BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – There are very few people who have been more associated with a prison break than Morgan Freeman. The Oscar-winning actor’s rich career – who always speaks with a heavenly voice – includes the starring role in the classic behind-bars men’s film “Shawshank Redemption”. It is one of the biggest films of his long CV.
Freeman points out that there is a big difference between fiction and fact, but his association with the prison break film made him the obvious choice to host the new History Channel series “Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman “. The eight-part production – which launched at 10 p.m. on November 9 – explores actual prison breaks that have captured the attention of audiences. It’s a close-up and personal view of what prisoners face while performing their escapes.
It wasn’t Freeman’s “Shawshank” connection that prompted him to agree to host the show. His first passion – as he has shown by hosting other educational series such as “God’s Story with Morgan Freeman” and “Through the Wormhole” – is the documentary filmmaking format.
“I love documentaries, some of which are so well done and so fascinating on their subject. I pray that we handle this once or twice, and we will do it again, ”Freeman said. We still have a huge amount of story that we don’t know much about that hasn’t been told, that hasn’t been dealt with.
“I think this project, for example, is one of them. People don’t know places like Alcatraz and Dannemora. They know Shawshank.
Stories told in this first season include escapes from Alcatraz (San Francisco), Dannemora (New York), and Pittsburgh State Penitentiary. The escapes are presented using technology to recreate the prisons mixed with interviews with real prisoners and actors playing key roles.
A small army of researchers, producers and writers have assembled the details of each escape. There were times when the forms known as the Jail Escape Document provided hundreds of pages of details on how the escapes were carried out.
The team had to keep in mind that the escape documents were still strongly from the perspective of prison officials. This is why so many interviews have been conducted with prisoners, their families and friends to tell a fuller story.
Even with all of their work, there are gaps in the stories.
Executive producer James Younger says, “We try to tell the story as dramatically as possible. We leave a few things unknown. But we’re not really getting into an analysis of who is right or wrong.
“I think one of the things that’s exciting about the show is that we really tell it as an adventure. It’s a dramatic adventure from start to finish. And, we use all the technology of the video game to put us in the POV of the escapees. So we don’t really stop to analyze as much as we use all the knowledge we can find to get the people on this trail to escape.
There was never any point in using the series just to spotlight people who ended up behind bars. The emphasis was always on the planning, preparation and patience – which could take years – required to get out of prisons. Some of the clever ways the prisoners escaped included starting a winemaking operation to cover the tunnel or the prisoner making a copy of a key by walking behind the guard and using a Styrofoam cup to get a imprint of a key.
Freeman was fascinated by all of the escapes featured in the series, but his favorite was “The Great Escape”. The escape was by a group of prisoners of war who escaped from a German camp during World War II.
It wasn’t necessarily how they escaped, but the fact that so many people weren’t recovered puzzled Freeman.
“I don’t think people who get out of prison escape if they’re caught and brought back. If you escape, you are gone. And with ‘The Great Escape’ a lot of these guys are gone. They were gone, ”says Freeman. “They caught a lot of it too. But most of the time when you get out of jail you’re going to get caught. You are not free. You haven’t quite succeeded.
Working on the project allowed Freeman to see how complicated and difficult it was for the prisoners to find a way to escape. He points out that it is “very, very, very difficult” to come up with a plan that works well enough for a prisoner to escape.
He also learned that the escape is only the first part of the story.
“You can go out, but I almost guarantee you’ll go back,” Freeman said.