‘The Shawshank Redemption’ Used Real-Life Ex-Cons as Extras and Fined Anyone Who Was Late to Filming

The Shawshank Redemption is a well-known, much-loved classic. The film was nominated for several awards, and Morgan Freeman received substantial praise for his role as Red. The movie was based on a Stephen King novel set in a fictional prison in Maine. However, it was filmed in a small town in Ohio. The area still attracts numerous tourists who were fans of the movie. There, fans can learn tons of trivia regarding the film, such as the fact that real-life ex-cons were used as extras while filming.

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was set in Maine, but filmed in Ohio

Prisoners working and digging in a field outside of the prison in 'The Shawshank Redemption'
Prisoners working in the field in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ | Castle Rock Entertainment/Getty Images

Exterior shots of the fictional Shawshank Prison were actually taken at a location in Mansfield, Ohio. The Ohio State Reformatory is a historical prison that opened its doors in 1896. The prison took inmates who committed minor crimes but were too old for the juvenile system. Criminals who were incarcerated for major offenses went to the Ohio State Penitentiary. 

The institution’s purpose was to reform the inmates through religion, education, and learning a trade. The system admitted inmates for 18 months at a time, after which they could be released if they showed sufficient progress in the program. It was a successful system, but in the 1960s, OSR lost its financial support from the state. 

The state of Ohio wanted to convert the building to a maximum-security prison, and conditions quickly deteriorated. Eventually, several inmates sued the state. They won, and the building was shut down in 1990. It was later repaired and restored so it could be opened as a historic site. 

The crew used local ex-cons as extras

As you can imagine, filming a movie caused excitement throughout the town of Mansfield and the surrounding area. Residents were eager to be a part of the project. Unfortunately, filming primarily took place during the day, and most of the residents couldn’t appear as extras because they had to work. 

The Shawshank Redemption crew got creative and looked elsewhere for extras. They searched local halfway houses for anyone who might be interested in a unique opportunity. Plenty of people were interested, and a few ex-cons were even cast as extras. However, they weren’t the only ones on screen who were familiar with the prison system. Some of the extras had been employees of the Ohio State Reformatory, including a former warden. 

There were many challenges during filming due to the outdoor scenes. On several occasions, filming was postponed due to bad weather conditions. These setbacks resulted in strict schedules for the actors so that they could catch up on lost time. If anyone was late, they were in danger of being fined. As it turned out, filming in Mansfield actually finished ahead of schedule.

Steve Oster, the superintendent of the Board of Developmental Disabilities in the county, spoke with the Coshocton Tribune about his experience as an extra. He played an arresting officer, and he remembers there being a lot of downtime between takes. He said he played cards with the crew, and he was able to explore the building in ways that the public wasn’t able to. 

He recalls meeting some of the actors, especially a brief interaction with Morgan Freeman. “I got to talk to Morgan Freeman just briefly, but he was a nice man. Morgan Freeman is such an icon anyway, but that was the role in his career that helped it get even better.”

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ helped boost business in three Ohio towns

The film has had a lasting impact on the area. The 13 locations used in Ohio spanned three towns, all of which benefited substantially from The Shawshank Redemption‘s fame brought to the area. 

Fans of the film can visit the Ohio State Reformatory and take a guided tour of the historic building. If they want to get the full Shawshank experience, they can follow the self-guided Shawshank Trail. The trail takes you along 15 stops, including the Food Way store, Brooks’ bench, and the Shawshank Oak Tree, among other commemorative areas. 

Local businesses have even jumped on the Shawshank bandwagon, selling a variety of clever movie-related items. Tourists can bring home a bottle of Reformatory “Red” wine and Shawshank Bundt Cakes. They can also enjoy a slice of “Redemption Pie” at Two Cousins’ Pizza. 

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