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'Conviction' filmmakers struggled with tragic ending to their real-life story

December 3, 2010 |  4:38 pm


It took nine years to get "Conviction" made and one question writer Pamela Gray and director Tony Goldwyn grappled with the entire time was how to deal with the tragic death of Kenny Waters.

For those of you who haven't seen "Conviction," which has grossed $6 million since it came out in October, the film is based on the real-life story of Betty Anne Waters, played by Hilary Swank, who spent nearly 20 years trying to win the release of her wrongly convicted brother, Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell), from prison. She put herself through college and law school, sacrificing her marriage and her role as primary caregiver to her two young sons in her exhaustive endeavor.

Just six months after she finally won Kenny's release and was reunited with him, he fell off a wall in a freak accident that left him in a coma; he died shortly thereafter.

There was never a question, says Gray, that she would include Kenny's death in the film. "It ultimately wasn't what the story was about and, structurally, it would be starting the movie over," says Gray. "The big dilemma through all the years, up until Fox Searchlight became the distributor, was what to say in the crawl" — the text after film.

Prior to Searchlight coming onboard, Gray says they tested the film with a focus group, with the crawl reading, "Tragically, Kenny Waters died six months after release from prison." Says Gray, "You could hear the moans from the focus group, and afterwards that was all they wanted to talk about. It was as if the last two hours meant nothing."

Over the years, the team debated. At the last screening Gray attended, the crawl read "In Memory of Kenny Waters," but even that mention was changed prior to the film's release. "I guess between the studio and the financier and the producers there was a decision made to not even raise the question," she says. "I wanted it to say 'For Kenny' at the end. It's 10 years later, so a lot of things could have happened."

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell in "Conviction." Credit: Fox Searchlight