Film • Al Reinert and William Broyles, Jr.

Their down-to-earth script sent Apollo 13 soaring—and won them an Oscar nomination.

September 1996By Comments

AL REINERT WAS TALKING about an intense argument he and William Broyles, Jr., had early in their collaboration on the screenplay for Apollo 13, for which they were nominated for an Academy award. “It’s a good thing we’d known each other for so long,” Al said, “or it never would have worked out. Hell, I remember having arguments with Broyles twenty years ago.”

Many of those arguments occurred because of this magazine, where Bill was the founding editor and Al was a frequent and important contributor. Al wrote about NASA and the astronauts during the years of the Apollo program. Later, he became something of a fixture at NASA, with astronauts among his closest friends while he directed a documentary, For All Mankind, that followed a moon mission from takeoff to return landing. It was released in 1989 and was also nominated for an Oscar. Bill was an investor in the film; Bill’s sister was an investor and a producer; and Bill’s father was an investor and handled most of the financial matters in producing the film. Bill, meanwhile, became the editor in chief of Newsweek and then a co-creator of the television series China Beach and the author of other TV dramas and movies. So in May 1993, when plans were afoot to make a movie about the Apollo 13 mission, it was natural that Bill would be approached to be the screenwriter and inevitable that he would contact Al and that the two would begin working together.

They took about six months to finish a first draft, working in Al’s house near the Southwest Freeway in Houston. They would write in separate rooms each morning, and then over lunch they would rewrite each other’s work and decide where they were going from there. “The last fifteen minutes and the blastoff were two sequences we had in our heads from the very beginning,” Bill recalls. “Everything else we rewrote dozens of times. Our problem was making people emotionally involved in an event where they knew the outcome. We decided we had to do that by showing family members and Mission Control, so you would identify with people who did not know the outcome.”

Since Apollo 13, Bill, who is 51, and Al, who’s 48, have completed a script about a schoolteacher in conflict with fundamentalists in a Texas town. Independently, Bill is working on a script about Vietnam and several others. Al is writing a script he calls 2008, about terrorists taking over a space station. “It’s Die Hard in orbit,” he says. He’s also writing two episodes of an HBO series Tom Hanks is producing about the Apollo program. And he and Bill are looking for another script to do together. “The big problem with writing movies outside L.A. is a feeling of isolation,” Bill says. “When you have a collaborator you trust and have worked with for years, it’s more than a reality check. It’s a life-support system.”

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