Above all else, Conviction promises to be a story of human will and triumph. Depicting the struggle of Betty Anne Waters – who fought for eighteen years to have her brother Kenny exonerated from wrongful imprisonment – the film is sure to have impact with strong themes of perseverance, justice, and human emotion. And it’s this very emotion that is apparently at the heart of the story for screenwriter Pamela Gray.
When The Hollywood News caught up with Pamela, her connection to the story was obvious – moved by the real events, she was determined to do right by Betty Anne Waters in conveying the emotions and issues involved on the big screen.
‘The story so impacted me and I wanted to do it justice,’ said Pamela. ‘I felt honored to get the opportunity to tell the story, but I was afraid of disappointing Betty Anne Waters and afraid that I couldn’t live up to the responsibility.’
Pamela first became aware of Waters’ story through director Tony Goldwyn, with whom she had collaborated with on a previous feature, A Walk on the Moon. After Goldwyn’s wife had seen Kenny Waters on a late night talk show, Goldwyn pursued the rights.
‘Tony and I met Betty and fell in love with her story,’ says Pamela, who also cites Goldwyn’s involvement as a major attraction to the project. ‘When he optioned A Walk on the Moon, he was not a director and was looking to find a project to produce. We began a terrific collaboration, and from that point we wanted to work together again. I paid attention when he called again with this project.’
But Goldwyn was not the only name Pamela was happy to have on board. The cast boasts two of Hollywood’s current top names, the talented Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell.
‘We got everyone we wished for,’ says Pamela, ‘it was a miracle to get a cast like that.’
The combination of such a stellar cast and, of course, the impressive story, led this movie to gain mainstream attention despite its limited resources, ensuring it as the biggest of Pamela’s scripts to be produced so far.
‘It was very low-budget, vey independent, yet because of incredible cast and massive story, it gives impression of a studio film,’ says Pamela.
Despite the dream cast and positive reviews, it seems that writing the feature wasn’t without its hurdles to overcome. Betty Anne Waters began investigating Kenny’s conviction for murder whilst training for the law degree she needed to free him (all whilst raising a family and working part-time as a waitress, we might add). An incredible amount of paperwork, documents, and such the like were involved in the case.
‘I had hundreds of pages of court transcripts to read,’ says Pamela. ‘The story went on 20 years and the script included stories from childhood, which actually took it to 40 years. I spent at least 2 months just doing the research.’
Due to the scale of the story, Pamela had to condense and rearrange certain aspects in order for it to fit the movie’s limited running time, a task she found difficult on occassion.
‘There were so many facts, history, and public records,’ stresses Pamela. ‘Sometimes you have to change the order of events, imagine conversations and compress time. Each time I changed truth I had to give myself permission or get Tony’s permission.’
Despite this, Pamela and Goldwyn were fortunate enough to have Betty Anne Waters available to aid them on set, helping with details and filling in the blanks for the production team.
‘She was invaluable and worked privately with the actors, giving her perspective on her emotions,’ says Pamela. ‘When actors came forward with questions, Betty Anne would give answers I couldn’t. The most important thing was the inspiration she brought to the set.’
And it wasn’t only Betty Anne Waters that influenced Pamela’s experience on this project.
‘Probably the most moving experience for me was when the extended family saw movie and they thanked me,’ says Pamela. ‘You want to please audience and the critics, but emotionally I needed to be told I’d written it the way they wanted.’
Undoubtedly, this is a story that has inspired many emotions – for those involved iwith the real events, as well as those who worked to bring the story to the silver screen. Pamela Gray’s connection to this story is clear from the passion with which she speaks about it, and she will be hoping, as will director Tony Goldwyn, that audiences find that connection too.