It’s not every day that Hollywood makes a biopic starring the real-life person they’re making that movie about. World War II hero Audie Murphy re-enacted his own battlefield heroics in 1955’s To Hell and Back, while Eminem did it loosely for 8 Mile. The story of Winter fits the same mold, a tale of heroism, survival, and success, but while she is playing herself, “she” is in fact a dolphin. Even though she hasn’t earned the Medal of Honor or rapped her way out of the ghetto, Winter’s struggle against adversity is incredibly compelling, and her story the perfect fodder for a film like Dolphin Tale, which we got a chance to witness the filming of first-hand in November of 2010.
On December 10th, 2005, Winter was only three months old and swimming in the Mosquito Lagoon of New Smyrna Beach, Florida when her tail got wrapped tightly in the line of a crab trap. She was discovered and taken to Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium for rehabilitation, even though the injuries she sustained made it unlikely she would survive, especially after her tail had to be amputated. Through the combined efforts of the Aquarium, vets, and prosthetic specialists, a new tail was developed for her, the first of its kind for such a young, inexperienced swimmer. It has enabled her to grow to be a whopping 235 pound movie star!
Making the movie of her life, starring Winter as herself, is director Charles Martin Smith, probably best know to readers as Terry ‘The Toad’ from the George Lucas classic American Graffiti as well as other performances in The Untouchables and Starman. He’s directed several films in the years since those blockbusters, including a more comical animal story, Air Bud.
His star-studded cast includes Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd in their third onscreen outing together after Kiss the Girls and High Crimes. Freeman plays the kindly Dr. McCarthy, an amalgam of several people who designed the apparatus that enabled winter to swim again. Judd plays the mother of Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), a young boy who befriends Winter. In our upcoming set visit you’ll hear from all these stars as they talk about working on this inspiring (and unlikely) true story.
“I didn’t know it was true story when I was reading it,” says Judd. “When I was done I thought, ‘This writer needs to be taken out and shot! This is just so emotionally manipulative, and how dare they have the audacity to incorporate every touching storyline imaginable?’ Little boy abandoned by his father who idolizes his hero cousin who’s a great athlete and a soldier too. That’s criminal. Then I saw SeeWinter.com and it dawned on me it’s a true story and thought it would be a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
We’ll also take you inside the actual Clearwater Aquarium where the filmmakers created new environments especially for the film, as well as robotic versions of Winter, and we come face to face with the playful star herself and learn that this tail is definitely worth telling!
Dolphin Tale will be released by Warner Bros. on September 23, 2011.
Click the new photos for bigger versions!