The Case of The Shawshank Redemption

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, we spent last week talking about the 2003 classic family film, Holes. This week, we’re continuing our theme with one of the most beloved films of all time. 

There’s no doubt that Stephen King is a master of horror. In fact, when you suggest one of his books to someone who isn’t a horror fan, they might give you a funny look. But the truth is, King has contributed to several genres, and it’s quite possible that his source material is responsible for one of your favorite films as well. For example, popular movies like Stand By Me and The Green Mile were both based on his work. However, of all of the films adapted from King’s writing, one of the most lauded is The Shawshank Redemption. 

Based on a novella by King, this 1994 film was a slow-burning success. Although it didn’t catch the attention of audiences immediately, it soon made up for it with several Oscar nominations. Today, it’s achieved cult classic status, and currently holds the number one rated film on IMDB. 

So come join us as we learn all about this low-budget box office flop and how it crawled its way to cinematic glory!

SUMMARY

  • After being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences back to back at Shawshank Prison. Andy makes friends with Red, another prisoner and the man with connections to the outside. For nearly two decades they navigate the violent and psychological horrors of Shawshank together, while holding onto the hope that one day they will be free men again.

IT STARTED WITH A STORY

  • The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King novella called, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, published in a collection of stories in 1982. The collection is called Different Seasons and has three other stories, including The Body, which was made into another fan-favorite film, Stand By Me.
  • Only eight years earlier had King launched his writing career with his breakout horror novel, Carrie. Since then, he had penned classics like The Shining and The Stand. But, Different Seasons focused more on dramatic stories, and strayed from the horror fiction that fans expected. 
  • In 1983 Frank Darabont made his first Stephen King adaptation. At the time he was in his early twenties. Buying the rights to an author’s story can vary in price but Stephen King has a program that has given many young filmmakers a unique opportunity. It’s called the “Dollar Baby” program, and he offers certain titles to be bought for the low price of $1. The short film Darabont created was The Woman in the Room(1984). You can find it here in this link.
    • King still has this program open to young filmmakers looking to adapt works! The link of selected works that you can request for contract can be here: https://stephenking.com/dollar-baby/ 
  • Darabont felt he needed a little more experience under his belt before he approached Stephen King for the story he truly had his eyes on. After 1987, and his first screenplay credit under A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, he felt he was ready to request Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. He signed a check to the amount of $5000 to Stephen King. 
    • The story was written from the perspective of a prisoner serving a life sentence. Much of the text was a stream of consciousness, and King himself was unsure how the story could be made into a movie. But, since he enjoyed Darabont’s take on The Woman in the Room, he gave his blessing.  Though Darabont got the rights, it took him 5 years before he sat down to begin the screenplay. Once he did, it took a mere eight weeks. He wanted to keep the spirit and core of the source material, lifting lines directly from the story. Because the character Red’s voice is present throughout the story, Darabont decided that this character would also narrate the film. 
  • After directing the 1986 film Stand By Me, Rob Reiner co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment, named for the fictional town in which Stand By Me takes place. After Darabont completed the script, it ended up in the hands of Liz Glotzer, who became so enthralled with the story that she didn’t even want to finish the script before seeing the movie. Glotzer fought hard for Shawshank, even threatening to quit if the company didn’t produce the film. When Rob Reiner heard about the project, he reportedly offered Darabont a “shitload” of money to direct the film, AND Castle Rock would finance any other film Darabont would want to direct. But, Darabont stuck to his guns. If he hadn’t, this would have been a different movie. 
    • Reiner later joked to Liz Glotzer that, “‘[Different Seasons] is on my desk for years. You would have thought we’d have read the next story! But we didn’t.”
  • Darabont added his own flair to the story, creating storylines that drove the message home and adding some violence. 
    • In the book, the two main characters Andy and Red look very different. Andy is described as short with small clever hands and gold-rimmed glasses. Red is a white Irish man, which they joke about in the movie.
    • Brooks is a major character within the movie and a key emotional storyline. Within the book, however, he dies uneventfully in a home for the elderly.
    • Tommy, who has information that could free Andy, was dealt with in a different way in the book versus the movie. In the movie, he is shot to death but in the book he trades his silence on the matter to be switched to a lower security prison. 
    • Darabont also condenses the part of three wardens into that of the one Warden Norton. 
    • The ending of the movie is different because Liz Glotzer fought for us to be able to see the two friends reunite in Mexico. Darabont had wanted the film to end as the book does, with Red on his way to Andy but with no payoff. Glotzer was adamant that if the intention was for the two to get together, then the audience should have the satisfaction of seeing it. 

