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Behind the bars: American prison system examined in NM-filmed ‘Shot Caller’

 

Omari Hardwick plays Kutcher in the film, “Shot Caller,” which was partially filmed in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Saban Films/Lionsgate)

Omari Hardwick is no stranger to New Mexico.

In fact, he started off filming “Linewatch” with Cuba Gooding Jr. in 2008 in the Land of Enchantment.

The “Power” actor returned in 2015 to film, “Shot Caller” and again this past year to film “Will Gardner.”

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“I’m no stranger to Santa Fe,” he says. “My folks came out for a minute with my kids to visit. We had a cousin come join us. It was cool. It’s a lot when Papa is working.”

Hardwick is gearing up for the release of “Shot Caller,” which opens at Icon Cinemas in Albuquerque on Friday, Aug. 18. It will also be available on some video on-demand services.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob Harlon, who is transformed into “Money,” a stoic, ruthless prison gangster after a DUI sends him down the rabbit hole of the American prison system in the film, “Shot Caller.” (Courtesy Saban Films/Lionsgate)

“Shot Caller” follows the harrowing, often heart-rending journey of successful businessman Jacob Harlon, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is transformed into “Money,” a stoic, ruthless prison gangster after a DUI sends him down the rabbit hole of the American prison system.

As he navigates the brutality of his new home, adapting to its violent codes of ethics and rites of passage to ensure his survival, he slowly loses his previous identity and his relationship to his former life, including his wife and son. The grip of his new family — the prison gang — extends beyond the prison walls.

Upon his release, chased by the law enforcement, threatened by his incarcerated “protectors,” Money must orchestrate one last dangerous crime. All is not what it seems. The ruthless process of fulfilling his obligations also becomes his path to sacrifice, retribution and self-definition.

Benjamin Bratt plays Sanchez in the film, “Shot Caller.” (Courtesy Saban Films/Lionsgate)

Harwick plays Kutcher, who is Money’s parole officer.

“Kutcher stood out to me,” Hardwick says. “In the world of criminality, I’ve played both sides. On ‘Power,’ I play Ghost, who is one the wrong side of the law. Kutcher is trying to remain on the right side of it. They all come from the world of criminal nature. Cops and robbers. If you wanted to be specific, Kutcher is the antithesis of Ghost. He’s a guy who is hunting down guys like Ghost. All of that stood out on page. The film is talking about a world that we see. It’s a culture that is oftentimes criticized. The truth is that these guys come out (of prison) worse than they went in.”

“Shot Caller” filmed in Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the summer of 2015.

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Three different working jails and prisons became movie sets. The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center doubled for the LA County Jail Inmate Reception area, Corcoran’s interior prison yard and for the exterior of Chino State Prison reception.

The Penitentary of New Mexico was used for the film, “Shot Caller.” (Courtesy Saban Films/Lionsgate)

Albuquerque’s Westside Detention Center served as the LA County Jail Visiting Area and Chino State Prison Visitation Center.

The location utilized for the longest length of time was Santa Fe’s Old Main Prison, notorious for being the site of a real-life 1980 prison riot that was one of the most violent prison riots in the history of the American correctional system.

The production filmed at Santa Fe’s Old Main Prison for seven days, creating a dozen sets there. The historic prison, which is on the same campus as three additional still-active prison facilities, was used most notably for the film’s Chino State Prison yard riot, as well as for the Chino State Prison gym, LA County Jail six-man cell, Corcoran State Prison 4B SHU Pod, and Corcoran State Prison 4B dog runs.

According to the New Mexico Film Office, the production employed 90 New Mexico crew members, 30 New Mexico actors, 20 New Mexico stunt performers and about 900 local background talent.

Director, writer and producer Ric Roman Waugh said the reason for filming in New Mexico was the access they had to working prisons and the infamous “Old Main.”

“I shot ‘Felon’ in this prison. The San Quentin riot scene with Val Kilmer was filmed in the same housing block where the original New Mexico riot erupted. To carry the same authenticity with ‘Shot Caller,’ I knew I was coming back to New Mexico, for many reasons. To try to shoot in California prisons would’ve been next to impossible — practically every jail and prison in California is at capacity and filming isn’t allowed.”

Filming for “Shot Caller” took place at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of Saban Films/Lionsgate)


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