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Ben Stiller filmed escape drama at NY prison

Ben Stiller filmed partly on location at a real maximum security prison in upstate New York for the TV drama Escape at Dannemora.

Directed and produced by Stiller for Showtime in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK, the series tells the true story of two convicts – played by Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano – who, in 2015, managed to escape from New York State’s Clinton Correctional Facility. 

Escape at Dannemora

The prison is colloquially known as ‘Dannemora’ after its small-town location that sits around 40 miles from the Canadian border, and 320 miles from New York City.

Stiller and his team initially couldn’t get permission to film in the prison itself. 

Clinton’s imposing border wall could have been created digitally at a separate location but the facility’s north yard – a significant part of the story where the escape plan was conceived – is visually arresting with a view onto New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. 

The production team agreed that they needed to find a way to shoot these scenes in the real prison.

In the end Stiller got the permission he needed when he managed to get a meeting with Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York.

Escape at DannemoraCuomo recognised the economic benefits the shoot would bring, specifically to the northern region of his state that sees much less production activity than the iconic vistas of New York City. 

“He wanted to hear what we were doing – what we were up to – and he knew it was a fascinating story and I think he obviously had an involvement in it,” Stiller told Burlington Free Press of his meeting with the governor.

“He said, ‘What can we do for you?’ and I said, ‘Well, can we shoot in the prison at all?’ and he said, ‘Well, you’ve got to shoot inside Clinton.’

“So we were able to shoot on the north yard a couple of days, which really was key for us in being able to tell the story and have the scope and the reality and the texture of this place, which is just unique and unlike any other place I’ve ever seen.”

Location filming at Clinton lasted just a few days, but interior scenes were eventually shot at a former prison in Pittsburgh and on specially-built sets.

New York State is a hugely popular filming location but production almost always focuses on New York City. There are occasional exceptions, such as last year’s hit horror film A Quiet Place, which shot scenes in Pawling, 75 miles north of New York City, and also in Little Falls in the centre of the state.

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in New York State.

Images: Christopher Saunders/Showtime