CLEARWATER — Winter the dolphin first entered the spotlight when she was pulled from a tangle of buoy line off Florida's east coast four years ago. The calf's injuries were so severe, she lost her tail. Not many expected her to survive.
But when she did, and began to thrive under the care of the staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Winter became a symbol for perseverance.
Now, she may be on the verge of becoming the most famous dolphin since Flipper.
David Yates, chief executive officer of the nonprofit aquarium, announced Wednesday that a deal has been struck with Los Angeles-based Alcon Entertainment to produce a major motion picture based on Winter's story. The film will be distributed by Warner Bros.
"Winter has been so inspirational to so many people, it's an honor to be able to bring her story to the screen," Yates said.
The movie, tentatively titled A Dolphin Tale, will be written and directed by Charles Martin Smith, who directed the 1997 movie Air Bud, and has appeared in numerous films as an actor, including George Lucas' 1973 classic American Graffiti.
The movie's budget has yet to be set, and the cast is still to be selected.
But Yates said he expects the movie to bring both financial and promotional benefits to the aquarium and the city of Clearwater.
"It allows us to put a spotlight on our aquarium and our mission," he said. "Hollywood coming to little Clearwater Aquarium."
Of the nature of the script, he said it would be "a little like a Free Willy-type movie."
While the plot is expected to roughly follow Winter's true story, a few tweaks will be made for the silver screen, Yates said. One of those will be adding a human co-star, slated to be a young boy who finds the injured Winter and rallies others to come to her aid.
Whether the dolphin will play herself in the film has yet to be worked out. If not, a stand-in could be used, with movie magic used to digitally remove the actor dolphin's tail.
In addition to A Dolphin Tale, Winter has also been the subject of a book, Winter's Tale, published by Scholastic, and a documentary that premiered this year at the Tribeca film festival in New York.
A video game, also called Winter's Tail, was recently released for the Nintendo DS handheld gaming system.
How Winter is handling her sudden fame is unclear, though from her playful antics at the aquarium Wednesday, all signs show that she is doing a bit better than some of her paparazzi-hounded fellow starlets.
To the tourist and news cameras pointed down into her pool, she offered an ever-present smile, and a few pleasant clicks.
Dominick Tao can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-2951.