Ben Stiller, director of Showtime’s limited series Escape at Dannemora, which chronicles the real-life narrative of a 2015 breakout from Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, joined The Hollywood Reporter’s TV Director roundtable to talk about his experiences.
The production filmed in the actual prison, as Stiller told the roundtable, saying it was essential to do so for the story. “In such a unique location, nestled inside the Adirondack Mountains, it was almost impossible to re-create,” he said. “It was part of the story, because these guys escape and they went out into the mountains.”
Added Stiller: “We were literally six weeks away from shooting and we didn’t have a location secured, to be able to shoot up there — that was the biggest fight.”
Dannemora follows the story of a prison employee (Patricia Arquette) who helps two inmates with whom she is engaged in sexual affairs (Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano) to escape.
Stiller praised his cast, calling them “great actors,” as well as the prison staff who offered them access, cooperation and training, but the biggest thing for the director was the “heaviness” of the prison.
“When I went into the real prison, and walked through there, it was so heavy,” he told the roundtable “It was just like — there’s no way this can be funny in any way. I mean, there can be ironic humor at times, but this is not funny to me. I can understand why, no matter who you are, you’d want to get out of here.”
Stiller won an Emmy for outstanding writing in a variety or music program for The Ben Stiller Show in 1993.
The full TV Director Roundtable is set to air Aug. 4 on SundanceTV. Stiller joins Ava DuVernay, Adam McKay, Jean-Marc Vallée, Patty Jenkins and David Nutter for the roundtable. Follow all the Emmy season roundtables at THR.com/Roundtables.