HBO's new original film, O.G., tells the story of Louis (Westworld star Jeffrey Wright), a man in the final weeks of his 24-year prison sentence. He used to be the head of a prominent prison gang, and as he grapples with the daunting challenge of having to re-adjust to civilian life, he befriends a new inmate named Beecher (Theothus Carter) in the hopes that he can prevent him from falling into the same dangerous path. And while the O.G. isn't based on a true story, it may be one of the most authentic, unflinching looks at the U.S. prison system to date thanks to its unconventional filming location and much of its supporting cast.
Director Madeleine Sackler filmed O.G. at the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana and filled the cast with actual men incarcerated there — including Wright's costar Carter. There's certainly been no shortage of films and television shows about prison, but none of them have utilized a real prison in the way that O.G. does. While casting almost exclusively from within the prison was a risk, Wright told The New Yorker that "Some of [the] guys are really interesting actors. They're gonna bring it. You see some charismatic guys who were the star of their hood or their block. They were forceful and had presence, because they had to. They have skills of persuasion."
Carter, still in prison today, added to the to the outlet that he and his fellow inmates have "really been acting our whole life. We act every time we go in a courtroom to try to get out of this sh*t we put ourselves in."
While many of these inmates appear in the movie, they also had an impact on the story itself. "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," Stackler told HBO in a statement. "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."
And while O.G. isn't a true story, it did inspire the creation of another film that is. It's A Hard Truth Ain't It, which will be airing on HBO a few days after the premiere of O.G., was also filmed in Pendleton Correctional Facility. It follows 13 prisoners studying filmmaking by acting in O.G. and directing It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It alongside Sackler as they use their newfound skills to tell their own stories.
There has never been anything quite like the dual production of O.G. and It's A Hard Truth Ain't It, and perhaps these films will spark an interest in other filmmakers to expand their own storytelling. For now, you can watch both O.G. and It's A Hard Truth Ain't It on HBO; the former premieres at 10 p.m. ET on Feb. 23, and the latter Feb. 25, also at 10 p.m. ET.