The exteriors were filmed at the defunct Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. The prison was in such poor condition, renovations had to be made prior to filming. However, most of the interiors were shot on a sound stage, because they determined it would be cheaper to build duplicates of the interiors rather than renovating the interiors of Mansfield.
The American Humane Association monitored the filming of scenes involving Brooks' crow. During the scene where he fed it a maggot, the AHA objected on the grounds that it was cruel to the maggot, and required that they use a maggot that had died from natural causes. One was found, and the scene was filmed.
The mugshots of a young-looking Morgan Freeman that are attached to his parole papers are actually pictures of Morgan's younger son, Alfonso Freeman. Alfonso also had a cameo in the movie as a con shouting "Fresh fish! Fresh fish today! We're reeling 'em in!"
Stephen King sold the rights to the movie very cheaply out of his friendship with Frank Darabont. They had originally become friends when Darabont adapted a short story of King's called "The Woman in the Room" (King has a policy stating that any aspiring filmmaker can adapt his short stories for a buck) and King was thoroughly impressed. They maintained a pen pal relationship and didn't actually meet until Darabont optioned Shawshank.
After the film gained popularity, Ted Turner sold the television rights to TNT, his own network, for much lower than normal for such a big film. Because it is so inexpensive to show, the film is broadcast on TNT extremely often.
At the end of the movie, there is a dedication to Allen Greene. He was Frank Darabont's agent and also a close personal friend. He died just before the completion of the movie due to AIDS complications.
The close up of Andy's hands loading the revolver in the opening scenes are actually the hands of Frank Darabont. Later in the film while Andy carves his name into his cell wall (seen twice in the film), Darabont's hands are used as well in the insert shot. These close ups were inserts that were filmed during post production, notably because Darabont felt that only he could do exactly what he wanted in the close ups.
The Shawshank prison, in the book and in the movie, was loosely based on Thomaston prison, an aging prison located in Thomaston, Maine. That real life prison closed in 2004 due to its small size and dilapidated structure.
In the scene with Andy arriving in the library as Brooks' assistant while Brooks' crow Jake is squawking, Tim Robbins had to time his line, "Hey, Jake. Where's Brooks?", so that the crow wouldn't squawk over him since the bird could not be trained to squawk on cue. Robbins was able to adapt to this and time his line perfectly by learning the bird's squawking patterns, for which Director Frank Darabont praised him. Robbins' improvisation is noticeable as he watches the bird carefully while approaching it, waiting for it to squawk, and doesn't begin his line until after it does so.
While Mansfield locals were eager to be extras, many weren't available during the day due to their jobs or were only available for one day, which obviously wouldn't work in a prison film. So extras were found at a halfway house, some of them real-life ex-cons.
Since filming schedule was very tight in Mansfield, Ohio anyone who held up production time were threatened to be fined. Both Tim Robbins and William Sadler showed up late once but were never fined. Filming in Mansfield, Ohio finished ahead of schedule.
Rob Reiner loved Frank Darabont's script so much that he offered $2.5 million for the rights to the script so he could direct it. Darabont seriously considered Reiner's offer but ultimately decided that it was his "chance to do something really great" by directing the movie himself. Reiner wanted Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise to play Red and Andy respectively.
When Andy first gets reassigned to the prison library, the first officer who comes to him for investment help approaches him by saying, "I'm Dekins." Roger Deakins was the cinematographer for the movie. While this is the case, Frank Darabont wrote the character Dekins into the original script before he hired his crew, as the same character was in the novella, and the different way of spelling confirms this.
Clancy Brown said that he received several offers from real-life corrections officers to work with him to make his portrayal of Captain Hadley more realistic. He turned them all down because Hadley was an evil character and he didn't want to misrepresent real corrections officers.
Red says he has no idea what the ladies are singing about. Actually, they're composing a letter to the husband of one of them inviting him to an assignation with the other in order to expose his infidelity.
In 2007, two inmates of Union County Prison escaped from their prison using similar techniques to those featured in the movie. Their (partially) successful escape led to the suicide of prison guard Rudolph Zurick. When the two convicts were recaptured, they denied responsibility for Zurick's death.
The film's initial gross of $18 million didn't even cover the cost of its production. It did another $10 million in the wake of its Oscar nominations but the film was still deemed to be a box office flop.
Initially, Frank Darabont was planning to make his directorial debut with a 'Child's Play' type of horror movie, although he wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of doing so. Instead, he decided to adapt Stephen King's atypical short story. The resulting script soon became a hot ticket around Hollywood, attracting interest from stars like Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise.
