Dolphin’s tale- film cameras come to Clearwater

Allyson Jackovics, News Editor

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            It’s not often that filmmakers come to the bay area for their movies. However, Clearwater Aquarium’s Winter the dolphin will have a major motion picture of her own, the majority of it shot in Clearwater.

            In 2006, a dolphin got wrapped up and caught in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral. She was brought to the CMA for rehabilitation, but lost her tail and two vertebrae. Remarkably, a human prosthetics company and a marine mammal veterinarian were able to collaborate and create a prosthetic tail for Winter. The CMA is still training Winter to swim with the tail, and progress is going well.

            This was a highly publicized story, and also inspiring for disabled humans, who come from around the country to meet Winter. A documentary and a children’s book have been inspired by her, and now Warner Bros. is interested in her story.

            Some facts will be changed in the movie, which will also be shot in 3D. For example, the aquarium will be called the “Clearwater Marine Hospital,” and a fictional young boy named Sawyer, the main character, will form a strong connection with Winter. In the movie, the boy convinces a VA doctor (played by Morgan Freeman) to create Winter’s tail.

            However, Winter will play herself, along with animatronic and CGI dolphins.

            Harry Connick Jr. and Ashley Judd are also starring in this film. Connick is playing Clay Haskett, the marine biologist who rescues Winter and owns the facility. Judd is playing Sawyer’s skeptical mother. Hilary Duff is also rumored to have a part.

            An open casting call was held last Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall for extras of all ages. Lines wove out the door and all over the grounds. A few people began the line at 6:30 am for the 11 am casting call. Nearly 3000 people showed up for the chance to appear in the movie, many of them families, according to the St. Petersburg Times. No experience was necessary, only the requirement of being a Florida resident with a head-shot ready. Those who make it will be emailed, and some may even be paid.

            Production began September 10, and the aquarium will be closed to the public for at least two months during filming. Filming is to start September 27th at The Long Center for a swim meet scene. Filming will also take place at the Harborview Center, and the CMA. Location scouts are looking for a house in Clearwater for Sawyer and his mother, and production designers are construction a 55-ft houseboat for Connick’s character.

            This movie should benefit Clearwater and its surrounding areas. The local economy is expected to increase during production, and more tourism is expected after the movie’s release.

            “Hopefully, it’ll bring in some cash and business for the aquarium, so that’s a big plus for everybody,” said junior Connor Waugh.

            However, even though the aquarium and many of its activities will be closed to the public, general life will still go on at the aquarium, especially with the aquarium’s other marine life. Connor volunteers at the CMA, and works in the turtle tanks and the shark tank called the “lower Mangrove.”

            “We’re going to have to work around them filming at times…and work around their equipment and stuff, but overall the Aquarium shouldn’t be changed too much from what I hear,” said Connor.      

            The aquarium’s other residents should also benefit. Along with dolphins, the aquarium is also a temporary and permanent home for sea turtles, otters, fish, sharks, and stingrays, many who are found injured. The aquarium seeks to rescue, rehabilitate and release its sick or injured marine animals. The aquarium CEO, David Yates, plans to use income from the movie to buy the adjacent property to expand the aquarium, and also to close the canal and cove off to serve as a natural habitat for animals.

            However, there are various issues. The aquarium will be packed with about 100 crew members when filming, and Winter must go through preparation to be filmed, spending time with her animatronic twin and getting used to set lighting. Her fellow dolphins will also have a part in the movie, and will have to be moved around. And with any movie filming on location, there are always some conflicting ideas.

             “I’ve heard mixed reviews [about the movie.] There are always downsides and people who aren’t into the idea,” said Connor.

            Although Winter is an interesting and inspiring story, and her movie is likely to benefit Clearwater and the aquarium, it is important that people don’t forget what the real-life aquarium is all about; what it has done for its other residents as well as Winter.

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