The HBO Films drama O.G. debuts same time as the U.S. on Sunday, February 24 at 11am exclusively on HBO GO and HBO. The film repeats on the same day at 11.30pm on HBO. Starring Jeffrey Wright (Emmy® winner for HBO’s “Angels in America,” two-time Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “Westworld”), the film is directed by Madeleine Sackler (Emmy® winner for HBO’s “Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus”) and written by Stephen Belber (Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “The Laramie Project”).
O.G. follows Louis (Wright), once the head of a prominent prison gang, in the final weeks of his 24-year sentence. His impending release is upended when he takes new arrival Beecher (Carter), who is being courted by gang leadership, under his wing. Coming to grips with the indelibility of his crime and the challenge of reentering society, Louis finds his freedom hanging in the balance as he struggles to save Beecher.
Also starring Theothus Carter and William Fichtner (“Crash”), O.G. premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, where Wright won the award for Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film. It was filmed over a five-week period at Indiana’s maximum-security Pendleton Correctional Facility.
Groundbreaking in that it was filmed in an active prison, with several of the incarcerated men and prison staff appearing as first-time actors, O.G. takes an intimate and unflinching look at the journey of one man at the precipice of freedom.
The film is executive produced by Sharon Chang, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Mark Steele, Nic Marshall; produced by Madeleine Sackler, Boyd Holbrook, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Nick Gordon, Trevor Matthews, Stephen Belber and Ged Dickersin.
Director Madeleine Sackler describes the inspiration behind the film’s uniquely realistic approach, noting, “There have been so many prison films that it’s become a genre of its own. To me, when a type of story becomes a genre, it can lose its uniqueness or its specificity in the storytelling.
“My goal was to disregard the prison genre and start from scratch, starting with one character, a man preparing to leave after many years behind bars. To do that as authentically as possible, to truly understand and portray that experience, I wanted to make the film in close collaboration with people going through the experience themselves, so I started calling different departments of correction around the country. And I was very lucky when the state of Indiana called me back.
“This film wouldn’t be what it is if we hadn’t made it as a collaboration with the prison and with hundreds of men incarcerated there. And to have two films come out of the experience, one fiction and one nonfiction, is very exciting. We were able to explore many different themes.”
For Jeffrey Wright, it was a unique experience filming in an active prison, which helped him step inside his character. He explains, “It was absolutely necessary for me to wrap my head and my body around who this character was and what the story was that we were trying to tell. It’s a pretty informative place. It’s an affecting place. There’s an energy inside that place unlike no other, no other. It’s heavy, it’s kind of laden with trauma. It’s just molecularly heavy inside, and it certainly informed our understanding of the story, of the issues, and in my case, the character that I was playing.”
Director Sackler describes her introduction to Theothus Carter, saying, “His audition was incredible. We were watching hundreds of people in one week, and you can’t imagine the array of men who are incarcerated, and the talent and depth that they bring to the dialogue. There’s just no replacement for the real way that people move and interact and talk. And then Theothus came in, and he just blew me and the casting director away. And then he worked harder than anyone else.”
Wright says, “Theothus was all business, and he has a force to him. He has capabilities that we see through this film, that he had never tapped into in a way as constructive as this, perhaps in his lifetime.”
O.G. is an HBO Films and Maven Pictures Presentation in association with Brookstreet Pictures, a Great Curve Films production of a Madeleine Sackler film. The behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography Wolfgang Held; editor Frédéric Thoraval; production designer Michael Bricker; and costume designer Heidi Bivens. Music by Nathaniel Méchaly; casting by Richard Hicks.
After the screenplay for O.G. had been developed and Sackler was prepping to shoot the film, she began collaborating with 13 men incarcerated at the facility on a nonfiction film. In IT’S A HARD TRUTH AIN’T IT, co-directed by Sackler and those men, several of whom were also first-time actors, they study filmmaking as a vehicle to explore their memories and examine how they ended up with decades-long sentences. Animated sequences by Yoni Goodman (“Waltz with Bashir”) bring their stories to life.
Sackler says, “In a way, O.G. and IT’S A HARD TRUTH AIN’T IT are two different sides of the same coin. In O.G., Louis is preparing to leave prison after 24 years of incarceration. In IT’S A HARD TRUTH AIN’T IT, the men look deeper into the paths that got them to prison in the first place. In that sense, neither film is about being in prison, but something deeper.”
DIRECTOR MADELEINE SACKLER’S STATEMENT
When I set out to make O.G., a lot of people told me it would be impossible. That I’d never find a prison that would let me do it. That it would be dangerous. That the new actors wouldn’t be able to act as well as experienced actors. So, I stopped telling people about it, and almost six years later, we’ve finished two films: O.G., a fiction film, and IT’S A HARD TRUTH AIN’T IT, a nonfiction film. Both films take place in the same prison, and some of the men who act in O.G. are co-directors of HARD TRUTH.
The goal was always to shoot a fiction film entirely within the walls of a maximum-security prison. It would be about a man who had spent decades behind bars and was now six weeks away from getting out of prison. During those six weeks, he would encounter a young man, new to the prison, whom he would take under his wing and try to help avoid some of the mistakes he had made himself. This friendship would potentially cost him his release, and he would ultimately have to choose between helping the young man or leaving prison and beginning the rest of his life. Those characters would become Louis, played by Jeffrey Wright, and Beecher, played by Theothus Carter.
The largest influence on the film was the people we met along the way, people who shared their experiences, allowing us to infuse the work with their point of view. About a hundred hours of interviews with men who had been in the prison for decades, men who had just arrived, men in gangs, men retired from gangs, corrections officers, social workers, internal affairs officers and staff, all helped screenwriter Stephen Belber and me craft the screenplay. The director of photography, Wolfgang Held, came on that first research trip, and we were able to scout all the locations that we would shoot in nearly three years later. And finally, after many more trips to the prison, the administration allowed us to have an open casting call with about 150 men.
As a documentary filmmaker where control during production is not always possible, having the ability to shot-list and plan out the visual style of the film from an early stage was a dream, as was working with dozens of first-time actors alongside brilliant actors like Jeffrey Wright, William Fichtner and others. The goal was to make a prison film unlike any other prison film, one that shares the feeling of having lived in a cage for 24 years, of only being able to imagine life outside those walls.
Looking back, all the things that people said would be impossible about O.G. are the things that I derived the most energy from. Working with that combination of new actors and experienced actors created such a dynamic environment on set, where everyone had something to learn from everyone else. And the assumption that so many people had made at first, that this would be impossible or dangerous, that people inside prison couldn’t do it, strengthened my resolve to make a film as real and true as possible to the feelings and experiences that were entrusted to me by the men inside.