Many critics have spotted many allegorical themes in the film, generally along the lines that Andy Dufresne is a latter day Jesus Christ. Frank Darabont refutes all such claims although he is delighted that so many people have read so much into his film.
The prison that played Shawshank, the Ohio State Reformatory, now serves as a museum. Because it was scheduled for demolition at the time of filming, several set pieces remain intact in the prison, including the tunnel Andy crawled out of and the warden's office.
One of the reasons why they didn't employ the full title of the Stephen King novella - "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" - was because there was a perception in Hollywood that this was actually going to be a biopic of Rita Hayworth. Indeed, Frank Darabont even received solicitations from several actresses about playing the lead.
Andy and Red's opening chat in the prison yard - in which Red is pitching a baseball - took 9 hours to shoot. Morgan Freeman pitched that baseball for the entire 9 hours without a word of complaint. He showed up for work the next day with his arm in a sling.
Unusually the voiceover narration was recorded before filming began and was then played on set to dictate the rhythm of each scene. The guide track was recorded in an Iowa recording studio by Morgan Freeman in only 40 minutes. Unfortunately, there was a minor hiss to the track which sound engineers in Los Angeles were unable to eradicate. Consequently it had to be re-recorded in a proper studio; this time it took 3 weeks.
In the novella, the prisoners watch a screening of The Lost Weekend. Because the rights to this were owned by a different studio, Frank Darabont looked to see which old films he could show without incurring costs. He was delighted to see that one that he was able to use was Gilda - one of Rita Hayworth's greatest hits.
Shawshank prison is a staple of Stephen King's writing, most of which is set in Maine. While it only appears in this story, several other books and short stories mention characters who were sentenced to serve time at Shawshank. Shawshank prison is mentioned in another Stephen King movie (Dolores Claiborne) when Dolores (played by Kathy Bates) yells at her husband that he will do time in Shawshank for (inappropriately) touching his daughter. They only mention the prison, they don't show the prison.
Buxton, where Andy says he proposed to his wife and buried the "treasure" for Red under the tree, is a real life small town in Maine (population 7452 as of the 2000 census) about 15 miles west of Maine's largest city of Portland, where the movie says Andy was a banker.
The original story, 'Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption', appears in Stephen King's book, 'Different Seasons', along with three other short novellas. Only one of them, 'The Breathing Method', has not been turned into a movie.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
There are several similarities to the Alexandre Dumas père novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo" (which is also mentioned during the film). The Dumas novel involved a man falsely imprisoned for a crime, who later makes a daring escape. After escaping, he acquired hidden treasure which he learned about in jail, and executed a plan of revenge against those who imprisoned him.
In the scene after Andy has escaped, the warden wants them to question Red. When they call to open Red's cell they shout, "Open 237!" This is the same number as the room in The Shining and the amount of change ($2.37) the four boys in Stand by Me collect between them. All three movies were based on Stephen King stories.
Zihuatanejo, the Mexican paradise where Andy and Red go after prison, actually exists. It is now a tourist city in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero. But in 1966, when Andy escaped, it was still a small fishing village which matches how Andy first described it to Red.
Red says that Andy broke out in 1966. This was the same year as the landmark Miranda v. Arizona case before the Supreme Court, where it was decided a defendant must be informed of their rights (i.e. right to remain silent, right to an attorney, etc.), when put under police custody. That's why at the end of the film, when they arrest Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown), the officer is reading the Miranda rights from a piece of paper.
When Warden Norton opens his wall safe near the end of the film, and he opens Andy's bible, the bookmark ribbon is on the first page of the book of Exodus (which tells the story of the flight of the Jews from Egypt). Exodus is also where Andy began cutting out the pages to hide his rock hammer during spot inspections.
The rock wall where Red's "treasure" is buried was built specifically for the film and stood for many years. It was built by hand by the art department months before filming began. This allowed for the alfalfa grass to grow to make it look weathered. Eventually, the wall was sold on eBay, one rock at a time, by the farmer who owned the land it stood on. The tree at the end of the wall stood until it was cleaved in two by a lightning strike in 2011. A portion of its remains now stands, propped up, by the pond on the grounds of the Ohio State Reformatory.
Frank Darabont preferred to end the film with Red searching for Andy. In fact, if he had been allowed to shoot the ending as he wanted, the closing shot would have been Red on the bus heading for the field. Darabont wanted to end on an open, ambiguous note. But Castle Rock insisted on a reunion between the two to please audiences. So instead of showing us a teary reunion, the film observes it from a distance. Darabont's response to Castle Rock's demands.
When the warden flips through Andy's bible after his escape, he finds the cut out space where Andy's digging tool was hidden starting in the book of Exodus. Exodus literally means "to escape or depart".