MAKING OF

  • Director Frank Darabont and the rest of the cast and crew started filming The Shawshank Redemption in the summer of 1993. The film had a budget of $25 million dollars, which isn’t very high. In comparison, The Flintstones, which also came out in 1994, had a budget of $46 million. 
  • While Darabont and Production Designer Terence Marsh were location scouting for the film, they found the Ohio State Reformatory, a prison on the brink of demolition in Mansfield, OH. The buildings of the reformatory had been abandoned for several years, with piles of paint chips in almost every room.
    • The production was set up in Mansfield, and the crew would use other Ohio locations for the rest of the film. Many of the guards used in the movie were actually residents of Mansfield that were guards at the prison when it was in operation. 
  • The opening scene of the movie shows us two scenes at once. We see our main character Andy Dufresne sitting in his car while his wife has an affair inside. This was shot at Malabar Farms in Ohio. The other scene takes place in a courtroom in Upper Sandusky! 
    • According to Darabont, the two scenes were written separately but had to be cut together because they could only shoot at the farms for one night. The scene works very well cut together, as we see Andy pull out his gun, cut together with a prosecutor laying out the crime that had been committed. 
  • When Shawshank is first introduced in the film, we see a beautiful aerial shot of the building and 500 extras in the yard. Marsh also had the idea for that shot as well! 
    • This shot was pretty tricky to get. It had been raining off and on all day, and because of budget issues, production had to let go of most of their extras by the end of the day. This meant they only had a small window of time to get it right, coordinating the extras as the helicopter pilot glided over the prison yard.
  • Terence Marsh had the difficult task of taking the interior of the prison and making it look like it was still in operation. Locations like the offices, the mess hall, and the courtyard were all at the reformatory. But, the cell block itself was an elaborate hand-built set.
    • On the upper level of the cell blocks, it got to be almost 100 degrees during an Ohio summer, especially with all the production lights. 
    • Production had to build their own sets because the actual cells were only 6ft by 9ft, making them impossible to light. They were also meant for two men to share, creating a virtually unlivable situation. 
    • Andy Dufresne’s cell is covered in magazines and newspaper clippings that had been brought in by the production designers and hand-selected by Tim Robbins to make the set feel more like his space. 
  • When it came time to cast the film, it became quite clear that the film could not be called: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The original title seemed to be confusing, leading people to believe that the film was a biopic. Agents were calling Darabont and his team, saying that their clients would be perfect to play Rita Hayworth. 
    • To help work Rita Hayworth into the story, there’s a scene where the prisoners are watching one of her movies in the reformatory theater. In the original story, they are watching a different movie that would have been too expensive for the studio to use. So, Darabont found one of Rita Hayworth’s films on a list of movies that Castle Rock already had the rights to and they were able to use that. 
  • The cast is one of the many reasons why this film works so well. The two main actors don’t match the descriptions of their book counterparts, but they still fit their roles perfectly. 
    • When Rob Reiner tried to direct the film, he actually had Tom Cruise in mind to play Andy Dufresne. According to Morgan Freeman, he was the one that suggested Tim Robbins for the role. Despite the fact that Tom Hanks and Kevin Costner were both offered the role, it went to Robbins. Robbins delivered a stoic performance that perfectly captured the soul of an innocent man who has landed in an impossible situation. Robbins went on to win an Oscar ten years later for Mystic River
      • When Tim Robbins was asked why he thought the film has continued to resonate with audiences he said, “One is that there are very, very few films that are about the relationship, the friendship between two men that doesn’t involve car chases or being charming with the ladies and those kinds of buddy movies. This one is about a true, deep friendship that lasts. And part of me thinks that people want or need that kind of story to be told.”
    • Morgan Freeman embodied the character of Ellis Boyd (Red) Redding so well, it’s impossible to imagine the character being played by anyone else. Because the book counterpart is a white Irishman, Freeman wasn’t even initially considered for the role. 
      • After looking at several names like Harrison Ford and Gene Hackman, Liz Glotzer stepped in once again with a movie-saving suggestion. She advocated for throwing out the look of the character in the book and going with Morgan Freeman, an actor that Darabont did like for the part. 
        • Freeman was shocked when he was offered the part of Red, the character that sets the tone of the entire film with his voice. 
      • Usually, voiceover narration is completed after a production wraps, but because the pace of the film was so reliant on Morgan Freeman’s delivery, Darabont had Freeman record the narration first. Then, they played the narration on set while acting out certain scenes so that they could time action and dialogue with his words. 
        • However, there was a problem with the original recording’s audio, meaning that it would have to be completely re-recorded. Freeman completed the first version in only 45 minutes. The re-record, however, took three weeks. 
      • In the audio commentary, Frank Darabont praised Morgan Freeman for his patience throughout filming. In one scene, the actor is playing catch while talking to Andy (Tim Robbins). The shot took 9 hours to get, meaning Freeman had to throw the ball for that entire period of time. According to Darabont, he never complained. 
    • One storyline that added depth to the film was the story of a fellow inmate named Brooks. Possibly one of the most loved characters in the movie, Brooks Hatlen was played by James Whitmore. 
      • While much of Shawshank focuses on the horrors that occur inside prison, Brooks’ story highlights what can happen after a longtime inmate is released. 
      • Darabont had been a fan of Whitmore for a very long time, and was absolutely thrilled to work with him. You’ll notice that he got the “and” credit during the opening of the movie. 
      • Whitmore was a veteran TV and film actor that captured Darabont’s attention in the 1954 film Them!
      • Whitmore carried a live crow around throughout filming, as his character cared for the animal. Production had a woman from the ASPCA on set to ensure that the animal was treated humanely. During one scene, Whitmore was supposed to feed a live wax worm to the crow, and the ASPCA representative objected. She told Darabont that not only could he only feed a dead worm to the crow, but it also had to be a worm that “died of natural causes.” 
    • When Frank Darabont wrote the character of Warden Samuel Norton, he was concerned that religious audiences would take offense to the character, as he’s the only overtly religious person in the film and is absolutely despicable. His intention was to call out people like the warden that hide behind doctrine to justify their horrific acts. 
      • In the audio commentary, he mentions that he’s gotten more positive feedback from religious viewers, as many of them have interpreted Shawshank to be a religious allegory. 
    • The warden is a conglomerate of several characters in the original novella. Bob Gunton brought a foreboding presence to the character and was Darabont’s first choice to play the role. However, according to a screen rant article, Gunton almost didn’t get the part because his head was shaved for another film. He wore a wig while filming until his hair grew out.  
  • The Shawshank Redemption is a perfect storm of great writing, directing, acting, music, and cinematography. Roger Deakins was the director of photography and crafted the perfect visual aesthetic to match the tone of the movie. Deakins is a veteran cinematographer that has painted the light for many major films, like 1917 (2019) and The Big Lebowski (1998). 
  • One of the most important elements of this film is the soundtrack. Thomas Newman composed a score that is both foreboding and deeply hopeful. The music as Andy crawls his way to freedom is (in our opinion) one of the most uplifting pieces of cinematic music ever written. The scene would be completely different without it. 
    • Newman has scored classics like Wall-E and Finding Nemo. 

