Pamela Gray, screenwriter of Conviction tells us about the shocking turn events since the project began | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

Pamela Gray, screenwriter of Conviction tells us about the shocking turn events since the project began

10 January 2011

It was my great pleasure to be able to talk to Pamela Gray, Screenwriter of Conviction, the amazing true story of housewife Betty Anne Waters who spent 13 years going back to school and then training to become a lawyer in order to fight for her brother Kenny Water’s freedom after he was convicted for a murder he did not commit and for which he spent 18 years in prison for.

Pamela talks to us about working on Conviction for an incredible nine years, how moved she was getting to know Betty Anne and hearing her and Kenny’s story and the wonderful journey re-telling it story took them on.



How did you get involved with Conviction, and was it a story you were already familiar with?

No I received a phone call from Tony Goldwyn who was the person who originally took my Screenplay for The Blouse Man which became the movie A Walk on The Moon. We had a great collaboration, he didn’t come into that project planning to direct it, he wanted to produce it or possibly act in it but eventually he turned into the person that wanted to direct it. We always wanted to work together again, I would have listened to anything he called about, and it was such a phenomenal story.



How different is writing a screenplay for a true story compared to a fictional one, is it easier or harder?

It’s harder. It’s harder in the emotional component and the responsibility in telling the truth and telling it well, especially when the real person at the centre of the story such as Betty Anne Waters, is a living person. I got to know her during the research process and fell in love with her as a person. There was so much history and there was a legal component that I felt particularly responsible to get accurate. However, I’m a screenwriter and I’m telling a story and I had to compress the story and leave out characters and imagine conversations and I was always nervous about that, but Betty Anne knew how I felt and I would go to Tony Goldwyn and he would remind me that this is not a documentary.


When you spoke with Betty, it must have been right at the beginning of the project. Was this one of the first times during the making of this film that she had spoke at length in a long time about her and her brother’s story and what was it like listening to Betty Anne tell this story and how did that shape your writing?

It was so impactful to have her tell this story, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this but Kenny Waters had tragically died before the beginning of this project, so not only was this the first time Betty was telling her story, but it was the first time that she was talking about it since her brother’s death. In fact, Tony and I had to delay our visit until she was ready to speak. It was even more emotional than it would have been under different circumstances. Betty felt that telling this story was a healing process and it was remarkable to hear her share this experience and hear the whole story which was her life. When I create a character I want to know everything about them from the moment they were born, so she was showing us everything, family pictures, extended family, friends that had shared her journey. There are so many moments of her journey that don’t seem possible, and that people must assume that the writer has made it up.



How much re-writing was done and if so did this mean more collaboration with Tony Goldwyn, the actors and the real people?

This project took eight years to go from production and nine to go from script to screen, so that was a lot of time to have a lot of involvement. For the first couple of years Tony was very involved and talked through the story and time marched on, when it finally started to come back together he and I talked about our ideas for the new version of the script, because we had years to think about if we wanted to do things differently. When we were in production I was very fortunate to be invited into that process. Hollywood does not generally welcome the screenwriter on set, it depends on what a Director wants, but Tony knew from our first experience working together how valuable it was to have me on set so that as things evolved I could rewrite in production. The actors would ask me questions, and I saw them in rehearsal finding their own way into the character and Betty Anne was having new memories so I would incorporate all of this into the re-write. I was re-writing up until the last night. I was working on the scene where Betty Anne and Abra have a rift and Betty Anne kicks Abra out of her house but then comes back to Abra. It was always a hard scene to write, and the original version had them apologising to each other and it just didn’t feel like the way these two friends would discuss what Betty had just discovered and what happened between them. So I rewrote the scene, all the scenes with Abra and Betty in Abra’s apartment were shot on our last night.


Did you have a firm belief in the American legal system before you wrote the story of this film, and were you shocked at just how corrupt the police force and the courts could be? Personally i found it very very scary, and for you writing this script means you can play a part in exposing this injustice.

Yes, I felt very honoured that I was part of telling this story that would expose this, I moved from an intellectual ‘undertsanding’ that we have a corrupt legal and justice system, to a very personal experience of it. I did not believe in it, but I didn’t understand how it would really impact a life and I did not know the number of wrongful convictions there were and I did not know about the work that The Innocence Project was doing to exonerate people, so that was knew to me. So yes, it was even more corrupt that I realised but I didn’t have high hopes before.



What was your most memorable moment or experience on set?

I was most moved, in the scene where Betty Anne finds the evidence, and to this day, I start to cry, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the film. Betty Anne’s story telling when I first met her, I was gobsmacked, it was so stunning and unbelievable and watching that recreation of the moment and being with Betty Anne Waters as she relieved this moment and also as she was having new and little memories that she hadn’t had before or shared before, like she was afraid to touch the box of evidence, so instantly it got incorporated and Hilary showed that fear in the scene where the clerk tells her she can touch the box, it was such an important moment, you can feel the audience reaction and I’ve heard them gasp at that moment. I no longer remember if it’s true, that the clerk came back in and they didn’t see the box right away, and I knew I wanted to have that moment where they didn’t know if the box had been found or not, and that was so moving.

Well Thank you so much for speaking with us Pamela, Conviction is such a moving and powerful film and we will no doubt see you at the Oscars in February. 




Conviction Film Page | Hilary Swank Photo Library | Sam Rockwell Photo Library