What started out as a just another movie production became something so much more thanks to Dolphin Tale’s inspirational star, Winter.
Her cinematic story, opening on September 23rd, has touched everyone involved with the production that wrapped just over a year ago in Clearwater, Florida. In a rare occurrence, the standard press junket left Hollywood and descended on Winter’s home this past week. Key members of the cast and crew flew in and spent the better part of the week talking with journalists and television personalities about their experience. And here’s what yours truly picked their respective & talented brains about:
(READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH MORGAN FREEMAN)
Austin Stowell, who plays a pertinent role in the flick as a returning solider who was injured in combat, highlighted that after seeing the final cut, the message he took away from the story that blends truth and fiction is “Don’t ever give up.”
This is Stowell’s first major feature. Back when I spoke to him on the set, his biggest goal was to accurately and respectfully portray his veteran character so the real heroes would be proud. Have any of those said vets given any feedback yet…
“Only one guy reached out on twitter actually. He’s a vet and just said to me, ‘Austin Stowell represents our troops and does it well.’ So that hit home for me right away, I was like, I got one!”
As for the theme of this being a tight knit production…
“I have to admit, this is my first big project and everyone kept saying, ‘don’t expect this, don’t expect this next time.’ And it almost made me a little nervous for my next project, I’m like oh man, I’m really going to be stepping in it. But I have to say, I just came off another project that was just as special, you know, where everyone came together. I don’t whether I just have a good streak going or what’s going on, but I’ll keep riding it.”
When Austin watched Dolphin Tale, does he over-analyze his performance…
“No I let it be. And I didn’t used to be that way. I just kind of, I don’t know, let it go. I’ve found peace in it all really. But watching the final product – and I wasn’t watching for me – I was swept up in the story. And I hadn’t read the script in so long and I just seen it (the film) just a few weeks back now; and I was reminded of everything. And getting to see all the things I didn’t get to see filmed was like watching the story for the first time. It’s incredible. It’s heart-warming, but the film is just flat-out good. It’s not wishy washy, it’s got heart to it…and I think people will connect to that.”
And two of the people that gave it that heart-warming feel were writers Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi.
The Process began in 2006 as Noam heard about Winter’s real-life rescue and the wheels began turning…
“For me it was just trying to find the underpinnings of that true story and paint it in broad strokes, says Noam. I think how I approached it was so completely different from what Karen did. But once we got clear on it, the studio said the Winter story we love and we’re going to figure out how to make it.”
From there, the script was passed over to Karen (Free Willy 2) and she added in a lot of the fictional elements that worked with the true-life depiction in forming a comprehensive cinematic product. Did she have this stellar cast in mind while she was writing it…
“You can cast it all you like but you never know who you’re gonna get, you just write it. You don’t ask. They (studio) don’t ask me,” she stated laughing.
Next in line for the creative saga was the main man, director Charles Martin Smith. This was his first time filming with 3D technology and he stated that adjusting to the technology was the only real challenges he had on set. He also lauded the local talent he hired for the shoot, who are now living their dreams stemming from their efforts on the set…
“Well the main person we took was Kelsey Stroop who became my assistant. We hired her here (Clearwater) when she was a film student (University of Tampa). And she came on and was my assistant and she was great. And then they (studio) said you need to hire an assistant in L.A. and said ‘Kelsey, want to move to L.A.? And she said absolutely; and she’s a gem, a real gem.”
“We’re stealing all the talented people out of Florida,” he jokes.
What was interesting to discover was how the majority of the cast had no idea Winter was actually going to star in the movie as herself. Was this a ploy to really hook in the potential cast…
“I wasn’t aware they didn’t know until they told me later that they weren’t aware, says Smith. I remember telling Nathan at one of the auditions – just chatting before, reading through the scene – and his jaw dropped and he went ‘REALLY! It’s going to be the real Winter.’ I’m like yeah, there’s not that many tailless dolphins out there.”
During the discussion, Smith shows a true compassion for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and even before they started rolling the cameras, he wanted to make sure that they would benefit with new additions to their facility that had to be installed for the film.