STARRING

  • As we mentioned before, this film stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. 
  • Bob Gunton as Warden Norton
    • Bob was Dr. Walcott in “Patch Adams”
  • Clancy Brown as Captain Hadley
    • Clancy is a fantastic voice actor, you may know him as Mr. Krabs in Spongebob! 
    • There is a popular fan theory that Andy Dufresne was actually guilty of the double homicide and that Captain Hadley was not a bad guy. Evidence for this theory is seen when Hadley protects Andy from “The Sisters” and beats up Bogs.
  • Mark Rolston as Bogs Diamond
    • Bogs is the leader of “The Sisters” and is the main attacker and sexual assaulter to Andy. 
    • Darabont saw Mark in the movie Aliens and wanted him for the movie.
  • Gil Bellows as Tommy
    • Tommy’s character helps to show Andy how greedy and heartless the Warden is. The Warden has him shot by Hadley on purpose in order to keep Tommy from testifying on behalf of Andy.
    • Gil is also well known as Billy Thomas in Ally McBeal.
  • William Sadler as Heywood
    • William is known also to be in Tales of the Crypt which is what prompted Darabont to choose him for this movie.
  • James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen

TWITTER THOUGHTS

AWARDS/RECEPTION

  • Unfortunately Shawshank was not appreciated immediately. To illustrate this, in one 1994 review by David Hiltbrand from People Magazine he says, “Shawshank runs nearly 2 1/2 hours and sometimes gives audiences the sense of doing a 20-year stretch. Ultimately the rewards aren’t commensurate with the outlay of time. The movie’s message about the triumph of the human spirit and its exhortation to “Get busy living or get busy dying” seem rather paltry payoffs.” 
  • It was nominated for 7 Oscars but sadly did not win one. 
  • It actually won “Best Foreign Film” at the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

FUN FACTS

  • You might remember that Frank Darabont paid Stephen King $5000 for the rights to the story. However, King never cashed the check. Years after the film was released, King sent back the $5000 unendorsed check to Darabont with a note that said, “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
  • Morgan Freeman’s son appears in the movie. He is the mugshot of young Red and also shows up as an extra in the prison yard.
  • In 2018, Hulu premiered the horror anthology show Castle Rock, a series based in the Stephen King universe.
    • The entire first season is set in Shawshank prison.
    • There are several references to the movie in the first episode, including the song that Andy Dufresne played on the record player over the speakers for the prisoners.
    • Tim Robbins plays “Pop” Merrill in season 2 of the Castle Rock Series.
    • A nod to the film may also be felt because the main title of Castle Rock and the score for the first two episodes was composed by Thomas Newman. 

CONCLUSION

The Shawshank Redemption is a cinematic journey. It’s two and a half hours of a carefully crafted tale that reminds audiences of the endurance of the human spirit. It’s a movie that takes its time but wastes none of it. Shawshank is a story about hope and friendship, set on a backdrop of a seemingly hopeless situation. 

This is a movie with a history as fascinating as the story itself. It started as a lower-budget flop, and was deemed a financial failure. But just like geology, filmmaking is the study of pressure and time. Eventually, The Shawshank Redemption lived up to its name, and this prison movie that couldn’t find an audience is now thought to be one of the greatest films ever made. 

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The Case Full of Holes

November is national novel writing month! You might be wondering, what does this have to do with a movie/TV podcast? Well, plenty, actually! Whether it be Jurassic Park or The Princess Bride, some of our favorite films were adapted from novels. So, we’re marking this occasion by bringing you three episodes all about books and the movies that followed. This week, we’re taking a look at a childhood favorite. 

In 1997, young adult fiction author Louis Sachar began writing his most ambitious book yet. He had covered stories about children in school and home, but this time, he decided to focus on a location he hadn’t explored: what about kids in prison? For 18 months he sat at his computer, mapping out the history of a place called Camp Green Lake, and building the story of a boy whose last name is his first name, backward. 

Holes is possibly Louis Sachar’s best-known book. It won the Newbery Award in 1999, cementing its place in children’s literature alongside the likes of The Giver and Bridge to Terabithia. Five years later, the story got the full Hollywood treatment, with a feature film starring Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, and Shia LaBeouf.

So Cassettes, hop on the bus with us to Camp Green Lake, and we’ll DIG into the history of Holes (2003). 

