Screenwriting : 20 YEARS OF SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - was it really a great script? by Chanel Ashley

Chanel Ashley

20 YEARS OF SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - was it really a great script?

I recently saw the 20 year reunion for this film, Max brooks conducted the interview - Frank Darabont was excellent, completely underwhelmed by both Tim Robbins and Morgan freeman - they are usually more articulate - the film did nothing for me when it first came out, but with subsequent viewing I began to love it to the point it is one of my favourites - Tim Robbins stated that the script "it was the best script he had ever read" - Morgan thought it was "great" - I've read the script, I liked the script, but GREAT? - the BEST? - I actually wouldn't have gone that far, it was GOOD, but... - what do other writers think of the script, was it THAT GOOD?

Owen Mowatt

It`s a great film, but not one of THE greats for me. I havent read the script, but I dont really put any weight on actors saying "I loved the script", they all say that. Performances were good though.

Chanel Ashley

You might be right, Owen, but on the premise they did think it was a great script, and as a writer, I read it to see what qualities it had to entice such good actors - to be honest, while it was a good script, it didn't stand out to me or appear special, but then I'm not an actor.

Eoin O'Sullivan

It's a great script and definitely a contender. It flows incredibly well, draws you along. Even when there is a lot of black on the page, it's serves a purpose, it show a story. Every screenwriter should read that script numerous times.

Dash Riprock

Absolutely THE...BEST...SCRIPT I have ever read.

Henry Rivers

It is a Great Script, Great Cast, Great production crew, it’s a story of Great Friendships, no matter what side of the legal system your on, and Tim Robbins prevails proving that the “Fire of a Man’s Mind can prevail under the most difficult circumstances and be at peace with himself , leaves a memory with the convicts, prison guards that compassion to help others is key to salvation, what ever that is…

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, it is THAT GOOD. It's unconventional, in that it doesn't really have an active, external plot. It's all about the internal journey; personal struggle, enduring pain and surviving it. That's damn hard to pull off in a script! It's a character study. We truly love these guys. It also manages to keep mystery going underneath it all... Did Andy kill his wife or not? You mean, that whole time he was digging his way out with that little rock hammer?! Wow, what a great ending! :)

Anthony Cawood

Based on a great novella too...

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, one of Stephen King's best novels.

Chanel Ashley

I can see the script has touched many people, I might have to read it again.

Lina Jones

I enjoyed the movie it is a #classic especially when it comes to good guys finishing last this one finished first. It is a tear jerker both Tim and Morgan did a fantastic acting job. I only watched the movie don't want to say to much about it for those that did not see it. I won't be the one to give a #SpoilerAlert.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Lina the movie's at least 25 years old... if they haven't seen it as yet I wouldn't worry too much about a spoiler. It's a classic.

Chanel Ashley

Most of us agree the film is a classic, but did the script "grab" you? - I liked it, but I still can't quite nail why this script attracted Tim and Morgan, the recipe that ensured this story was filmed, financed, chosen before and above other scripts - obviously, other people saw something I didn't.

Ashley Scott Meyers

There are so many reasons this script is great. #1 Great character arcs. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman both have clear, believable, characters arcs. Watch that final scene with Morgan Freeman talking to the parole board. Great emotional payoff for a dimensional character who has changed during the movie. #2 Great emotional high points and emotional low points. Robbins gets raped and we feel terrible for him. But then he gets beer for his fellow inmates and we get a great emotionally uplifting scene. These highs and lows are throughout the script. It's an emotional roller coaster. Robbins getting thrown in solitary confinement, the warden kills the man who can help Robbins get out of jail. Balance that with emotional high points like Robbins playing the record, Robbins getting the library books, the rapist getting beaten and sent away. Real genuine emotional ups and downs the whole screenplay. It's amazing and very rare. #3 Set ups and payoffs with real emotional resonance. The girly poster. The small little tool to carve rock. The warden killing himself. Which leads me to... #4 The best third act in all of cinema. This movie is all about the third act. If the third act wasn't so great, it would be a good movie but not a great movie. Really. Name a film with a better third act. This third act packs so much emotional power it's hard to imagine a film possibly having a better third act. We see a character who we love, Robbins, finally get what he deserves. He's smart and he tricks the evil warden and it's awesome. Watching him masterfully escape is so emotionally fulfilling, it's literally what filmmaking is all about. And then the evil warden gets his comeuppance and it's even more awesome. And then Freeman gets his moment in front of the probation board and they finally release him. What a great scene. And then Freeman travels to Mexico to be with his (and our) friend and we get that great final voice over. Really? You don't understand why this script / film is so great? The structure of this movie is actually sort of episodic. We really don't get a clear protagonist goal until the third act. But again, the script has so many great emotional highs and lows that it's gripping throughout. One other quick point... I recently taught a class on great opening pages and I used the first three pages of this film as one demonstration. Read just the first three pages of this script. It's emotionally compelling stuff. Even in just the first three pages we're emotionally invested in the protagonist. We feel sorry for him because his wife cheated on him. He's really distraught. In the courtroom he doesn't even try and defend himself because he's so upset. We see he's genuinely sorry for what happened and we're rooting for him because if it. Do your first three pages evoke this sort of genuine emotional reaction from the reader? Also, I think this is one film where the script and the finished film are pretty equal. One is not better than the other. He pretty much shot the script. So if you don't want to read it, just watch the movie a few times. It really is great.

