The Shawshank Redemption at 25: The Story Behind Andy's Iconic Prison Escape

As 2019 comes to a close and the awards season ramps up, expect plenty of ceremonies, from the Golden Globes to the Academy Awards, to serve up the usual share of cinematic clip reels celebrating iconic sequences from now classic films. And in particular, look out for that triumphant scene of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) standing, arms aloft in the rain, rejoicing in his prison break to freedom in The Shawshank Redemption.The movie celebrated its 25th anniversary this past October, and audiences have consistently voted The Shawshank Redemption as one of the best films ever made in the years since its release. Directed and written by Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards back in 1995, including nods for Frank’s writing, Thomas Newman’s stirring score, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography.
It didn’t win for any category, but Andy’s escape sequence perfectly embodies the marvelous work of every nominated department. Yet, ironically, Deakins recently told Total Film magazine that sequence is one that continues to haunt him in the worst way. "That’s one of those ones that I hate, because I over-lit it,” he said of Andy’s dramatic stretch in the storm.When IGN caught up with Darabont to discuss the film’s anniversary this year, the director politely disagreed with his former DP’s assessment. In fact, IGN asked him and his Tim Robbins about their remembrances of that now classic scene.

In general, did you shoot in sequence so Tim could play the dramatic payoff, or was that impossible due to production constraints?
Frank Darabont, Director and Screenwriter: [The prison] was a huge location, of course. But you're not loading up trucks and moving across town. So, we did have the luxury of shooting somewhat in continuity. I didn't want to completely shoot in continuity because there are practicalities, but we did have the advantage of shooting in continuity of years. In other words, if there were scenes set in 1946, we were able to shoot out all the scenes set in 1946.So, we did go in rough continuities throughout the shoot. The actors have commented so often on how helpful that was for them. Because their relationships developed as we were shooting. As these guys got to grow old together with the greater familiarity and that sense of family, you sense that on film and you sense that in those later scenes. It really helped to shoot that way because the actors were experiencing that for real.
Watch the iconic scene below:Loading
Was the sequence inspired by anything specific?
Frank Darabont: No. I wonder if that [scene] came from some part of my subconscious. I don't know if I ever saw anything like that in another movie when I was a kid. But it just seemed so obvious to me, or so right to me, to do it that way. But I've been wondering ever since if I was inspired or subconsciously copying something.
Did you shoot the entire escape sequence the same way you wrote it?
Frank Darabont: I was pretty confident [about it] and I really was very focused on what I needed to shoot because we didn't have a lavish schedule. It wasn't an unreasonable schedule but it was not 100 days. So, I had to be really surgical. I didn't have the fastest DP in the world either. With the time that he was taking to light, I really didn't have a lot of wiggle room. I didn't have a lot of margin for error, so I had to be very specific and precise.In fact, I look at that sequence where [Andy's] climbing down between walls of the cellblock down the shaft, and I wish I had time to shoot a close up. It still bothers me that I didn't have the time to show Tim's face when he was climbing down, just to make the scene a little bit more exciting. We shot the minimum of what we needed to cut it together, and it cut together okay. Nobody has really ever complained to me about why didn't you have more coverage there in that moment. [Laughs]Loading
How did Tim’s smashing the pipe in time with the thunder come about?
Frank Darabont: I remember actually that was when I was writing the script. I thought he's going to have to break into a big damn pipe, a big clay pipe. And what's more dramatic than a storm? That could work out really well.What did change though was in the script I remember saying that he broke into the pipe with the rock hammer. But when I was standing there staring at this giant, thick pipe, I thought, “There's no way he could ever break into this with this dinky little hammer.” We [then] had a big piece of handy concrete debris. So that was the one thing that did change. But timing it with the light in that room, that was something that I came up with when I was actually writing.
Was crawling through that pipe as gross as it seems?
Frank Darabont: It was a real creek. It was really right there by the prison and that was farm land at that time. My art department dammed it up to make it deeper and they chlorinated the living daylights out of it. But still, to go diving head-first into, that was an act of courage that I can never thank Tim enough for, because that wasn't the stunt guy. That was him, man.The Best Movies Based on Stephen King Stories
Roger Deakins, Cinematographer [as told to Total Film]: In the script, it was a much longer sequence. Andy comes out of the sewer pipe, goes to the river, crosses the field and there’s a whole sequence where he gets on the train. In our schedule, we only had a night to shoot the whole thing and it was like, 'That ain’t gonna happen.' So we shot him coming out of the tunnel, and struggling up the river. By the time we got all the equipment there, we did that high shot and ended on that. Because it was a good way to shorten that whole sequence. It actually works much better than the extended sequence would have done.
Tim Robbins, Andy Dufresne: One of the things that stands out for me was that when I come out of the pipe and I fall into the water, that water was farm river water, if you know what I mean. [Laughs] It was pretty toxic. It was funny because when I was [in] the pipe itself, that was super taken care of and healthy. The prop dirt they use, it's sanitary actually. The muck I was traveling through was sanitary but when I got the freedom it was toxic. So, go figure.
Frank Darabont: Bless [Tim’s] heart, because that's the best visual moment of the movie. Without that, we wouldn't have had the film, right? It was one of those nights on the set where I'm going, “Oh this is exactly what I wanted. This is exactly what's in my head.” Those nights are very thrilling because that's a night you're not compromising, or you're not having to drop a shot that you really wanted.
Tim Robbins: I remember the moment when we finished and we're then headed to St. Croix to shoot the final shot. I just thought "Wow." It felt like I had just gotten out of prison. [Laughs]Loading
How did Thomas Newman’s score, which adds so much emotional resonance to the scene, come about?
Frank Darabont: He really is a creative genius. I was so grateful to him for doing this and grateful to him for his tremendous capabilities of being collaborative. It's not like he just went away and wrote a score and showed up with it one day. Every single cue, he'd invite me to his place and he'd play me what he had in mind. I heard it from the earliest musical sketches that he had and all the way through to the amazing experience of seeing him conducting an orchestra on the scoring stage one day.
Why has the film remained so beloved to this day?
Tim Robbins: I can just say that I feel so blessed to be a part of something that has resonated so deeply for so long, for so many people in such a profound way. That is, for me, the real gift of that movie. That it has a way of continuing to talk to people, to every new person that sees it. I am just super lucky to be part of something so beautiful and organically discovered. No one ever said, "This is so good." There was never any hype like that. In fact, it didn't make money when it came out. It found this organic truth with an audience that was not manipulated. It was not forced down their throat. It was not subversively advertised. It was a gem that each individual that has seen it discovered and said, "Wow! Why haven't I seen this?" and needed to see it again and again and again. I think that's something really rare and something really beautiful that can still happen in a world where there's so much advertising and selling and cross-platform messaging. I feel honored to be part of something that's so true.
With additional reporting by Rosie Knight

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