THE BOOK

  • When Louis Sachar set out to write Holes, he focused on the location of the story first. The author had moved to Texas a few years before, and he wanted to tell a story inspired by the heat he experienced in his new home.
  • He didn’t set out to write a story with any particular moral or lesson, he just wanted to write something thought-provoking and entertaining. This method seemed to work because the book was a favorite among kids everywhere. In our school, it was one of the only required reading books that most children genuinely enjoyed. 
    • The story does touch on themes like friendship, racism, destiny, and hope. But, another lesson is that stories change over time, and perspective is everything. The story is written on a foundation of misunderstandings. Stanley believes the outlaw Kate Barlow to be a ruthless thief when that’s not the whole story. Similarly, Stanley is wrongly accused of stealing, which starts the whole story. 
  • While he was creating the story, Sachar decided not to interrupt his train of thought to come up with a last name for the main character. So, he just spelled the character’s first name backward and left it at that. As the story process continued, there became plot points surrounding the name, and so it stayed that way. 
  • Like we said before, the book was ambitious and challenging. So, he started every day by typing the word, “try” before writing anything else. It took him a year and a half to get it done, relying on the help of his young daughter to let him know when the story didn’t make any sense. 
  • Holes was published in 1998, and quickly became part of the reading curriculum at many schools. Not long after, it got the attention of producer Teresa Tucker-Davies who shared it with director Andrew Davis.
  • Davis wanted to adapt the book into a live-action film, and he contacted Sachar about the idea. Sachar was hesitant, but Davis assured him that he would be included in the process.  
  • With some collaborative help from Davis, Sachar took over a year to complete the screenplay, keeping the story as true to the book as possible with some important practical changes. 
  • The film was green-lit by Disney, and filming began in the summer of 2002, only four years after the book was originally published. 

SUMMARY

  • Stanley Yelnats has never had the best luck, thanks to his no-good, dirty-rotten, pig-stealing, great-great-grandfather. This becomes especially apparent when Stanley is wrongfully accused of stealing a pair of expensive sneakers. Just like that, a judge sentences Stanley to Camp Green Lake, a reformatory program for teenagers. Run by a mysterious warden and an aggressive counselor known only as Mr. Sir, this camp’s program consists of mainly one activity: digging holes. After spending a few weeks in the blistering heat, Stanley discovers that there’s a deeper purpose to the digging, and it’s not “to build character.” 