Ironically, the sequel may be writing itself; for another dolphin was rescued just when Dolphin Tale was finishing up…
“Yeah that was wild! Hope (the dolphin), she’s there now. They got a call about an injured dolphin right near where Winter had been rescued five years and one day after Winter was rescued. Another dolphin, about the same size, rescued. They were going to bring her over. It happened during the wrap party. We had just finished the movie; we were all at the wrap party at the Island Way Grill. And I was exhausted, obviously, so I think I probably left around 10 p.m. But around eleven at night this dolphin came in and a bunch of the producers and I, we just walked over to the aquarium and watched this new dolphin being brought in. It was like a repeating cycle, it was really amazing.”
Well it looks like you’re coming back for a sequel, man…
“I’ll tell ya what, I love this film. I really love this film. I would not be against the idea…if you can think of a story.”
Although the young dolphin that is Winter is the star and the inspiration, her young co-stars are also sharing the spotlight with her. Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff spent the most time interacting with Winter and since they made such a unique friend for over three months, do they ever think about just hopping on a plane and coming to see her…
“Oh…everyday. I think that would be so awesome, says Gamble. You know, when you’re spending three months with this amazing creature, you just want to see them again.”
Cozi chimes in…
“Yeah, and even this hotel becomes your home you know? I requested the same room and I’m kissing the floor and there’s my cabinets and all that stuff.”
(MEET WINTER AND THE CMA STAFF)
The introspective kids have grown a lot which they attribute to this film and their co-star. Do they see themselves sticking solely with the acting gig…
“Oh definitely. I love acting, it’s always kind of been a passion and it’s a blast, says Gamble. But sometime I would love to write. My dad is a writer and he is fantastic and I would love to write something with my dad. That would be pretty cool.”
As for Cozi…
“I would love to be a singer and do musical theater. That would be really fun to take it to the next level; be on Broadway – that would be amazing. But I never want to be so exposed that I can’t have a normal life.”
These two beyond-their-years performers shared behind-the-scenes stories of playful fun they had on the movie set with other cast members; specifically Harry Connick Jr. who they have formed a pure friendship with.
Connick Jr. has been fortunate to do a lot and work all across the board in showbiz. The 44 year-old family-man is very diverse with regards to the projects he has picked over the years. At this point in his life, does he select projects based on what would make his kids proud and/or happy to see…
“No, not all.”
“I think if you start trying to do things to make your kids proud it’s too late for that. You should have already been doing that in the choices you made up to that point anyway. So some of the things I do aren’t appropriate for my kids. Some of them are. But this (career choices) has nothing to do with my kids, I would rarely make an artistic decision based on that.”
So could we maybe see him in Bug 2?
“(Laughing) That was just creepy. I don’t know if I would want to do Bug 2; that was a weird set man.”
Speaking of sets, he solidified what has been noted earlier on about the Dolphin Tale production having that tight-knit vibe…
“Yeah, really cool.”
Is this a common occurrence on all Hollywood sets?
“Not really. I mean, it’s a big commitment to ask someone for their phone number. It’s a fantasy world, let’s just be honest. You’re working with extraordinary people in an extraordinary environment, where it’s very intense and the people you’re working with are hugely talented for the most part. You know, Nathan and Cozi aren’t typical kids; Morgan Freeman is not a typical guy. These are extraordinary people and you have a tendency to gravitate towards many of these people. That’s why I think a lot of relationships happen on set and dissolve maybe not long after, because it really is a fantasy world. And when you say may I have your phone number because I want to keep in contact with you, it’s like buying a dog. You see a dog in a pet store and it’s so cute and you want to take it home. But then you’re talking about a fifteen year commitment. It’s not gonna become self-sustaining and neither is a friendship. You just can’t make these commitments and not just follow through.”
“I don’t think it (long-term friendships) happens very much. It hasn’t in my movie career but it’s nice when it does.”
Can’t let Harry Connick Jr. slip away without asking a music-related question: Who does he want to jam with?
“You know, I’d like to sit in with Queen one day. Because I was a big fan of theirs and still am. I would like to be Freddie (the late leader singer Freddie Mercury) – I couldn’t be Freddie – but I would like to give my version of that. That would be cool, that would be really cool.”
He talked about a dream where Queen called him up on stage and the high lasted throughout the day after he awoke; which he thought sounded “psychotic” to say; but then I told him about the million times I’ve been rocking with Aerosmith and woke up depressed when reality kicked back in.
That story had Harry Connick Jr. grinning and that pretty much sums up the Dolphin Tale experience. It was all smiles and positive vibes for all involved.
READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH MORGAN FREEMAN
MEET WINTER AND THE CMA STAFF