Owen Mowatt

Exactly, Lisa The whole point to Andy was his strength of character under extreme/testing conditions. Character arcs are way too overrated in this business. They are buzz words for no-nothing execs, are are not really necessary for your story.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Lisa and Owen, Sorry, but I could not disagree with you more -- on many points. The main character, or protagonist, is the same person in a script. Without a character arc the story is flat, pointless, lifeless. It is vital to storytelling, not a buzz word. As Ashley pointed out Shawshank has incredible character arcs that are extremely emotional, visceral. One of the best emotionally satisfying endings ever in film. Perhaps you should read the script again. I know I will. It has so much to offer as far as a storytelling learning example. :)

Jason Dennis

Protags resisting change and/or being a catalyst for change in others is legit but usually that is the case in old fashioned movies or biopics. I have ones like that. emember you are a spec writer and Shawshank was existing material. Now producers want global market, meaning mythic, meaning LCD, meaning change arc. Resistance to an immoral society is fundamentally an intellectual and therefore low concept premise. But these comments do make me think people would like my scripts.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Beth, thought I'd throw my two cents in... in Shawshank... Red is the Protagonist and Andy is the Main Character... Red had an arc... (he changed from beginning to end) Andy did not.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Sylvia, in general the two are usually the same. I was referring to general terms. Sorry for not being clear. Yes, sometimes (rarely) the main character, the protaganist and the hero are all different characters... I'm not going to get pedantic here... However, I disagree about Andy. He did change throughout the story. He did have a character arc. His change was revealed after his escape... Do you think the meek, drunk, sad Andy in the beginning would be able to pull off that unbelievable jail break? I think not. His ordeal changed him. :)

Ashley Scott Meyers

I really disagree with the folks who think Andy has no arc. The arc is complete and dramatized when he says the famous line, "Get busy living, or get busy dying." At one point towards the end of Act II Andy talks to Redd about his wife and her death and there is a clear change in his perspective on it. Also, Andy goes from thinking that the warden might actually help him find his wife's murderer from realizing he will not. That's a change. That's an arc. And that's what propels this story into the third act.

Eoin O'Sullivan

Andy changes. Despite his plan to dig his way out, he first of all has to change from a stiff banker and form friendships to survive prison life and trade for the things he needs. He is changed emotionally and physically by the brutality of The Sisters. He becomes rebellious with his plans for a library. He stands up the warden and head guard, even doing a stint in solitary. This is not the same Andy that entered prison.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Well said Ashley and Eoin.

Owen Mowatt

Sorry, Eion that view is totally wrong. If he was forming friendships to survive, why didn't he ask for anyone's help when being brutalized by the sisters? Everyone gravitated towards him because he would not let go of his humanity regardless of how tough life was in the prison. There was countless scenes that demonstrated exactly that. He never sought revenge, didnt make any enemies, always respectful/helpful/patient, even when he had the ear of the warden and guards he dint use it for himself. Move along, no arc to see here!

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Lisa Scott.... in the post you previously stated a few comments above, you wrote, and I quote" "Actually, Andy (Robbins) doesn't have much of a character arc. He's the same man throughout. What he does is inspire the character arc in Redd (Freeman). In the beginning Redd had no hope. He had been locked up for the bulk of his life and had no reason to believe he would ever get parole. Andy gave him hope. It was hope that freed him from his captive mentality. Some people will argue but Andy is the main character and Redd is the protagonist... the one with the big character arc." I AGREE with you 100%.... as to TANGENT ALERT.... not really... we're all entitled to our opinions and pov's... there's no reason for anyone to get nasty... it's a healthy debate... MY belief is what I stated... Redd is the protagonist and Andy is the Main Character. In all stories the Protagonist has the biggest change... the Main Character may or may not change from beginning to end, it's not a requirement. Maybe people believe that Andy was the Protagonist....not the case. Two prisoners... one did not commit the crime he is charged with... and the other was guilty of his crime. Two different mind sets. I read a while ago just in case some of you didn't know... apparently they shot the film, they wrapped, I guess it was the Producers that decided it still needed something... so Morgan Freeman was asked to return in Post-production and do a voice-over. I thought that was brilliant. Also Shawshank was never a spec script. I can watch that movie a hundred times and never get tired of it.