MAKING OF

  • Just like the book, the film establishes the location early on, with the characters coming in later. The first shot of Holes shows us Camp Green Lake, a barren waterbed with thousands of holes. Four hundred and fifty of those holes were physically dug, with 9500 added in post. The shot was filmed using a helicopter.
    • For months, the cast and crew braved the heat and intense weather conditions in a California desert. Every young actor had to go through something called, “desert boot camp,” led by the stunt director, Alex Daniels. 
    • Tents with water misters helped keep everyone on set cool in the 90+ degree heat. 
  • Shooting occurred in three principal locations that were all very close to each other in distance. The Camp Green Lake set was located on the Disney ranch. The Mess Hall and Office for the camp counselors was actually a re-purposed set from an Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence comedy called Life made just a few years earlier. 
    • For lighting purposes and because it was true to the book, the characters all live in tents. There was a big debate during production, but tents made it easier to set up lighting situations. 
  • Louis Sachar’s script relies heavily on jumping through time. The first sequences of the movie are even flashbacks, as the audience becomes acquainted with the main character, Stanley. Sachar and director Andrew Davis wanted the jump in the timeline to happen early on, so the audience could get acclimated with how the story would be told. Even before the movie introduces the plotlines from Camp Green Lake’s past, Stanley sees the ghosts of its history on his way into camp. 
    • Sachar had to make several changes to the story while adapting it to the screen. For example, he added the character of Stanley’s grandfather, who first mentions a so-called family curse. The actor that played him was Andrew Davis’ father! Another big change (that many book fans might notice) is Stanley’s size. In the book Holes, Stanley is overweight, and he loses weight throughout the course of the story. This plot didn’t make it to the film adaptation because it would have been too physically grueling to ask a child to lose weight while filming. Also, this would have meant that the film would have to be shot in continuity, which is famously inconvenient. 
    • As the film lays out Stanley’s origin and introduces us to his family, it shows the audience scenes from the Yelnats home. Set designers were only given the direction that there would be “piles of shoes,” as Stanley’s father is an inventor trying to find a cure for stinky feet. The designers went completely over the top, building rigs and fake machines that showed all of Mr. Yelnats’ failed attempts.
  • When it came time to cast the kids for the movie, Andrew Davis asked producer Teresa Tucker Davies for someone that was a “young Tom Hanks” to play the lead. When Davies suggested actor Shia LeBeouf for the part, she said she had found him a “cross between Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman” instead. 
    • At this point, LeBeouf was starring as Louis Stevens on the Disney sitcom Even Stevens. However, he had never had a starring role in a film, and the character Stanley was a far cry from the zany, trouble-making Louis. 
    • The rest of the kids were hand-picked for their roles to make sure they fit the characters perfectly.
      • The actors embodied their parts so well, they were allowed to ad-lib lines. 
  • Casting directors Cathy Sandrich Gelford and Amanda Mackey put together a fairly well-known group of stars for the adult roles.  
    • Since he was still a young teenager, Shia LeBeouf was a little star-struck by Jon Voight, who played the tyrannical Mr. Sir. For each day of shooting, make-up artists spent an hour transforming Voight into the character, complete with a beer belly. Mr. Sir constantly chews sunflower seeds, a detail that Louis Sachar picked up from a friend that had recently quit smoking. 
      • Voight came up with the idea that his character is paranoid of being arrested, which prompted Sachar to add a backstory to his character that involved the warden and Dr. Pendanski. 
    • Holes plays with the concepts of first impressions and misunderstandings. Right after Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake, he’s shocked to find that there is no lake. The surprises don’t end there, as Stanley immediately assumes that Mr. Sir is the warden. 
    • Dr. Pendanski is the second official that Stanley encounters at the camp, a faux doctor that refuses to acknowledge the kids by their chosen nicknames. Pendenski was played by Tim Blake Nelson, a versatile actor and director. On the audio commentary, director Andrew Davis referred to him as a man that “does it all.” 
      • Pendanski has several scenes with the kids, which set up his toxic behavior toward Zero specifically. 
  • Holes breaks up the monotony of Stanley digging a hole for several hours by cutting together flashbacks. Director of Photography Steven St. John was responsible for stitching the different time periods together with seamless transitions. 
    • As Stanley sticks his shovel into the dirt, we see his great-great-grandfather shoveling animal droppings. It’s during this flashback that we meet Madame Zeroni, played by the legendary singer and actress Eartha Kitt. 
      • During filming, Eartha Kitt was 75 at the time and would tell stories about the golden age of Hollywood and James Dean. Only a few years earlier she starred as Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove. In the 90s, she appeared in Earnest Scared Stupid. But one of her most iconic roles was Catwoman in the 1960’s Batman. 
    • When Sigourney Weaver’s daughter read Holes, she told her mom that she should play the warden. Andrew Davis wanted to build up to her entrance in the film, so they purposely held off showing her face. In fact, they never refer to the warden as female until Weaver appears on-screen. 
      • Andrew Davis said that she understood the role perfectly. 
    • When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake, he sees the ghost of a man with his donkey. The incident does not come up again, and the audience doesn’t learn about the character until Pendanski tells Stanley about the history of the lake and the fact that the warden’s grandfather owned the town. 
      • The character is Sam, played by Dulé Hill. At the time of filming, Hill still had a recurring role on the hit TV series West Wing but was fairly unknown to children’s audiences. Dule Hill wanted to understand everything he possibly could about his character, and he developed a detailed backstory that didn’t make it into the film. 
      • In Hill’s first scene, Louis Sachar plays a cameo as a man that buys a cure for his balding head. 
    • During Sam’s first scene, the audience sees Kate Barlow for the second time. Barlow was played by Patricia Arquette, an Oscar-winning actress that has starred in multiple TV shows. 
    • Arquette first appears in Holes as “Kissin’ Kate Barlow,” a notorious outlaw. As the film progresses, we see a love story unfold between her and Sam that ultimately comes to a violent end. 
      • Throughout their story, Dulé Hill’s Sam begins fixing up Kate’s schoolhouse and often utters the words, “I can fix that.” In one of the most touching scenes in the film, he finds Kate crying alone in the schoolhouse. The plan was for Arquette to say a line about a broken heart, and Sam would tell her he could fix it before kissing her. However, Arquette opted out of saying anything, making the scene far more powerful. 
      • Sam gets executed by the townsfolk after he’s seen kissing Katherine in the church, prompting her to become Kissin’ Kate Barlow. When the film shows a montage of Barlow robbing and killing, filmmakers edited in footage from old westerns. 
      • Earlier on in the movie, there’s a flashback of Stanley’s grandfather telling him about his ancestor that was robbed by Kate Barlow. They talk about the mystery of Kate not killing Stanley’s ancestor, but if you look closely, Kate only kills people that were connected to Sam’s murder. 
      • Eventually, Kate dies after finding Sam’s overturned boat in the dried-up lake bed. Production designer Maher Ahmed actually created three versions of the boat to use in the film. The first was Sam’s version, the second was the boat where Kate dies, and the third is the boat that Zero and Stanley find. 
  • One of the biggest elements of the story is the Yellow-spotted lizard. These reptiles are deadly and will kill you with one bite. Sachar invented the animal for the story, so production had to find ways to bring them to life. 
    • So, the production brought in 14 Australian Bearded Dragons and hand-painted them with 11 yellow spots each. Animal trainer Larry Madrid taught four of the dragons to play principal parts. CGI versions of the reptiles also appeared in the film, like when Stanley is almost attacked by one. Jon Voight had a lot of fun shooting the scenes with the lizards, as he was the one that got to fire at them. 
  • Visual Effects artists used CGI for establishing shots, like the one of Green Lake during the time of Kate Barlow. Artists did a lot of research to find a lake that would match the dried-up lake bed. They used Lake Casitas in California. 
  • Stunts
    • The biggest stunt that was needed for the movie was when Stanley drives the water truck into a hole while trying to escape and find Zero. They shot the stunt from several different angles.
      • The lead-up to this crash is Stanley joyriding in the truck. Since the team was filming on private land they could make sure it was safe for Shia to actually drive. 
      • When we see Mr. Sir hanging from the door of the truck trying to stop Stanley, Jon Voight is actually on a platform alongside the car. When the character falls into a hole it is a double. 
    • In the scenes where Stanley and Hector are climbing the mountain, it is actually mostly Shia and Khleo! There were only a couple of times when it was stunt doubles because it was too dangerous. 
      • There was a scene where Stanley is having trouble getting up the mountain and Zero uses the shovel to help pull him up. Shia had to be cabled and although it looks like it was 300 ft, it was only about 30 ft up. 
  • After Stanley and Zero escape Camp Green Lake, we start to see how the land is still marked by its past. They walk past a skull which is meant to be the skull of Mary-Lou, Sam’s donkey. This shows the audience Stanley’s story is physically connected to what happened in the past, not only through the story of his ancestor but with the story of Katherine and Sam. 
  • Near the end of the film, Stanley and Zero return to Camp Green Lake to dig up Kate Barlow’s treasure, something that the warden has been searching for her entire life. Louis Sachar felt like denying the warden the treasure was punishment enough for her behavior, but director Andrew Davis disagreed. Davis had worked on several law enforcement shows, and he felt like Mr. Sir, Pendanski, and The Warden deserved to be arrested for the misery they inflicted on the kids at the camp. The scene where the trio gets arrested feels especially triumphant because it begins to rain. Production brought in giant rain machines, which the kids loved because it was often 100 degrees in the desert. 
    • In the book, Sachar never explicitly says that the curse has been lifted, but it’s very apparent in the film. There’s even a voiceover tying up the loose ends of the story, which was recorded after the entire film was shot.  

