Dannemora ‘Escape’ show to premiere in Plattsburgh

PLATTSBURGH — The hook for Ben Stiller was the human element of the Dannemora prison break.

Now, as the producer/director’s “Escape at Dannemora” gathers hype for a fall release on Showtime, he hasn’t forgotten about the human input that helped make the eight-part limited series possible.

“More than anything I look forward to coming back and being able to thank in person everyone who helped us so much,” Stiller said in a letter to the Press-Republican confirming that a premiere of the first episode will take place in Plattsburgh.

A Press-Republican editorial earlier this week called upon Stiller and his company, Red Hour Productions, to acknowledge the cooperation of the North Country population during filming — not to mention all folks went through during the manhunt for Clinton Correctional Facility inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat — by celebrating with a local premiere.

That had been the intention from the start, Stiller wrote.

“The network is actually in the process of finalizing the timing and location now so that we make it as convenient as possible.”

‘Working-class wife’

“Escape at Dannemora” is slated to air as a limited series — a program that will have just one season or a finite amount of episodes — on Showtime at 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, according to the cable and satellite television network.

Ahead of that premiere, it will screen Oct. 15 at the MIPCOM trade show film festival in Cannes, France.

The mini-series stars Academy Award winners Benicio del Toro as breakout mastermind Matt and Patricia Arquette as Tilly Mitchell, “a working-class wife and mother who supervises the prison tailor shop and becomes sexually involved with both men, ultimately agreeing to hide hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat to help them get out,” Showtime said in a press release.

Sweat is played by Golden Globe nominee Paul Dano; Showtime describes Sweat’s role in the escape as a reluctant one and that he “may have genuine feelings for Tilly.”

In real life, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell is serving time at Bedford Correctional Facility for Women for her part in assisting in the escape of the two murderers.

At Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, east of Buffalo, Sweat is continuing his life sentence for killing a Broome County Sheriff’s deputy.

Matt was shot and killed on day 21 of the manhunt by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection tactical team.

Scenes from prison

Red Hour Productions filmed much of “Escape at Dannemora” in the North Country, including scenes inside Clinton Correctional; Stiller was often here, both when selecting locations and for filming.

Hundreds turned out for a casting call at the Strand Theatre in Plattsburgh, with some locals winning parts as extras.

Stiller said from the start that his intent was “to tell a true story in as real a way as possible.”

“Filming in the North Country,” he wrote, “and having a year or so before production began to spend time there, and of course the cooperation of Clinton Correctional itself, contributed immeasurably to portraying that complicated reality.”

Finalizing timing

Here’s Stiller’s letter in its entirety:

“To the Press-Republican:

“I wanted to let you know that we are indeed planning on a premiere of the first episode of our show in Plattsburgh for the community.

“I have been with ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA for over two years now. Much of my desire to create this series has been to tell a true story in as real a way as possible. The hope is that we can capture the many different aspects of the story that contributed to the breakout. What is more interesting than anything to me is the human part of the story, the relationships that formed between people in this specific environment, which is, as you know, very unique.

“Filming in the North Country, and having a year or so before production began to spend time there, and of course the cooperation of Clinton Correctional itself, contributed immeasurably to portraying that complicated reality.

“I was hugely grateful for the hospitality and open generosity I experienced while staying in the area for months during the production, and genuinely hope that the people I met there enjoy the series.

“I tried to listen to the concerns that people had and also the details they shared. Everyone will have their own opinion, but my hope is those who live and work in the community will see an honest and hopefully compelling reflection of what happened.

“As for your ability to see the show, we have planned all along to arrange an advance screening in a theater near you.

“The network is actually in the process of finalizing the timing and location now so that we make it as convenient as possible. So stay tuned. More than anything I look forward to coming back and being able to thank in person everyone who helped us so much.

“Thanks again to you, to your readers, and to the many great and kind people — and a few very good new friends — I have met in the North Country over the past couple years. I look forward to coming back soon and getting your feedback in person!”

— Ben Stiller

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