Eoin O'Sullivan

Owen, you have already disclosed that you have never read the script. While I respect your opinion, it is not however the definitive on a subject. I have outlined above why Andy changes. I'd suggest you read the script, before commenting and reacquaint yourself with the film.

Beth Fox Heisinger

There can be more than one protagonist, more than one main character.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Ashley Scott ... Andy was never the protagonist as some folks believe... he was the main character... of course Andy changed a bit ... but he's still not the Protagonist ... Redd was... biggest change/arc. My other point was that you can have a protagonist and main character in the same story... the protagonist always has the biggest change. Everybody changes when they enter the new world. to some degree.. I think Andy had those same good qualities before he was incarcerated. Regarding the first three pages.... I see you believe that Andy is the Protagonist. IMO he's the main character of this story. That's okay. Let's agree to disagree. That's fine :-))

Beth Fox Heisinger

Andy changes and has a character arc -- just compare the beginning and the end of the story. Andy's character arc can simply be described as him changing from quietly meek to quietly determined. Perhaps it's too subtle for some to acknowledge or not visually strong enough to appease some readers/viewers personal tastes. We'll just have to agree to disagree. For even more clarity, perhaps read the book. :)

Owen Mowatt

It was just my opinion, the last line was in jest. If you have read the script then point out his change of character. The ones you have listed IMO are not definitive enough, the mere fact that we are disagreeing on it proves that Off the top of my head, Indiana Jones doesn't have a character arc, neither does anyone in No Country for Old Men. Where is the arc in, Fargo or My Cousin Vinny? Does that film even have an antagonist besides Vinny`s desire to get some sleep?? You don't NEED a protag character arc to tell a story.

Eoin O'Sullivan

Our disagreement on a point and some of the other films you have mentioned could also point to a lack of understanding on what a character arc is. The character arc In My Cousin Vinny couldn't be clearer IMO. It's the transition of a man from bumbling incompetent goofball to a sharp capable trial lawyer.

Owen Mowatt

I think you`re seeing what you want to see, Eoin. Vinny, IMO simply went from inexperienced to experienced, he always maintained that he could be a good trial lawyer given the chance. Did I miss the character defining moment that enabled him solve the crime? Did he have any internal conflict to resolve before he did? Did Indiana Jones?? Did Marge Gundersen??

Beth Fox Heisinger

Owen, there are basically three types of character arcs... In a nutshell: 1. The Change Arc; the "hero's" arc. The character starts out as a bad guy, or is unsavory in some way, something happens and then he/she rises up to become the hero, you know, "it was always within her but needed to be brought out somehow." 2. The Growth Arc; the protagonist overcomes some internal battle as a result of overcoming some external problem. He's the same guy but now he has become a stronger, fuller person. Also can be considered The Shift Arc -- the experience causes a change in perspective, making the character now different, altered. 3. The Fall Arc; also known as a "tragedy." The protagonist basically dooms himself and brings everybody down with him. Sure, you may feel you don't need an arc to tell a story, but character arc is what makes the story powerful and worth telling. Your examples and character arcs: Andy in Shawshank Redemption: Growth Arc. Numerous reasons previously stated. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark: Shift Arc. Indy does not believe in a higher power in the beginning, but had to have faith to survive the ending. Thus, he changed his perspective . No Country For Old Men: Fall Arc, perhaps... Doesn't everybody die? Marge in Fargo: Shift Arc. Marge (the sheriff) changes her perspective about people. She becomes wiser. You cannot always trust people based on their first impressions nor on assumptions. The Coen brothers love to play with perspectives and things that are assumed to then hide the unusual, what's not expected, within that known expectation. Vinny in My Cousin Vinny: Growth Arc. Vinny grows as a person. He becomes more caring. He finally puts the needs of others before his own. It's not just about winning his first court case, it's saving his cousin, Bill, and his friend, Stan. The whole experience makes Vinny a better person.

Eoin O'Sullivan

Beth put it better than I could. Owen, nobody can point things out to you and convince you of them, unless you approach them with an open mind. You seem resolute in your point of view, which is fine, but why ask a question only to dismiss the answer? I recommend you start actively reading scripts to understand how they are put together.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Lisa, Andy is described as "perhaps being meek" on the first page of the script -- before the murder of his wife and before he was sent to prison. "Meek" is not even remotely related to "stuck up" but rather is defined as; quiet, gentle, and easily imposed upon. But, never mind. With all due respect, you are missing the point and perhaps misconstruing screenwriting terms, concepts and story elements. So, I will engage no further. I respectfully bow out of this discussion. However, I do wish you the best with your writing endeavors. :)

Owen Mowatt

I am questioning your point, the fact that I wont accept your explanation, doesn't mean Im wrong and youre right. There are others on here who also disagree with you. It also doesn't mean Im right and youre wrong, I`m just not convinced by your argument. I am however, prepared to read the script and see the movie again and then continue this discussion. Fair enough?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Owen, I'm not sure to whom you are speaking, but, yes, do review the film or script. Also, perhaps, take a look at some books about themes, subtext and character arcs. Michael Hauge has some great books on the subject. My favorite book about underlining themes and inner workings of story is "Invisible Ink; A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate" by Brian McDonald. I recommend it to everyone. Best wishes to you. :)

Chanel Ashley

I'm not sure I would have said "obvious", Peter, but yeah, plausible - rebirth, perhaps.