MUSIC

  • Music supervisor Karyn Rachtman helped find and negotiate a lot of the music for the film. The soundtrack is filled with many great songs.
  • Andrew Davis discovered singer Teresa James performing on Ventura Boulevard one night. When they needed a country cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday,” they asked her to do it. 
    • Teresa James’ version appears in the movie after Stanley finds Kate Barlow’s lipstick tube, and the kids begin digging together. 
  • Joel McNeely did the score for the film. He’s scored a lot of Disney projects, including many of the straight-to-video sequels of the 2000s. 
  • The most memorable part of the Holes soundtrack was the song, “Dig It.” Performed by the cast of young actors. The song appears in the first scene of the film and during the credits. The artist for the song is officially credited as the “D-tent Boys,” and was written by the cast members during their downtime on set. 

STARRING

  • As we mentioned before, this was Shia Labeouf’s first starring role in a feature film. In the credits, it even bills him with: “Introducing Shia LeBeouf.”  
  • Khleo Thomas played Hector Zeroni (or Zero), reportedly beating out well-known child actors like Taj Mowry. The two boys had great chemistry together. Since Holes, Thomas has had parts in TV shows like Shameless and Parenthood and will appear in the upcoming film Scrap. 
  • Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Eartha Kitt, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler, Dule Hill, and Tim Blake Nelson.
  • The others that played the young boys in D-tent were Max Kasch (Zigzag), Byron Cotton(Armpit), Miguel Castro (Magnet), Noah Poletiek (Twitch), Jake M. Smith (Squid), and Brendan Jefferson (X-Ray).

FUN FACTS

  • The stunt coordinator Alex Daniels got to be the one to arrest Jon Voight’s character in the movie.
  • The “Sploosh” that Hector finds under Mary Lou was actually made of Molasses and applesauce. The “dirt” on the jar was crushed up graham crackers.
  • The onion bulbs that Stanley and Hector eat on the top of the mountain are actually apples wrapped in rice paper. The rice paper had been dyed purple with beet juice and real onion tops were attached to the make-shift onion bulb.

AWARDS/RECEPTION

  • Holes was released in April of 2003 and became an instant classic. School kids all over America watched the film in English class. Worldwide, the movie grossed over 70 million dollars with an original budget of 20 million. 
  • The film won three awards, including the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Family Film. 

By the mid-2000s, it would be hard to find a middle-school kid that hadn’t seen Holes. It was a movie that defined a generation, one that now parents show their kids and say, “I loved this when I was your age.” The film perfectly expresses themes of friendship and learning from the past. At every turn, Holes reminds the audience that nothing and no one is ever quite as it seems, holding onto the spirit of the original book. 

Holes is the kind of book that gets kids excited about reading, and in turn, the film is just as inspirational. It’s a film that entertains the entire family and holds the all-important lesson to never judge a BOOK by its cover. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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A (Brief) Case in the Haunted Library

Happy Halloween, Cassettes! This year, we recorded our annual (brief) case in a very special location: Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis, OH! The Library has a reputation for being haunted, so we thought it would be the perfect place to cozy up with a good scary book.

For this episode, we found three spooky tales from books in the library that all take place in our home state: Ohio! So, settle in and don’t get too scared!

THE MOONVILLE TUNNEL

Our first story comes from a book called “Guide to Ohio University Ghosts and Legends” by Craig Tremblay. This story, however, is about Moonville, a small ghost town in Lake Hope State Park. Moonville is a ghost town in the literal and figurative sense. It’s a completely abandoned town that is most famous for the ghosts that people have spotted there. For more information on The Moonville Tunnel, check out this link!

THE OHIO STATE PENITENTIARY

Our second story comes from the book “Haunted Ohio II” by Chris Woodyard. This scary tale recounts the horrific tragedy that occurred in the Ohio State Penitentiary on Easter Sunday 1930 when fires broke out in the prison. Over three hundred people were killed, and the event shocked the entire country. If you would like to know more, check out this link.


THE GHOST THAT ROARED

Our final story also came from “Haunted Ohio II.” It was a personal account of a haunting in someone’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio. The haunting took place in the 1960s, and involved a demon and a bookcase!

Now that you’ve heard the stories, here are some more photos of the haunted library!

Wagnalls Memorial Library was founded my Mabel Wagnalls in 1925. For more info, follow this link!

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The Case of Frankenweenie

On a rainy afternoon in 1816, a 20-year-old woman named Mary Shelley wrote a story that would change the world forever. It was possibly the first science fiction novel, a book about a scientist that created a living creature from corpses. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus challenged the romantic idea of beauty and explored philosophical themes about the nature of man and the power of creation. 

Today, Frankenstein is a Halloween staple. It’s a story so ingrained in western celebrations of the holiday, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. The story inspired many different adaptations, but one of the strangest and most original was created by Tim Burton in 1984. 

Frankenweenie followed the story of a young boy that uses electricity to bring his beloved dog back to life. Twenty-eight years later, Disney gave Burton the chance to remake this short film in his favorite medium: stop-motion. Today, we’re bringing you through the history of this fun re-telling of a classic tale. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the SHOCKing story of Sparky and his human Victor!

