Alcatraz prison has always interested me for more reasons than its presence in the San Francisco Bay being an eerie reminder that it once housed some of our country's worst criminals. Last year I toured the prison and brought my camera along to shoot some video and photos
If you've ever taken the Alcatraz tour you know how crowded it is- and it's like that every day. The only chance I had to take it was sold out up until the last ferry over. Although I didn't have much time to finish the audio-guided tour I was, however, one of the last to leave which allowed me to get a few of those empty wide-shots. Most of the time I was framing people and crowds out because I wanted to convey the prison's desolate condition, and not have it look like a vacation video.
At the time I had just read Jim Quillen's memoir, "Alcatraz From Inside" and was so fascinated with his accounts as an inmate that I wanted to create a video adaptation to his book. Nothing had been done to tell Quillen's life-story on tv, film, or even youtube and vimeo so I edited together some of the footage I shot with sound bites featured on the audio-tour.
I've always thought Quillen's book, along with Whitey Thompson's "Last Train To Alcatraz" and Jim Albright's "Last Guard Out" would make interesting movies, if not an entertaining miniseries altogether. Much like HBO's Band of Brothers and The Pacific were based on historical and personal accounts of those fighting within Easy Company during World War II, this series could focus on Alcatraz's history as a prison told through the perspectives of the inmates (Quillen, Thompson) and guards (Albright).
Throughout their accounts the series would feature other major characters- some of the more infamous prisoners like Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert "Birdman" Stroud, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis; and place them within the backdrop of one of the toughest prisons of all-time, which was eventually shut down because of exceeding costs and amidst rumors of inhumane prisoner treatment (ironically, an issue that still exists in some prisons today).
Even more fascinating are the detailed accounts of Alcatraz's most notorious prison breaks. The bloody Battle for Alcatraz which ended in military intervention after three inmates took over the prison; and the suspenseful escape where another three inmates left paper maché dummies in their beds to distract the guards while they climbed out holes dug through their cell-walls, into the air-duct system and eventually out onto the roof.
Obviously the history-nerd within in me finds these memoirs and stories interesting, but the film-geek side of me also sees the entertainment value within them. None of this is to imply that past tv shows or movies based on the prison haven't been entertaining, but I just think Alcatraz could use an updated fresh-take as a miniseries- one that is based more on the history and lives of those who inhabited the island. Of course, it would be even more entertaining if it were produced by Steven Spielberg and/or Tom Hanks and aired on HBO, but let's start with this video first and go from there.