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Telling The Story
Tony Goldwyn returned to the Waters' home a few weeks later with screenwriter Pamela Gray, with whom he had teamed so successfully on A WALK ON THE MOON. They spent a week there while Betty Anne filled in the blanks with stories of her and Kenny‘s life.

She told them about the remarkable promise she made to her brother. ¯I said, 'You promise that you'll stay alive and I will go to law school,‘ recalls Betty Anne. "It took a long time and Kenny got extremely depressed. But he always felt that somehow I would find a way. He had so much faith in me. I still can't believe how much faith he had." Goldwyn and Gray were rapt hearing Betty Anne recount her roller coaster journey, during which she never once thought of giving up. Says Gray, "Betty Anne is a great storyteller. She was so passionate and humble and you could see that what she did came from love. She pursued the impossible and no matter how many times she was afraid she would fail, she just kept going."

"To some degree, I think we functioned as her therapist," Goldwyn confesses. "We recorded everything she told us and then at night Pam and I would go back to the hotel and try to figure out how we were going to tell all of this truly incredible stuff that happened over a period of 40 years into one movie." They began to hammer out a structure for the screenplay that turned the story into a kind of personal detective tale, weaving all the strands of the brother and sister‘s lives.

Gray also began to pore through the mountains and mountains of court transcripts, which she says were riveting. ¯There were people lying and in conflict and it was fascinating to piece together what happened in the courtroom with the stories Betty Anne shared with us, she says.

One of the biggest challenges in crafting the intricate structure of the screenplay, says Gray, was that there was simply too much material, some of which was hard to let go. "The true story had an incredible amount of suspense and drama to it, more than I ever could have imagined," she says. "There were so many surprises and there was so much remarkable material for movie storytelling. The main questions were what to leave out and how to keep things moving forward in the most dramatic way."

As she worked, the screenwriter felt a personal responsibility to both Waters siblings. "I wanted to really honor what Betty Anne had accomplished – and to honor the brother who lost nearly half his life to a terrible injustice," she says.

At the same time, she didn‘t want to feel creatively hindered as she turned their multi-decade story into a taut two-hour screenplay. As with all true stories that become movies, Gray had to find the line between authenticity and strong storytelling.

"It was a process of taking the truth and then figuring out how to shape it dramatically with elements of fiction storytelling," she explains. ¯Three themes are interwoven through everything: the theme of brother/sister love, the theme of a courageous woman up against impossible odds and the theme of a legal system that can sometimes be corrupt and destroy people.

When the script was finished, Academy Award® winning actress Hilary Swank, who would ultimately join with a tight-knit ensemble cast in the role of Betty Anne, signed on as executive producer.

"We all wanted to tell this extraordinary story," says Swank, "and it was a long time coming. I've always been drawn to true stories because life is stranger than fiction - and this story amazed, moved and inspired me. I was really stirred by the script and by this bond between a brother and sister.

"Tony was the magnet who attracted all the talent to this film and his passion for the project was unparalleled," says producer Andrew S. Karsch.

Adds producer Andrew Sugerman, ¯Tony was all about the emotion and bringing out the essence of the humanity that's in this story. He was very precise in the casting and every other element of the film -- which allowed all that feeling to come through.

The storytelling may have come together beautifully but the rest of the process wasn't quite as smooth. Goldwyn notes that the project hit the ground running "at a time when everything was falling apart." He explains: "The Screen Actors Guild was threatening a strike, the whole business was going through a change, and studio productions had ground to a halt. But after a long process, we then we received a waiver from SAG to make this as an independent movie. It gave us the traction needed to make this film in a crazy time, and we just drove it through."

He continues, ¯No matter how difficult it was to get the movie going, I stuck with it. I had a commitment to Betty Anne and I wasn‘t going to let it go. Ultimately, it really inspired me to see how we were able to put together cast and crew who were just as devoted to the story. It wasn‘t an ordinary job for any of us and it was really a blessing to be a part of that.

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