The filming of Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros.’ flick Dolphin Tale, has officially wrapped in Clearwater, Florida. After nearly three months of building complex sets and shooting in a variety of locations around the area, most of the crew – save for the talented locals – are heading back to Los Angeles to begin the tedious editing process. Good news is, the flick based on the true story of Winter the dolphin, is scheduled to hit theaters in October next year.
If one is hearing about this project and/or the amazing dolphin housed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for the first time, take a quick look at this article for a summation of the real life events that took place five years ago.
All caught up? Let’s move on to the happenings that took place during my set visit earlier this week:
First off, this day was bittersweet for much of the crew. Co-stars Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. were wrapping up their scenes on this day. The other notable stars – Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson – wrapped a few weeks earlier. In the efforts not to give away too much of the story, Ashley and Harry along with the promising young lead in Nathan Gamble (The Dark Knight, Marley and Me) were filming a few pivotal scenes in the man-made garage housed in the abandon Harborview Center. Attached to the garage were the living quarters for the characters of Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) and his mother (Ashley Judd). From the outside, the set looked like a shell of an unfinished home. When walking through it, the amount of detail in making this resemble a place where a typical single working mother is raising a twelve-year-old, is remarkable. Even the refrigerator had mocked up pictures of the characters. The script supervisor (Laura Pinto) – person who monitors the continuity from shot-to-shot – sure had her hands full with this one.
One item that this smooth-cat did not realize is that Dolphin Tale is being shot in 3D. As the filming of scenes went on, I was given a pair of 3D glasses, for one of the playback monitors was rolling with the 3D technology. This led me to seek out Executive Producer Steven P. Wegner (The Blind Side) and begin probing why add $3-$4 million to the production budget for a film such as this…
“Makes it more theatrical in scope and enjoyable for the family experience. It’s really worth it when you see the underwater shots with Winter.”
He assured me that they didn’t go out of their way to write-in random moments to show off the effect-of-the-month (or year for that matter). Being able to view the playback monitors – 3D and normal – he proved his point. So I gave him that one and followed up with how some people of my ilk are already calling this just another Free Willy rip-off…
“My big goal was to make it different than Free Willy. The handicap angle was the big hook that will add another layer to the storyline.” Children with handicaps identify with Winter. And Winter playing herself is a huge marketing hook. That doesn’t happen. Who really plays themselves? It’s rare.”
After thinking for a minute, Steven began laughing and came out with this…
“Well, there is How to Train Your Dragon (smile on his face). Kind of had a story about how the kid built the tail for the dragon. But ours is true!”
Steven was a gracious host while I was on the set and he had nothing but high praise for the all the local talent that has worked with him on this production. His thoughts on filming in Florida…
“Weather’s been great. We’ve had the best luck on this movie. Great casting base here, fine actors. It really has been a stress-less set.”
Believe it or not, despite the story revolving around Winter, the production almost didn’t come to Florida to shoot. Steven said he spent two-and-a-half years scouting locations. North and South Carolina were in the running for Dolphin Tale until the stars lined up at just the right time. Enter in the new and improved Florida Film bill.
“The tax rebate in Florida was a big bonus. The tax rebate really helped that (our choice), or else we probably wouldn’t have been greenlit. Having the family film incentive in the bill was huge for us.”
Steven and the other producers always wanted to shoot the film at Winter’s home, but economics are still a major obstacle all productions face these days when going on location. Once they were granted the film incentives in Florida, Steven was able to secure all his first choice cast members for the flick. Including Winter of course. Speaking of Winter, Steven has thoroughly enjoyed working with his star. When I asked about the affect of the subject matter being responsible in providing a great vibe on the set, he couldn’t have agreed more…
“Absolutely. When they feel they’re doing a positive movie, it definitely has an influence. It feels special.”
“Winter has a personality. The reason why people respond to her so much is she’s very vibrant and lively. Loves everybody.”
Seems to be contagious on this set.
Ironically, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium just rescued another dolphin this past Saturday in the same spot they found Winter about five years ago. The sequel is writing itself.
So that brought me to lunchtime, where they were serving the crew a plethora of choices. Including Lobster! Although I kind of felt guilty eating seafood while on the set of a movie whose subject matter revolves around a dolphin., I still managed to clean my plate.
Part 2 coming soon…
(Courtesy of Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros.)