THE ORIGINAL FRANKENWEENIE

  • Based on his films, it’s no surprise that Tim Burton is a fan of horror stories. He grew up watching the Universal Monster movies and Japanese monster films. One of his favorite aspects of these movies was that the monsters were almost never what they seemed to be. 
  • Burton had the original idea for Frankenweenie while working at Disney in the 1980s. 
    • The story came from experience. When Burton was a child, he had a dog named Pepe that he loved dearly. It was his first major relationship and the first big death that he experienced. This, combined with the Frankenstein storyline, created a new kind of adaptation that flipped the original story on its head. The original monster in Frankenstein was cast out by its creator because it wasn’t a product of love. In this story, Victor only attempts to create life because he misses his best friend. 
  • The project was green-lit, and Burton was able to direct a live-action version of the story starring Barret Oliver, Daniel Stern, and Shelly Duvall. Its runtime was only 30 minutes, and it was set to premiere on television. But, the test screenings appeared to scare children, and the short film was pulled. 
    • Years later, Disney released the short film on home video. It quickly became a hit, and today it has a cult following. Now, it can be streamed on Disney+ and can be found on many The Nightmare Before Christmas DVDs. 
  • When Tim Burton was gathering pieces for a Museum of Modern Art exhibit, he came across the concept drawings for the film and decided he’d like to revisit the story again. By now, Burton was an accomplished filmmaker with hits like Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas under his belt. So, he brought the idea to Disney which would eventually fund the project.  
    • To Burton, this didn’t really feel like a remake. This time he had the budget and the resources to incorporate all of the personal experiences and monster movie influences that birthed the original concept. 
      • Burton decided the film wouldn’t be live-action, but stop-motion instead! Burton said of using stop motion, “It’s a form that I do love because there’s something that’s very tactile about it, you know, it’s a set and the lights and characters are going in and out of shadows, you see that. There’s something, yes, why I love Ray Harryhausen’s work where you can feel hands on it, you can feel there’s an energy to it.” 
    • When asked why redo an already successful movie, Tim Burton replied to puppet designer Peter Sanders that he wanted more of a performance from the dog Sparky. This would be more possible with a stop motion dog than a live-action dog. 

SYNOPSIS

Victor Frankenstein loves his dog, Sparky. They do everything together, including making their very own monster movies. One day, while Victor is playing baseball, Sparky runs into the street and gets hit by a car. Victor is devastated. After learning about the possibilities of combining electricity with a dead frog in science class, Victor decides to use lightning to bring Sparky back to life! As other students catch wind of the experiment, they want to try it as well. But, things go awry and the town is soon under attack by a group of pets-turned-monsters!  

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Based on an original idea by Tim Burton, the 1984 screenplay was written by Leonard Ripps. John August wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film. 
    • Tim Burton was adamant that the film be in black and white. Thankfully, there was no push back from the studio to produce a color film. It was a nice coincidence that the black and white film The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012 validating the choice for black and white. 
    • In order to give the filmmakers more aesthetic options, it was shot in color and changed in post to be black and white.
  • 3D
    • To keep up with the monster movie tradition, the team knew immediately that the film should be 3D. A test was conducted to make sure that the effects worked well with the black and white aesthetic. After the test was done they saw right away it worked. The contrast of the film even helps to intensify the effect. 
    • Instead of shooting the film originally in 3D the team shot normally and gave the different elements, such as the set and characters, to a visual effects house team. This team then put it all together into a 3D film. 
  • Stop Motion
    • Stop motion is a time-consuming art form that we have discussed before. In order to keep filming going smoothly, Exposure Sheets are used. 
      • Exposure Sheets help to clarify what a character is doing in each frame so that everything can be mapped out. The sheets include frame numbers, the waveform for the score, and the phonetics of the words formed by the characters for mouth movement. Frankenweenie was shot at the standard 24 frames per second. For animators, that meant that for one second of film the puppets must be moved 24 times. Most often one animator is able to animate about 5 seconds of the film a week. 
    • In order to speed up the process animators would be working on different scenes at the same time with the multiples of puppets that were created.
  • Puppets
    • Inspiration for the puppets began from the drawings by Burton. Not only did they have his original concept drawing from the 1984 film, but he drew some new ones as well. The team of artists worked closely off of these and consulted Burton often on the personalities and looks of the characters. 
    • The puppets were cast from sculptures and then cast into foam rubber. All of the clothes had to be hand sewn as the puppets were only about a foot in height, and Sparky was about 4 inches.
    • In total, there ended up being over 200 puppets that needed to be cared for. A special Puppet Hospital was created where there was a team that made repairs for the clothing, limbs, and more.
  • Production
    • The production designer Rick Heinrichs had worked with Tim Burton before on both the short film Vincent and Nightmare Before Christmas. The longtime collaborators had also done well with the 1984 Frankenweenie. When Rick heard that Burton intended to remake the movie in stop motion, he was in from the start. Rick saw opportunities to improve what they built with the original. 
    • Rick Heinrichs was blown away by the animators working on the film. He was thrilled to see the story in black and white again and loved the controlled nature of stop-motion. He said, “When you’re doing a live-action film, you’re dealing with a lot more people and, as much as you want to control the sets and control the lighting, it’s like wearing boxing gloves to try to do something delicate. With stop-motion animation, the cinematographer is lighting the set, and the set decorators and the model makers and the animators are all people you’re talking directly to. You can fix things. It’s on a scale where it’s all fixable, and you can continue to manipulate things until it shoots. It’s a longer process of prep and production as well, so you can really bring more continuity to bear, on the whole process.”
    • The sets were built on tabletops complete with trap doors, similar to the ones we learned about when Nightmare Before Christmas was made! The attention to detail on the sets was incredible. 
      • Art director Sandra Walker, when talking about the sets, said that they strived to create Burton’s version of American Suburbia. What’s strange isn’t the neighborhood, it’s what happens in the neighborhood. Burton grew up in a 50’s/60’s middle-class Burbank-type area.
      • This story takes place in the fictional town of New Holland with a classic-looking windmill near the town. In the climax of the original film, Victor and Sparky become trapped in the windmill at the local golf course. So, the animated film needed to have a windmill for the ending as well. Heinrichs said about using the cultural aspects of New Holland, It was all about having Dutch day, and also about how American communities really take these Old World elements and they turn it into this flat, suburban thing. They knock down all the maple trees and they call it Maple Street. It’s this absconding of things out in the world and making it your own thing. There was something characteristically American and charming about that…To be honest with you, I really think that it establishes a purpose for the windmill.
  • Artists
    • Working on a stop motion film is incredibly physical work. Instead of working in front of a screen, you are constantly moving. One frame of movement would include several changes that would all have to be physically and meticulously moved. It is a very hands-on process that is evident in the final product. 
  • Film references and research
    • Burton believes that references should not be used just to have them there. He enjoys referencing older movies but you should not have to know what is being referenced to enjoy the movie. It should pass by as you are paying attention to the story. 
    • Producer Allison Abbate said that in order to be able to reference these movies, and with a purpose, the animators all watched the classic monster movies, paying special attention to the old Frankenstein movies. 
    • Here are just some of the references that we noticed throughout the film!
      • Frankenstein- Including a character similar to Igor
      • Sleepy Hollow and Frankenstein both have a windmill that burns down as well
      • Rodan- In the short film that Victor created at the beginning
      • Bride of Frankenstein- Sparky’s love interest Persephone ends up with white hair
      • Pet Sematary 
      • Invisible Man- Invisible fish
      • Gremlins-The sea monkeys resemble Gremlins
      • The Mummy- Nassor’s Colossus the hamster, and also when Nassor gets wrapped up and shoved into a large nesting doll
      • The Birds- Phone Booth scene with all the sea monkeys trying to get in
      • Gamera: The Giant Monster
      • Jurassic Park- The mayor tries to hide in a Porta Potty 

