In the area that Shawshank Redemption was filmed, the local businesses decided to make the most of the tourism and have begun selling Shawshank-related products. Known as the Shawshank Trail in Ohio, tourists passing through can buy things such as Reformatory “Red” Wines, Shawshank Bundt Cakes, and more.
Die-hard fans can stop at Two Cousins’ Pizza and grab a slice of Redemption Pie. The sales of these products has also helped to benefit the local economy significantly.
Charlie Sheen Was Extremely Interested In The Film
After reading the script, a young Charlie Sheen fell deeply in love with the plot of the film. He even went so far as to talk to an executive at Castle Rock, saying, “I’ll do this movie for [expletive] scale,” meaning the minimum an actor can be paid.
He also offered to do a 30-minute test reel portraying Red to prove that he was the right guy for the part. Ultimately, the studio decided against using Sheen and hired Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins soon after.
Missing Out On An Academy Award
Although the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, one that it was not nominated for was Production Design by Terence Marsh. He had already won two Oscars for Art Direction in the 1960s, so it seemed strange that Shawshank didn’t even earn a nomination.
However, according to Frank Darabont, the prison set that Marsh had built in an abandoned manufacturing plant looked so real that the majority of people assumed they had used a real prison.
The Trailways Coach Is Still Up And Running
Near the end of the film, we see Red board a Trailways coach (bus). The actual bus is a GM PD-4104 that was built in 1960 and later delivered to the Carolina Scenic Trailways.
In 1990, the late John Holbein, the owner of the Blue Ridge Trailways, found and restored the bus as it’s seen in The Shawshank Redemption. Currently, it is the property of Capital Trailways which is based in Montgomery, Alabama. Some people have been lucky enough to ride in it.
Coincidence With Names
When Andy is first reassigned to the prison library for a job, the first correctional officer who comes seeking investment help introduces himself saying “I’m Dekins.” Coincidentally, the cinematographer on the movie was named Roger Deakins.
Strangely enough, Frank Darabont wrote the character of Dekins into the script before hiring any of his other crew members, since the character was in King’s novella. However, it proved to be strictly a coincidence since the character and Deakins spell their names differently.
Andy Could Have Avoided Prison
When Andy is on trial at the beginning of the film, he tells the D.A. that he threw his pistol in the river, which was never found. This was the major mistake that Andy made that landed him in Shawshank.
Had he kept the gun, a ballistics test would have shown that the bullets that were fired from Elmo Batch’s gun, which killed Andy’s wife and lover, and could not have been fired from Andy’s gun. It’s always good to hold onto your firearms if you’re being accused of a gun-related crime you did not commit.
Frank Darabont Had A Different Idea For The Ending
Initially, Frank Darabont wanted to end the film with Red searching for Andy after he had been released from prison. According to Darabont, had he got what he wanted, the final scene would have been Red on the bus heading for the field that Andy was talking about.
However, the executives at Castle Rock decided against this and insisted that the film ends with Andy and Red reuniting in order to please audiences. This is why we don’t see a close up of the two reuniting, but is instead shown from a distance, which was Darabont’s idea.
Change Of Plans For A Filming Location
In the end, Andy and Red reunite and continue their lives in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican paradise in the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero. Back in 1966, it was still a small fishing village, exactly how Andy had described it to Red.
However, since 1966, the small village grew to become a large tourist city because of its beauty. Still needing to find a place that could double as Zihuatanejo, they ended up filming the scene in the United States Virgin Islands.
The Iconic Rock Wall
The rock wall where Andy leaves Red money with directions and money for travel was built for the film and remained standing for years after. It was made by hand by the art department several months before filming so that it would look overgrown and weathered by the time they shot at the site.
However, the wall was eventually sold, rock by rock, on eBay by the farmer who owned the land. The tree remains, although it was struck by lightning in 2011. Part of the wall also remains on the grounds of the Ohio State Reformatory.
