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Watch for these familiar places as Pinellas gets its closeup in 'Dolphin Tale'

By Steve Persall

Times Film Critic

If you'd like to find Pinellas County locations important to filming Dolphin Tale, just follow the kid riding his bicycle. Even with a car, you won't cover territory as fast as "Sawyer Nelson" does in the movie.

Sawyer, played by Nathan Gamble, can wake up in Oldsmar, eat breakfast in his Clearwater kitchen then pedal to school in Largo by way of Tarpon Springs. Maybe stop along the way at Honeymoon Island. That's the magic of the movies, where places miles apart can appear to be just down the street with proper editing.

Production of Dolphin Tale spanned Pinellas County, although everything after the crab boat prologue is defined as "Clearwater." These are key locations you'll see on screen, and wish you could reach as easily as Sawyer:

Clearwater Marine Aquarium: President and CEO David Yates estimates up to 80 percent of Dolphin Tale is set at his facility, most of that footage actually filmed at the aquarium. The rest was shot in a Largo warehouse where a roomier lobby area was constructed for filming. Yates said part of the aquarium's $12 million restoration project currently under way is devoted to a facsimile of the movie's version of the lobby. The houseboat where Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) and his daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) live remains anchored in the aquarium's cove.

Honeymoon Island: This is where the injured, beached Winter is spotted by a fisherman (Richard Libertini) and Sawyer cuts the crab-trap ropes binding her. The brief prologue featuring a crab boat was filmed off Fort De Soto Park.

Mildred Helms Elementary School: Troubled by a missing father and an idolized cousin leaving for the Army, Sawyer is enrolled in summer school at this Largo campus. The school is clearly identified, and classroom interiors were filmed there.

The Long Center: An early scene shows a Clearwater High School swim meet held in this fitness facility's Olympic-sized pool. The Long Center is at 1501 N Belcher Road, Clearwater.

Tarpon Springs: One of Sawyer's bike rides around his "neighborhood" takes him down Dodecanese Boulevard and the famed Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. On two occasions he's shown pedaling across Beckett Bridge, west of Spring Bayou. A sign points to "Clearwater Marine Hospital," supposedly just down the street.

Admiral Farragut Academy: This St. Petersburg private school doubles as a Veterans Affairs hospital campus, including a lounge area for recuperating patients.

Pinellas Technical EDUCATION CENTER: Morgan Freeman's character sets up his inventor's workshop in one of the school's offices.

Harborview Center: Interior sets for the house where Sawyer and his mother (Ashley Judd) live were built on this nearly abandoned project's second floor. That also includes the garage where Sawyer builds toy helicopters. Part of the Clearwater facility's future includes a museum dedicated to Dolphin Tale, with those sets intact for visitors to tour.

Bay News 9 studios: Televised reports of an approaching hurricane, and a late meeting between Kyle (Austin Stowell) and a TV reporter (Ashley White), were filmed here.

Flipping houses: This is where editing magic gets tricky. The backyard pool party bidding farewell to cousin Kyle was filmed on Betty Lane in Clearwater but the front yard exterior is in Oldsmar. And when Sawyer goes home "across the street" he settles down in the Harborview Center sets. Only in the movies.

NOTE: This story was changed to reflect the following correction: Pinellas Technical Education Center's St. Petersburg campus was a location used in the filming of Dolphin Tale. An article in Weekend cited another school.

Watch for these familiar places as Pinellas gets its closeup in 'Dolphin Tale' 09/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:53pm]
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