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Thousands turn out in Clearwater for chance as extra in 'Dolphin Tale'

Among 3,000 who showed up Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall to audition are, from left, Caden Baker, 10, and Thomas Brown, 10, both of Sarasota, and Samuel O’Neil, 11, of Auburndale.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Among 3,000 who showed up Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall to audition are, from left, Caden Baker, 10, and Thomas Brown, 10, both of Sarasota, and Samuel O’Neil, 11, of Auburndale.

Thirteen-year-old Margaret Chiriaco roused her father, brother and sister in the wee hours Saturday.

By 6:30 a.m. they were at Ruth Eckerd Hall, the second family in a line that would later wind through the grounds. For Margaret and her family, it didn't matter that the open casting call for extras for Dolphin Tale a movie based on Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium — wouldn't begin until 11 a.m.

"I was really excited and I was thinking that I would like to be part of something that's very close to me and everybody else that we already know," said Margaret, who lives on Clearwater Beach, about a mile from the famous dolphin.

Close to 3,000 men, women and children tried for a chance to be in the movie that will be filmed in Clearwater and star Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and Ashley Judd.

They drove from far and near. A few sought shade under umbrellas. Many clutched envelopes with head shots. Most waited patiently.

David Chiriaco, Margaret's father, was enthusiastic as he sat for his interview with Margaret, her brother, Winston, 16, and Charlotte, 10. His children are on a swim team and he's a swim coach, he told casting director Melanie Moreno of Background Entertainment Services. She was impressed. They'll definitely have a place in the movie, she said. The company is looking for strong swimmers.

Sabrina Williams, 9, and her parents, Elizabeth O'Conner and Anthony Williams, didn't arrive from Orlando until after 11 a.m. By then the line wound through the parking lot. For her first casting call, Sabrina sported a blue hat, a top with sequins, jeans shorts and glittering sneakers.

Farther down the line, Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Freeman, his wife, Michelle, and their son Tristan hovered under a large black and red umbrella. Mark, 38, and Tristan, 6, were the ones trying for parts, Michelle said.

"I like dolphins," said Tristan.

The Brandon family planned to make good use of the time waiting. Michelle had spelling words for Tristan, a first-grader at Yates Elementary School, and a small cooler with food.

The wait was long.

"Three hours in line for less than five minutes," Michelle said later. "If they make it, it would all be worth it."

It wasn't only families with children who showed up. James Patrick, 66, who works in commercials, came from Tampa. "I got an e-mail from my agent yesterday," he said.

Now comes the wait.

Those who make the cut will be notified by e-mail a few days before they're needed on the set. Moreno would not discuss pay, because contracts have yet to be signed. One suspects some hopefuls would be thrilled to work for free.

"We had never had an experience like that before and the children were awestruck," Chiriaco said. "It was just a fun day."

Thousands turn out in Clearwater for chance as extra in 'Dolphin Tale' 09/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 11, 2010 10:22pm]
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