Heading back to the set to interview Harry and Nathan, I began watching a few more takes under the guidance of director Charles Martin Smith. Working on Dolphin Tale as production assistant interns, were a handful of University of Tampa students. The film program has really picked up over the last couple years and many people in Hollywood have been taking advantage of the talented bunch the school has produced. Professor Tom Garrett was pleased to inform me that many have been asked to stay on as paid crew members stemming from all their tremendous efforts. Having been on the UT campus and covering the independent film scene in Florida, I always seem to cross paths with recent UT graduate Kelsey Stroop.

Kelsey graduated earlier this year and has already landed her first major gig as Assistant to the Director on Dolphin Tale. Since she was constantly involved with the shooting that day, she didn’t really have time to chat, but I did find out that Charles was so impressed with her work, he asked Kelsey that day to stay on in her current role and assist him during the post-production process out in Los Angeles. A huge break for a deserving talent.

It doesn’t end with Kelsey though. Another rock star I’ve seen “lurking” around a movie set a time or two is Maria Ortiz. Maria graduated from UT in 2007 and immediately began working, starting her own company MariaOrtizStudios LLC. Maria’s credits include multiple television productions and feature films, though her biggest thus far is her extraordinary work on Dolphin Tale.

Maria was hired on in the art department for this 3D production. After seeing a few of the set locations, one has to question whether this girl has slept much in the last three months. Who better to address this than the multi-talented Ms. Ortiz…

“Working on Dolphin Tale really has been an incredible experience, although exhausting and equally exhilarating. Within my first few days, I was immediately plucked by Susan Benjamin, who is an incredibly talented and well known set decorator in LA. She worked on last year’s The Blind Side with top 5 production designer Michael Corenblith. From working side by side on Dolphin Tale, they both have become incredible mentors of mine. I have been soaking up every second and morsel of knowledge from them haha.”

Her official title on the crew roster is set decoration administrator. The set “dressers”- as she refers to herself and others in the department – are the first ones on set every day putting on the final touches and they are also the last to leave in making sure everything stays in tact for the next day’s shoot. Basically, the girl handles everything from coordinating communications and purchases to getting artistic clearance and doing a fair amount of graphic designs for just about all the set pieces that will be seen in the flick. Including the Save Winter Day scene, which many believe will be a very powerful sequence in the film.

Maria is staying on for the next month while the set gets taken down and put into storage in case re-shoots are required before release. From there, she’ll be looking to begin work on another promising film looking to come to the Tampa Bay area.

Yeah, the experience isn’t over yet. Walking back to the set, I noticed a film crew outside capturing exterior shots of the random cloudy and windy day in Florida, which will be worked into the film at some point. Back inside, one had to maneuver around the snake-pit (thick cables all over the floor). While the set was preparing the cameras and lighting for the next scene to be shot – a time consuming process – Harry Connick Jr. and Nathan Gamble were gracious enough to step away and entertain my questions.

Part 4 with Harry and Nathan arriving soon…

Kristofferson and Stowell rehearsing
Kristofferson and Stowell rehearsing

By Joe Belcastro

Joe Belcastro is an established movie critic in Tampa, Florida. As a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle, most of his time is spent reviewing upcoming movies. He also covers news pertaining to the film industry, on both a local and national level as well as conducting interviews. To contact Joe Belcastro regarding a story or with general questions about his services, please e-mail him and/or follow him on Twiiter @TheWritingDemon.

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