Parallels With The Count Of Monte Christo
There are numerous similarities between The Shawshank Redemption and Alexandre Dumas’ epic novel, The Count of Monte Christo, a book that is also mentioned in the film. In The Count of Monte Christo, the protagonist is falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and later escapes by digging a tunnel that takes him years to complete.
After his escape, the then discovers a buried treasure that he learns about in jail and uses it to execute a plan to take revenge on those who had wronged him.
There Are Multiple Wardens In The Novella
One of the differences between Stephen King’s novella and the film is that there are multiple wardens throughout Andy’s time in prison. This is why it seems like Warden Norton’s personality and attitude changes so rapidly on numerous occasions.
The warden who is kind to Andy and allows him to send letters and work on the library is a completely different person than the warden who treats Andy so harshly towards the end. To make things easier, they bundled the multiple characters into one person.
The Introduction Of Miranda Rights
In the film, Red says that Andy broke out of Shawshank in 1966. This was the same year as the landmark Miranda v. Arizona case before the Supreme Court. It was this case that established that a defendant must be informed of his or her rights during the process of being arrested.
This is why at the end of the film when they arrest Captain Hadley, the police can be heard reading him his Miranda Rights. Doing this helped with historical accuracy.
Red’s Name Has Symbolic Meanings
Although there’s symbolism riddled throughout, one of the most prominent can be found in Red’s full name, Ellis Redding. Ellis is a Welsh derivative of the word “elus” which translates to mean benevolent/kind.
His last name, Reding is also a Germanic last name which means counsel or advice. So together, Red’s name can be translated to mean “benevolent counselor,” which perfectly fits his character and the role that he plays for Andy throughout the film.
There’s Symbolism Behind Andy And The Warden Too
Red isn’t the only character with symbolism associated with them. In the film, Andy is also symbolized as being the savior for many of the inmates inside of the prison. The name Andy means brave, strong, and courageous, and his initials are A.D. or “anno Domini” or “the year of our Lord.”
The antagonist in the film, Warden Norton, symbolizes Lucifer which translates to mean “bringer of light.” This is further shown when the Warden notes that his favorite bible verse is “I am the light of the world…”
It Had A Limited Release At First
When The Shawshank Redemption was first released, there was a limited release in North America on September 23, 1994. The film could only be viewed in 33 theaters until October 14, when it was released in 910 additional theaters, the same day that Pulp Fiction was released.
Both films were nominated for seven Academy Awards and each grew to achieve cult followings. Both films are also listed in the Top 10 of IMDB’s top 250 movies.
There Were Threats Of Fines
Because the shooting schedule in Mansfield, Ohio was so tight for the film, the production team made it very clear that anyone who was late or held up production in any way would be fined.
Even though they were dealing with successful actors, they felt that it would be a good incentive for everyone to show up on time. Both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman were each late once but were never fined. In the end, filming in Mansfield finished ahead of schedule.
Tension On Set
Although most people won’t believe it, the environment on set wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. According to Morgan Freeman, there was “extreme tension” while filming, as there were constant disagreements between actors, producers, and director Frank Darabont.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Freeman explained that the atmosphere was “very strange,” but refused to elaborate on the subject. This is surprising since it appeared that all of the actors had at least some good chemistry between them.
Frank Darabont Almost Had A Different Film Debut
A new director looking to make his first film, Frank Darabont was initially supposed to make his silver screen directorial debut with a Child’s Play-type of horror film. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t incredibly enthusiastic with the idea, afraid it would hinder any potential that his career might have had.
Instead, he opted to take a chance and adapt Stephen King’s novella. Luckily for him, once the script began circulating, major actors and other filmmakers expressed their interest and started approaching Darabont about being involved.
Using The Film Gilda Worked Out
In the novella, the prisoners watch the 1945 film The Lost Weekend. Darabont initially intended to show the same film in the movie, however soon discovered that the rights were owned by a different studio. So, he set out to find a film that he could show a segment of without having to pay a lot of money.
This resulted in him using the movie Gilda. Darabont actually couldn’t have been happier since Gilda is one of Rita Hayworth’s most notable films, and her image plays a huge part in The Shawshank Redemption.