SCORE

  • Danny Elfman of course!
  • In an article in Films in Review from 1992, Ken Hanke comments that “Elfman’s scores are far more creative, far more in line with Burton’s combined sense of charm, irony, and absurdity, and generally just better music.”

STARRING

While the actors recorded their lines for the performances, video references were taken. These videos would be watched for behaviors, movements, and idiosyncrasies that could be used in the performance of the puppets.

Burton in an interview with Collider commented on the casting saying “Always, the voices have to be right.  With Martin [Short] and Catherine [O’Hara], they’re so good.  That’s why I had them do three voices each.  To me, there’s a great energy with that.  And Winona [Ryder], I hadn’t seen for many years.  Same with Martin [Landau].  Anything like that just makes it that much more personal.”

  • Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing
    • Can it even be a Tim Burton film without Winona?
    • She is a favorite of Burton’s and was also in Beetlejuice.
    • Van Helsing references Bram Stoker’s character from his novel, Dracula. 
  • Catherine O’Hara as Mrs. Frankenstein, the gym teacher, and the weird girl
    • She was in Beetlejuice but is also well known as the mom in Home Alone.
    • In this universe, there is no Frankenstein story. These people ARE the Frankensteins. 
  • Martin Short as Mr. Frankenstein, Nassor, and Mr. Burgermeister
    • Martin Short is most recently seen in Only Murders in the Building!
    • In the Rankin and Bass episode, we talked about how much Burton enjoyed their work, and so in this film, he pays tribute with the character Mr. Burgermeister. The character is similar in a lot of ways to Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. 
  • Charlie Tahan as Victor Frankenstein
    • Charlie most recently has been in Ozark.
    • You can see in his character’s room a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea poster.
  • Frank Welker as Sparky 
    • Frank is a voice actor that did voices for the live-action Transformers.
    • Sparky is given the classic bolts on the sides of his head in reference to Frankenstein’s monster.
  • Martin Landau as the teacher Mr. Rzykruski
    • This character may look very familiar to you because he is modeled after Vincent Price!
    • Martin was in many films before he passed away, most recently Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game in 2017.
  • Also features the voices of Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, James Liao, Conchata Ferrell, Jon Donahue, Tom Kenny, and Dee Bradley Baker.

RECEPTION

  • There are lots of opinions out there as to whether or not Tim Burton’s films are for children. Burton himself grew up where death was a taboo topic. But, monster movies made him feel more optimistic about it all and reminded him of how life and death go hand in hand. He never felt he had a morbid fascination with death. Frankenweenie in particular was made with kids in mind and distances you from the scary with its emotional storyline, humor, and animation. Animation inherently shows you it is not real and therefore children are more receptive to the scariness. 
  • The film did not do well commercially, but it did make back its budget. 

FUN FACTS

  • There was an “Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition” that toured the world after the premiere. It had a wonderful reception and even came to Comic-Con in San Diego! You were able to tour some of the sets, props, and characters.
  • Burton invited his high school art teacher to the movie premiere.
  • Names of animators’ animals were on the gravestones at the pet cemetery.

AWARDS

Frankenweenie was nominated for a lot of awards, including for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature which it, unfortunately, did not win. It lost to Brave. It did, however, win a lot of awards in different states and Saturn Awards for Best Animated Film and Best Music.

Frankenweenie is a wonderful retelling of a classic story, with an optimistic twist. The original Frankenstein ends with the monster becoming increasingly destructive as he faces more cruelty, and the townsfolk end up hunting down a being that was initially harmless, his only crime being his existence. In Frankenweenie, the townsfolk make this same mistake but have the capacity to learn and grow, deciding to bring Sparky back to life. This concept can be summed up with the line, “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about,” spoken by Victor’s father at the end of the movie. 

In the tradition of the original, this movie explores human nature, the strength of an act of love, and how dangerous an act of fear can be. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES: