This Week at the Box Office: ‘Dolphin Tale’ is #1!

Posted on October 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I’m delighted that Dolphin Tale topped the box office this week with a healthy $14.2 million, very impressive for its second week of release.  It shows that the movie has strong word of mouth — people who have seen it are encouraging their friends to take their families.  And with The Lion King holding on to third place, the message should be clear that ticket-buyers want family films.  In between at second place is the excellent Moneyball.  But it is unusual that none of this week’s releases made it into the top three.  What’s Your Number deservedly tanked.  I hope that 50/50 finds its audience.  And it was very encouraging to see such a good response to the Christian film “Courageous.”  Not only did it outperform the projected sales in limited release, but the audience reaction was very enthusiastic.  According to the LA Times,

Audiences who saw the movie loved it, giving it an average grade of A+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. “Courageous” is only the fourth movie this year to earn a perfect grade, joining “The Help” and two other movies that resonated faith-based audiences, “Soul Surfer” and “Dolphin Tale.” It was an older crowd that went to see “Courageous” this weekend, with 77% of the audience over 25.

The movie got off to an even better start than “Fireproof,” the Kendricks’ 2008 film featuring “Growing Pains” star Kirk Cameron as a firefighter struggling to keep his marriage together. That movie, also inexpensive to produce, opened to $6.8 million and ultimately collected $33.5 million worldwide.

The movie was not screened for critics, but I hope to review it very soon.

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This Week at the Box Office

Sea Fever: The Lovely Poem from ‘Dolphin Tale’

Posted on September 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm

“Dolphin Tale” features one of my favorite poems, “Sea Fever” by John Masefield.  Here it is:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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Books

Winter the Dolphin: The True Story

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Winter the dolphin plays herself in this week’s terrific family film, “Dolphin Tale,” directed by Charles Martin Smith.  While the movie’s human characters are fictional, the story of Winter is true, and Winter herself is already a star, having appeared on the Today Show, CNN, and the BBC.

Winter was only three months old when she was hurt by getting tangled in a crab trap line.  She lost her tail and two vertebrae as a result of her injuries.  As explained in the film, without a tail for balance and steering, a dolphin will sustain severe spinal injuries.  Dr. Mike Walsh and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics created the artificial tale for Winter, and she has adapted very well.  The Clearwater Marine Aquarium website explains:

How, you might ask, does one go about preparing a dolphin for a prosthetic tail? It certainly is challenging: attaching a complete fluke and joint onto an inexperienced dolphin had never been done before, but it was a challenge we felt good about! When we first started to train Winter to allow us to put the prosthetic on her body, we found Winter took to the process quite well. However, the series of approximations, or learning steps took some time. Over the course of several months, Winter learned the correct body position to be fitted for a stretchy, plastic sleeve, one that is also used for human prosthetics. Her trainers have creatively fashioned a more form-fitting version of the sleeve – it works wonders although it looks strange to say the least! The sleeve, in its original form, is ultimately used to attach the prosthetic fluke to her peduncle. After the sleeve is in place on her peduncle, the muscular part of a dolphin before the tail-flukes, we are in turn able to put the prosthetic on top of the sleeve. Once the prosthetic is in place, we check to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. We will ask Winter to swim with the prosthetic for a lap or two around the pool and re-check the fit of the tail before we start the workout! Tail flukes are the powerhouse of the dolphin. Without her prosthetic, to compensate for the absence of flukes, Winter utilizes her entire body in order to propel herself forward, moving from side-to-side like a shark. Behaviorally, our goal is to use the prosthetic as a cue or “discriminative stimulus” to swim in a normal up-and-down fashion working all muscles that surround the peduncle while still maintaining her ability to swim comfortably when the prosthetic is off. In our latest sessions, we attempt to convey the idea that calm behavior is the name of the game; persuading a playful animal to pay attention is like trying to get a pre-schooler to be studious. Our training process with the prosthetic tail is an ongoing process. As mentioned earlier, it takes many creative minds to build what is ultimately the best for the animal.

As the footage at the end of the movie shows, Winter has been an inspiration to disabled children and veterans learning to adapt to their own prostheses.  Clearwater Marine Aquarium has resources for kid who want to learn more about dolphins.  And you can follow Winter on Twitter: @winterdolphin

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The Real Story

Interview: Charles Martin Smith of ‘Dolphin Tale’

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

Before he was a director, Charles Martin Smith was a teen actor who appeared as “Terry the Toad” in “American Graffiti.”  He starred in Carroll Ballard’s “Never Cry Wolf” and appeared in films like “The Untouchables” and “Starman.”  While he continues to appear as an actor, he has most recently been more active as a writer and director.  He did both for his new film, “Dolphin Tale,” opening this Friday, inspired by the true story of Winter the dolphin, who now has a prosthetic tale.   It was a delight to talk with him about breaking the first rule of show business (“don’t work with children or animals”), what he learned from George Lucas, and why the color blue is so important in this film.  He made me laugh as soon as we met because he started “directing” where we would sit.  “I often say I became a director because I like to boss people around,” he told me, “but it’s just a line.”

They say it’s always a problem to work with kids and animals, but in this movie you did both.

I might be the only filmmaker that really gravitates toward that.  I really like working with kids.  And I really like working with animals!  They’re so pure and honest and they’re never really acting, at least not in my movies.  Well, maybe Rufus .  People sometimes try to impose things on them, a character they have in their own mind.  I think it’s much more interesting when working with an animal to find out what that real animal does and try to capture their essence and their behavior.  It’s almost a little bit of a documentary type feel.  We’ve got the real Winter playing the real Winter.

Have you worked with dolphins before?

I haven’t.  I’ve been interested in them and interested in science.  You hear all about how intelligent they are but you can’t comprehend it until you really spent time with them.  They’re certainly as bright as we are.  The first thing I did when I got involved with the movie was go to Clearwater, Florida to spend time with Winter, just to observe her behavior.  She does all kinds of interesting things.  She’s very playful; she loves toys.  She’s still young, the equivalent of a 10-year-old kid.  She loves her blue mattress and her rings.  So we put that in the movie.  I wanted to give her a special ring with something cute and iconic so I thought we’d give her a yellow duck — do you know how many different versions of rubber ducks there are?  We spent months designing this thing.  The expense we went to!  She makes that Tweety Bird sound all the time, so I said, “Put it in the movie!”

And working with kids?

I like kids.  I find them fascinating.  They give you real things.  Since I began as a child actor I understand what they’re going through and it’s great to see them blossom and learn.  I am not just a director but an acting coach and teacher on set and I love that.  I really made an effort to keep the kids real, to act like real kids.  So many movies have “movie kids.”  I didn’t want to do that.

There were no kids in the true story but when Alcon developed the project they wanted it to be kid-centered to make it more accessible.  I wanted to bring something of a magical quality to it, some wish fulfillment.  How many kids have their own dolphin?  Having the aquarium be this grand, mystical place that Hazel has complete run of and where she knows all the turtles and dolphins.  And the houseboat, so she had a fun place to live with a crows nest she could decorate herself.  And Rufus.  All to bring a slightly magical fantasy element.  I originally conceived Rufus as a seagull, but Alcon suggested a pelican — a true collaboration. 

And two 11 year olds save the day.  It would not really happen that way, probably, so that is a little bit of a fantasy, too.  But that made it even more important that the kids were grounded in reality and acted like real kids.  When Clay tells them he has to close down, Hazel runs.  Kids don’t want anyone to see them cry.  Cosi (who plays Hazel) is amazingly gifted, so good, so real, as good as any adult actor I’ve ever worked with.  She had just been in community theater, never done anything in movies or television.  And she’s a good kid; they both are.  They both come from very religious families, Christian families.  They’re such good kids.  I’ve never had a set before with no profanity, not even from the crew!

You did an amazing job of achieving a really sun-drenched look that really felt like Florida.

The wonderful cinematographer was Karl Walter Lindenlaub.  He did a lot of big sci-fi films like “Independence Day” and “Stargate” and he did a Scottish film, “Rob Roy” that showed he could do lovely things outdoors.  We talked a lot about the hot look and we certainly had hot weather.  I wanted a sort of sci-fi feeling to the movie, that first scene, under water.  We meet the pod under water and see how inquisitive Winter is.  I wanted to see the world she comes from. In a way, it’s like another planet, an alien from one planet that washes up, stranded, on another and is rescued by a boy.  I wanted to do that with the look of the film, too.  I wanted the underwater to be all blue and rich.  And then we made the neighborhood drab, and took all the blue out of it, all oranges and rusts and earth tones.  And then the aquarium is a blue building — which it really is.  And inside, that’s a set actually, he walks in and sees all the blue, watery, rich look and it’s like he’s underwater.  Then he goes back to his world and it’s all brown again.  But gradually we had some blues show up in his clothes to show how his worlds were coming together.

What did you learn from the directors you worked with as an actor?

I picked up stuff from everybody.  I worked with a lot of great directors.  George Lucas was very good in the way he directed young actors on “American Graffiti.”  He’s not generally thought of as an actor’s director.  But one of the things he did was cast good actors and get out of our way.  I learned so much about the importance of casting.  But he said, “I wrote the script; you can change any line you like.  I have an in with the writer!”  Some directors want every single word done the way it was written but that’s too stultifying to a child.  And he would ask us what was comfortable and organic and honest for us he wanted to do and he would build the scenes around that.  But the one I learned the most from was Carroll Ballard.  No one deals better with the subject of nature and man’s collision with wildlife than he does.  The way he edits, structures things, he’s always been my hero.  Every day on this movie I would think, “What would Ballard do if he were here?”

I loved the real footage at the end.

That was what I saw the very first day, seeing children with disabilities coming and being inspired by Winter.  The editor, Harvey Rosenstock, got the footage and cut it together beautifully.  It was so good we didn’t want to run it with the credits over it.  It works too well; it’s too beautiful.

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Directors Interview
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