A miniseries based on the 2015 escape by Richard Matt and David Sweat from the Clinton Correctional Facility will debut on Showtime this weekend. In advance, its producers and director Ben Stiller has held several premieres of the first episode including in Cannes, New York City and last night in Plattsburgh.
Director Ben Stiller stood at the front of the movie theatre to introduce the episode and thank North Country residents for their help and patience during preparation and filming of “Escape at Dannemora.” But he had to travel, so he held a brief question and answer period and left before the screening to avoid the worst of the incoming snowstorm.
The lights then dimmed and the audience intently watched Stiller’s interpretation of the escape. Reviews afterwards were positive.
Plattsburgh resident Andy Porter was curious because Stiller had visited a restaurant his partner works at. "I had to see it and I’m glad I did. It was a great movie. You felt like you were actually there. At least I did. It dragged me in so that’s a good movie to me.”
Mike Kellam of Saranac Lake lives in the area that was actually searched during the 2015 escape. “I was actually driving back and forth between Saranac Lake and Malone to work. So I was running through the road blocks twice a day. You know I had to kind of check it out. It seems to be fairly accurate. There’s some drama added into it to make it a little more cinematic but from several friends that I’ve talked to that are guards the details are there.”
Filmmakers extensively researched the escape, and the state Inspector General’s blistering review of operations following the escape helped guide the script. They also brought in people with direct experience.
New York State Police Major Charles Guess retired about a year after leading the search for the escapees. He was an advisor to the filmmakers and has a small part in the series. He was among those watching the premiere. “It evoked some powerful emotions. I’m not a corrections officer. I’m a law enforcement officer by trade. But I have been in prisons as part of my course of duty. And just to see how the inmates live and react and relate to each other and of course prison staff I think the director has really established a baseline here that he’s building upon. And I’m sure, I’m anticipating that each episode will get deeper into the plot. Although we all know what happened we’re going to now see how it developed from within especially among three or four specific individuals.”
An inmate when Matt and Sweat were incarcerated at Clinton Correctional, Erik Jensen has a small role and is a consultant to “Escape at Dannemora.” He says the series accurately depicts what it was like on the prison’s Honor Block. “Everything you see in “Escape at Dannemora” is exactly how I saw it when I was there. What I did every piece of movement, all the privileges, everything going on in the north yard, the tailor shop, the commissary, the mess hall. We cast a lot of retired corrections officers. They also worked with us to give both perspectives so it was not just one sided.”
The first episode sets up the characters. Guess was asked if people from the region might be disappointed that the seven-episode series doesn’t immediately portray the escape and search. "They have a lot of material and they’re developing the entire relationship. And in real time it took them 5 to 6 months to craft their escape. And of course then they had that month where they were on the run. Now those 23 days lasted forever for me! But I hope that the community views this as a fair treatment as do my law enforcement colleagues.”
“Escape at Dannemora” debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.