Sequel to Winter's story to introduce Harold, the sea turtle
CLEARWATER – As Hollywood rolls out another red carpet in this Gulf coast community, it only seemed fitting that Mayor George Cretekos present the key to the city to the executive producer of “Dolphin Tale 2.”
Robert Engelman of Alcon Entertainment told the city council earlier this month that the “production schedule is going fabulously.”
Movie crews have been on the grounds of Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Island Estates all month building parts, preparing the set and refurbishing props.
“We have started mini-units of filming with some underwater photography,” he said. “We brought two of the best underwater photographers in the world.”
While pre-production has been underway this month, Engelman said that full production will start this week. Filming also will take place at Fort Desoto Park and a few other locations in and around St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
“This movie is helping everyone,” the executive producer said, “the studio, CMA and Clearwater. It's a true partnership because of mutual cooperation.”
The relationship is going so well that he said, “I love this town. My wife and I are thinking about retiring here.”
Having been in the business for more than 40 years, Engelman said, “I have never found a more welcoming city that has embraced filming and to be helpful in so many ways. … Everyone seems to have a connection or a sense of pride in what we are doing here. It is a very inspiring city.”
Now that Winter, the dolphin who exercises with a prosthetic tail, is a superstar, he said, “We're adding Hope to the mix. So, we are bringing back our favorite dolphins and our pelicans.”
Ricky and Lucy, a pair of African great white pelicans, played mischievous Rufus in the first movie. The pelicans now are residents of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, as are Winter and Hope.
Hope was just a few months old when she found with her dead mother in December 2010, five years after Winter was rescued from entanglement in a crab trap rope that had cut off circulation to her tail flukes.
Engelman said “Dolphin Tale 2” will introduce another animal given a second chance at life: Harold the sea turtle.
Harold was discovered lethargic at Fred Howard Park beach in July 2010. Upon examination, a small tumor was discovered on the underside of his neck. The nine-pound green sea turtle was taken to the aquarium, where a number of tests revealed he suffered from an ongoing threat for sea turtles, the papilloma virus, as well as vision problems.
Laser surgery removed the papilloma tumor and since May 2011, Harold has been clear of the virus, which is highly contagious for sea turtles. However, because of his weak vision he's not able to manage life in the Gulf of Mexico on his own.
While aquarium residents Harold, Winter and Hope are the impetus for the sequel, Engelman said the underlying message for the movie was inspired by the mission of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, to “rescue, rehabilitate and release (but) with a touch of Hollywood drama … a movie that will promote a lot of civic pride.”
The first motion picture propelled Winter into a household name around the world and featured a human cast headlined by Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. All three are returning for the sequel, as are the two children, who are now teenagers.
The production team for “Dolphin Tale 2” will film into late December, take a short hiatus and then return for final production in January. The aquarium, now open only on weekends because of the filming, will welcome visitors back on weekdays, too, over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
In presenting the symbolic key, the mayor told Engelman, “You had mentioned you are thinking about retiring here. While I don't have a key to a condo for you, we do have a key to the City of Clearwater,” a token of appreciation for Alcon's commitment to the community.
Lightheartedly, Cretekos closed by saying, “This key doesn't unlock any building ... we've already changed the locks.”