Chanel Ashley

Beth, why do you always "respectfully bow out of this discussion", any discussion, the moment it becomes remotely "heated" - if we understand and appreciate the value of "conflict" in our scripts, why not in "real life? - I don't mean or wish to be disrespectful, it's always your choice and you exercise it - sorry, just realised, you're no longer part of this discussion, lol - (it is said in jest, Beth, relax).

Beth Fox Heisinger

Chanel, yes, it is my choice. And, actually, you are being disrespectful, condescending, and judgmental. Frankly, sometimes I'm just too busy to continue... Plus, I wasn't talking to you at the time, so relax.

Gordon Olivea

Andy finally realizes that he killed his wife - through neglect. Not a legally criminal act, but a psychologically criminal act. He does not neglect his prison buddies - the music over the loud speaker, the library, the beer on the rooftop, and finally the money and a destination for Red. That's a long way from "a tall drink of water with a silver spoon up his ass."

Beth Fox Heisinger

Peter, Chanel and I have history... okay. Before your time. No need for this. Really. I was in a conversation earlier today on this thread, it wasn't going anywhere, points were lost, I had to go, get some work done, so I let the person know that I was bowing out. Chanel, and now you, are choosing to make a big deal out of nothing. That's honest.

Chanel Ashley

My fault, I accept responsibility - I presumed the said "history" was behind us, I presumed incorrectly, and I acted in jest, but it would appear that humour on my island does not resonate on Beth's island - if my comments were deemed "disrespectful, condescending and judgemental", lady, you have issues and problems that cannot be resolved here - again, my fault, I accept full responsibility, but Beth, you need a life and a sense of humour before you make those inappropriate remarks, your sensitivity should not be my, or anyone else's, issue.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Chanel, you don't know me at all. You don't know a real thing about me or my life. Truly. This is just a discussion board. Again, you are making something huge out of nothing. Misinterpreting. Judging. Assuming. When I used the word "history" to Peter, I meant just that, straight up. That you and I have had many conversations before that he is not aware of. Perhaps I should have used the phrase "previous conversations." You jump to conclusions. You say things and hide behind the word "jest." I'm not sensitive, just tired of the negativity and the condescending tone. Chanel, we just can't communicate well with each other. So, I do wish the best for you and wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors.

Chanel Ashley

Thank you, Beth, I also wish you well in all your endeavours.

Owen Mowatt

Come on guys, no need for this to turn nasty or personal. If anything this debate is a good reminder that scriptwriting IS an Art form as Art is subjective; we all see things differently. Was Andy`s character really changing or were we, like Red and all the rest, just learning to understand him and the strength of his will. Films nowadays are so commercially driven that debates or points of interest like this are not even worth mentioning, so lets at least be grateful that we can. :) Having slept on it and thought about it again, it could be argued that the key to writing a great story and great characters, is to use the regular story tropes, (character arc, love interest etc) in such a way that you the audience don't even realise that they are there?

Chanel Ashley

I agree with those that say both Andy and Red arc - it's impossible to be in prison for that length of time and not change, become better and different people - some members here suggest otherwise, and that's fair enough, let us agree to disagree - but ultimately most of us do agree on the fact it is a wonderful movie with wonderful performances from every quarter.

Mark LaFever

Well, I don't know what other scripts Robbins and Freeman have seen during the course of their careers...I would guess probably the really good ones (and the really bad ones) stand out in their respective memories. I do think it's a sign of outstanding writing that, not only are all the essential points communicated effectively, but said points (along with a few others) are also made ambiguous enough that different viewers will take different things away from them...And nonetheless, nobody explicitly disses the script for BEING ambiguous. Having multiple layers or nuances means that SHAWSHANK bears multiple viewings, too...which is nice, considering the heavy rotation TBS used to play it in.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

To me this is a wonderful story because of it's theme of hope and humanity in such a terrible place, not to mention great characters and moments. (The opera scene, my fav.) While the VO was a bit overdone, it is a wonderful screenplay. I suggest you read Stephen King's novella to see how it was adapted.

Ron Pucillo

I thought the Movie was great-- never had a chance to read the script-- can someone send me the link-- love to read it

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In