We asked Karen Janszen (Writer) and Charles Martin Smith (Director and Writer) to explain how the various characters were developed for Dolphin Tale?
From Karen Janszen:
Sawyer represents the many kids who have connected with Winter, and is also based on my sometimes introverted daughter who is being raised by me as a single mother (with an absent father) and deeply feels this as making her different. Like Sawyer she likes to build things (in her case, Legos, art projects, woodworking, forts). Both of my brothers grew up very mechanically inclined so Sawyer also has that characteristic. Like Sawyer, my daughter has an older relative, a half sister, who is her best friend.
Hazel is based on several of my daughter’s friends who are very outgoing and talkative. I had her lose her mother so she and Sawyer could share this emotional loss in common. With Hazel and Sawyer I wanted opposites, two kids who could learn from each other.
Lorraine is based on me (single working mother with strong opinions, protective of my child) but she is named after my daughter’s third grade teacher — she co-teaches with Alyce (the sister’s name). They teach at The Center for Early Education in Los Angeles and have those first names.
Dr. McCarthy is based on the work of Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka from Hanger Clinic who partner with CMA in making the prosthetic tail.
Clay Haskett is based on CMA Director David Yates (energetic force of nature, fantastic dad and family man, athlete and the embodiment of grit – someone who does not give up when encountering obstacles). I took these qualities and forged a fictional guy who would be the best kind of adult male role model for my introverted daughter and other kids who are growing up with only one parent and feel “less than”: a nontraditional guy (not a suit-wearer with a day job), an animal lover who understands loss and is emotionally available, someone who believes in empowering kids (open-minded, generous, believes kids can change the world, and is mechanically inclined – I think all children should learn how to tinker, how to build and create things using their minds and their hands). The name comes from my daughter’s half sister’s husband (a photographer and filmmaker) whose name is Clay Haskell and the name was then changed slightly.
Phoebe is based on CMA dolphin trainer Abby Stone and her work with Winter.
Kyle is based on several real-life people but his story is inspired by the 1946 film “The Best Years of Our Lives.”
From Charles Martin Smith:
Margaret – of course little Margaret in the wheelchair is based on all the kids I saw at CMA when I first visited, and from the stories you told me. I named her Margaret after my girlfriend Christa’s daughter
Phil Hordern was originally “Phil Horn”, who was one of my best buddies in University and is now head of the Pennsylvania Arts Council. I wanted him to be a Richard Branson maverick billionaire type.
Rufus - I made up when I thought of the pun of him living on the roof, and wanted to make it a name that a little kid like Hazel would think of, and was initially a seagull in my first treatment, and Steve Wegner (Alcon Entertainment) suggested making it a pelican, which hadn’t occurred to me, but I loved it immediately.
Hurricane LeRoy was named after my old friend LeRoy Sweet. That scene was an attempt to bring some danger and action to the middle of the movie, and since Winter couldn’t escape or anything like that, I had that idea to bring the jeopardy to her.
For Gloria and Fitch, I just had the idea that it would be a Florida clash — Gloria, the NY wealthy society lady, retired to Florida, and Fitch a local Floridian who is in banking, construction, etc. Fitch is named after my old friend Fitch Cady in Vancouver, a location manager, and Gloria just sounded like a Manhattan old money name.
The Chumash Story I actually leaned years ago when I was developing ANOTHER dolphin movie! This was a magical sort of story based on that legend. I wrote 3 drafts, but the film never got made. When I started working on Dolphin Tale, I asked the producer of the other film if I could use the story, and he said go ahead.
The Houseboat was another decision to put some magic in the movie (like Rufus, and the Main hall, etc. etc.). The original script had them living in an apartment as I recall. But I’d seen houseboats like that in Vancouver, and when I visited CMA, walking around I saw all the slips there, and thought it could work. And the crow’s nest was my idea to give the kids a refuge, a tree-fort, if you will. I always loved the idea of crowsnests (even the name) when I was a little kid. Keeping in the nautical theme.
And the Great Hall is based on the main hall at the Vancouver Aquarium. My idea was that Sawyer is entering a magical world, which is akin to the magical world beneath the surface of the ocean (which is why I cooked up all that opening with Winter and the pod, so we would have that as a comparison). So the great hall is an extension of Winter’s home under the sea, with dolphins, and fish, and watery reflections of light, and recordings playing of whale calls and everything. Sawyer walks into this giant room which is like being in a magical underwater world — and sort of like being in a space-ship, too. As though the oceans are another planet, and he is entering in this way.