In 2009 Madeleine Sackler founded Great Curve Films, a film production company. In 2010 Sackler directed The Lottery, a documentary about one of Success Academy’s charter schools in Harlem, and the families who struggle to have their children attend.
While Sackler was working on The Lottery she began to think of the potential consequences for those who do not get quality education, which is all too often life in prison. Sackler decided that she wanted to make a narrative film about hope and redemption, entirely filmed within the walls of a functioning, maximum-security penitentiary.
In 2018, Sackler’s film O.G., which she directed, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. HBO acquired the rights and then released it on HBO in February 2019. Uniquely, the movie was filmed entirely within the walls of the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana.
But it was not just the location of the film that was singular; Sackler remarkably culled much of her cast from the inmates and guards at Pendleton.
The main character, Louis, is played by professional actor Jeffrey Wright, who spent a year visiting the prison before any auditions or filming began to build trust with the prisoners and staff.
The process from idea to finished product was a long, complex one. Sackler enquired at twenty different departments of correction all over the country before she finally found someone who would even consider having a film made in a prison. Doug Garrison, the head of communications at the Indiana D.O.C., a former FBI special agent who had participated in the creation of a Discover documentary, was willing to give Sackler a hearing. Garrison was able to convince everyone that needed convincing that this was a good idea, including then governor of Indiana, Mike Pence.
Back in the fall of 2014 Sackler came to Pendleton with screenwriter Stephen Belber and director of photography Wolfgang Held. During their five-day visit they filmed tens of interviews with the staff and the incarcerated, who came from diverse backgrounds, old and young, black, white, and brown. Those interviews helped Belber create an authentic script.
Sackler came back in early 2015 to see how the prisoners would react to the script. To her relief, the prisoners were satisfied. As time passed, Garrison and Sackler were surprised to find that the authorities began to warm to the project, with the superintendent approving the general concept.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the quality of the acting by the prisoners and guards, and especially by Theothus Carter, a prisoner who was serving a 65-year sentence for armed burglary and attempted murder. Carter was cast as the younger prisoner, Beecher, who is befriended by Wright’s character, Louis. Only Wright, who has performed with Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Anthony Hopkins, has more on-screen time than Carter. Wright said of Carter that he had never worked with an actor as intense.
The film received an approval rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sackler has also directed a documentary, It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It, filmed at the same time O.G. was in production at Pendleton Correctional Facility. The film follows 13 prisoners while they study filmmaking as a way to explore their memories and how they ended up behind prison walls for decades-long sentences.