Movie Feature

'Dolphin Tale 2' director got movie material from a party

By Anjali RaguramanMovies - 30 September 2014 9:56 AM | Updated 12:21 PM

'Dolphin Tale 2' director got movie material from a party

Amazing stories seem to keep falling on the lap of ‘Dolphin Tale 2’ director Charles Martin Smith.

During the wrap party for the first film ‘Dolphin Tale’, in which Winter the dolphin is rescued from a crab trap and given a prosthetic tail so that it can swim again, an unforgettable event occurred that ended up becoming the climax of ‘Dolphin Tale 2’: A baby dolphin was rescued and hand-carried into the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, US, while the film's cast and crew left the party at the restaurant next to the aquarium to watch in awe.

For the 60-year-old director, it was “really crazy”.

“So I thought, well, I’ve to put that in the sequel,” he said in a phone interview with inSing.

For the sequel, the story also revolves around finding a companion for Winter, whose surrogate mother has died. The arrival of a baby dolphin proved to be a ray of “Hope”, aas it was thus named.  

Even with a star-studded cast that includes Harry Connick Jr, Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, as well as new faces Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, the real stars of the show are the dolphins, Winter and Hope.

Smith, apart from getting inspiration from wrap parties, was also keen on getting the science right and making as accurate a portrayal of dolphin rehabilitation facilities in his film. Read on to find out what went on behind the scenes. 

It has been three years since the last film, ‘Dolphin Tale’. How different was it this time round on set?

There are a number of things I think were different. And it is a bit of a different story. If we made a sequel, I wanted to make sure it involved true stories. Because there were more things going on: more dolphins, a turtle, and other plotlines. It’s more interesting and a more complex movie than the first one. That required doing things differently.

As the writer of the film, how much time did you spend at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (where the film is set) getting to know the people and the animals?

On the first movie (‘Dolphin Tale’), I spent so much time here, I already knew the aquarium and the dolphins, Winter and Hope. When I started writing this film, I was already so familiar with the area and with the animals, the marine biologists, the veterinarians and the trainers who work with the animals. I talked to people and asked more questions and learnt more. I wanted this to be as realistic as possible. I wanted people to see the film and get an idea of the science involved in caring for these animals.

What was it like having the entire cast back together again on set?

When we told the cast that we were going to make a sequel, I was just so thrilled that they all said yes. The kids are so much older now, that the actors all related to them a little bit differently. Now they’re young adults.

How do you think the younger actors Gamble and Zuehlsdorff have grown?

They’re the best 12-year-old actors I’ve ever seen. The one thing that hasn’t changed, is that Nathan has this amazing rapport with Winter. He has this gentleness and tenderness with Winter that hasn’t changed at all. That’s really unusual. Most young men don’t have that kind of sensitivity and kindness. I just loved watching him talk to Winter.

I understand that some of the cast was on hand to witness the day that Hope, then a baby dolphin, was rescued. What happened?

Yeah that really happened! That was the wrap party at the end of filming the first movie. We were all having a party at the restaurant next to the aquarium and all these phone calls started coming in saying they had rescued a baby dolphin. A lot of people from the party watched it happen. It was really crazy. 

Was it easier to write ‘Dolphin Tale 2’ having had firsthand experience of such dramatic events? 

Yes, it was. The plot is more complicated, so I spent a lot of time working that out. But in a lot of ways, it was easier. Another thing that made it easier was knowing that I had all the actors back, so while I was writing their scenes, I knew who was going to say the lines. I could hear their voices in my head. I know the actors and what they do well, I know their strengths as actors, and so I can write scenes designed specifically for all of them. That almost never happens in movies.

How important was it for you to remain as close to facts as possible? It must be quite hard to do that when you’re directing a Hollywood film and not a documentary.

Yeah, that’s really true. I really tried so hard to stay close to the facts, and I try to come as close as I can to showing what the science is like. But you do have to do things in a movie that stretch the truth a little bit. Particularly with the science of looking after the dolphins, the medicine, I had technical advisors help me with the dialogue about their blood tests, for example. I pride myself on trying to get it right, and largely I did. But overall, I’m giving people an impression of how it really works. 

Parts of the movie also stress on what they do at Clearwater Marine Aquarium to "rescue, rehab, release" marine life.  Why was that important for you in the film?

That’s one of the things that I wanted to emphasise in this movie that I really didn’t in the first. Winter can obviously never be released. I wanted to make that the centre of this film. I think we have an obligation to animals. If they’re wild animals, they should be living in the wild whenever possible. That is the mission at the aquarium.

Was there any sequence that was particularly memorable or hard to film?

There are two scenes that really stand out in my mind, that were so much fun for me to write, and then so much fun to see them take shape and work as well as they did. They’re both just dialogue scenes when Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) confronts her father (Harry Connick Jr) and says, “I’m not a little girl anymore”. The other is when Dr McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) gives Sawyer (Gamble) the pocket watch that doesn’t work, and gives him a little lesson about life. Watching Gamble, such a good young actor, do a scene with Morgan, who is of course a legendary actor, was really gratifying.

What about the animals?

The animal scenes were difficult to do. Many times I had animatronic animals, and in some of the shots, they’re computer-generated dolphins. I’m constantly mixing them up. Hope (the dolphin) is full-sized now. She has grown in the three years since she was rescued. But I wanted to make her small in the movie. So I filmed the real dolphin and we would shrink her in visual effects. Shooting with the dolphins was very tricky. But my favourite scenes with the dolphins are the pairings at the end, when they’re investigating each other and they start jumping and swimming together.

How did you get the dolphins to do stunts? There’s a scene where Winter has to wait under the platform, looking rather morose.

That was something that the trainers taught her to do. They would ask her to go under the platform, and she would stay there. When she was done, she would come back out. I think she understood that we were making a movie. I think she gets it! She learned that when I said “cut”, she knew that she didn’t have to do anything anymore and she would swim away and start tweeting and go get a fish. 

In the film Winter plays on a water mattress, in the pool, and yes, she “tweets” like a bird, too. Does she do those often?

Yes, she does. That’s why I wrote that into both movies. She loves that mattress and now that Hope is with her, they play games with it where one will get on, and the other will try to knock her off. It was so much fun to work with the animals. As much as possible, I let them do what they normally do and use that in the movie, as opposed to make them do something that’s not natural. 

With regards to marine life in captivity, there are documentaries such as ‘Blackfish’, which are hard-hitting. How are films like ‘Dolphin Tale’ going to help the conservation message?

I certainly hope it does. Although ‘Dolphin Tale 2’ is an entertaining movie, I try to make some real points in there about “rescue, rehab and release” and the fact that these are wild animals and they should be living in the wild. And I hope that people take those messages and combine them with the documentaries they’ve seen, and form some opinions on what we’re doing with this planet. All over the world there are dolphins, and most of our planet is ocean. And I think we have a real responsibility to those oceans and to the animals in it. When you think about it, Winter lost her tail in a crab trap - well that was put there by a human being.

So will there be one more dolphin film from you?

I’m superstitious, I never want to talk about a sequel to a movie that hasn’t even come out yet. It takes so much to put together a story for a movie. For now I’m just concerned about getting this film out and hoping that audiences enjoy it. 

'Dolphin Tale 2' opens in cinemas 2 October 2014

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  • Rated
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    Drama, Family
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