Star dolphins Winter and Hope drawing attention without scripts, actor doubles or makeup.
CLEARWATER — Filming for the movie “Dolphin Tale 2,” which got under way in October, is set to take a two week break for the holidays starting Friday.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates said the resident stars of the film, dolphins Winter and Hope, Harold the sea turtle and the two great African white pelicans playing Rufus, have been handling their time in the spotlight very well without scripts, actor doubles or makeup.
“What's interesting is when we're filming a scene with Hope, Winter starts to whistle, wanting us to know she's around, and when Winter is being filmed, Hope starts jumping and splashing in the background,” which required a few scene retakes, Yates said.
As for the overall filming, “The partnership between CMA and Alcon Entertainment is collaborative in every aspect,” he said. “The filming of the first 'Dolphin Tale' went well, but the sequel is going fabulous. Most of the same people are here, so there's less (of a) learning curve. We've had incredible weather.”
Yates also praised the residents of Island Estates and the staff and parishioners of nearby St. Brendan's Catholic Church for being “so gracious” during the movie production. “There's been a lot of activity involving crews, equipment, and big trucks in the neighborhood. They've all been good neighbors.”
David Fulton, a Los Angeles-based unit publicist for the movie, agreed with those assessments.
“Everything is going very well,” he said. “The movie is on schedule. The weather's been great; everybody's been great. … We're guests, and we're making nice.”
After the holiday break, filming will resume in early January and is expected to be completed by mid-January.
Some of the filming last week lasted until 2 and 3 a.m. Set location manager Jennifer Radzikowski communicated the schedule in a Dec. 4 letter to Island Estates residents living in the neighborhood around Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the home of Winter and the site of much of the filming for both movies.
Because the night shoots required high-powered movie set lights, crews provided temporary black-out sheets for windows at the homes of any residents disturbed by the filming.
The late-night and early morning schedule included scenes at the aquarium's dolphin tanks, a new ticket booth built for the movie and the parking lot, and also on the outdoor deck of Island Way Grill, located next to the aquarium.
The last day of filming on Island Estates was Monday. It involved a car scene with headliners Ashley Judd and Nathan Gamble. While the equipment and props, including a car, were geared up on Windward Passage, the scene was filmed along Memorial Causeway.
Judd plays Lorraine Nelson, whose son, Sawyer (Gamble) befriends Winter after she's caught in a crab trap line and seriously injured in the first movie. Winter's real-life rescue, rehabilitation and subsequent fitting with a prosthetic tail inspired the family film and its sequel.
On Tuesday, crews spent the day at Florida Hospital North Pinellas (formerly Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital) in Tarpon Springs for filming that included a simulated CT scan on a robotic turtle.
Judd and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who plays Hazel, participated in the filming. Plus, a couple dozen extras were involved in scene-setting shots outside the hospital's entrance, while others were used in a waiting room scene.
Fulton said the movie's other headliners —Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson — also have been in the area for filming numerous times.
The cast and crew was expected to film several scenes in the City of Largo later this week before wrapping up on Friday for the holiday break.
According to The Tampa Tribune, most of the principal actors were here earlier this month and shared fond memories of the time they spent in Clearwater filming the first movie, especially their interactions with Winter.
“Apparently, that dolphin remembers (me), because now I walk up to the pool and she's like, 'Hey, don't we know each other?' ” Freeman reportedly said.
The holiday break in filming means Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which has been open only on weekends, will resume its regular schedule. Starting today, the aquarium will be open daily, except Christmas, through Jan. 5. For details, go online to seewinter.com.