When two siblings help rescue a badly sunburned dolphin in Florida, they undercover a development plan that could change their coastal area forever in the family film “Bernie the Dolphin.” The film, by locals, will be released in select theaters, including one in Torrance, Friday, Dec. 7.
Director Kirk Harris makes his home in San Pedro and busy actor Patrick Muldoon was raised in San Pedro and stars as the sibling's father.
“This is an ode to all the great (Steven) Spielberg films that I loved growing up... I'm a father, I watch those films all the time, I grew up loving those films,” Harris said.
Muldoon, who came to fame starring on “Days of Our Lives,” said he connected to the film's message because it “opens all of our eyes to see what we are doing to our oceans.”
“It takes the eyes of a child sometimes to see the reality of things,” Muldoon said. “That's what happens in this movie, the children are the ones that are able to see the truth, which is that man is ruining his own environment, which is insane.... first it starts with hurting the ecosystem, the animals, then the food, then ultimately it come back and hurts us as well.”
“Bernie the Dolphin” was shot in Clearwater, Florida, as well as in St. Augustine at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, which originally opened in 1938 as Marine Studios. When Marine Studios was opened, it was used by Hollywood filmmakers to shoot underwater footage including “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Currently Marineland is a marine conservation, animal care and education center.
“Bernie the Dolphin” is Harris' first foray into making films for children. A former amateur boxer, Harris initially took the indie film route which such films as “Loser” and “The Kid: Chamaco,” starring opposite Martin Sheen.
Harris, who founded production and distribution label Rogue Arts in 2004, partnered with Marty Poole to form the production sales company Fairway Film Alliance. When Poole was in Cannes in 2017, he had a meeting with Lionsgate, who was interesting in making a dolphin movie. Coincidentally, filmmaker Tony Armer, who brought his Sunscreen Film Festival to Hermosa Beach several years ago, had read a true story about a sunburned dolphin. Poole and Armer wrote an outline before they left Cannes and it eventually was picked up by Lionsgate.
“I've been wanting to go back to directing, no longer acting, staying on other side of the camera,” said Harris of his interest in the film.
Coming from the independent filmmaking world, Harris said he was not used to working with CGI. Most of the dolphins are real, but CGI was needed to be used at times. He was also not used to working with a large studio such as Lionsgate where he didn't have approval of the cast or the final cut.
“We were fortunate that the entire project was blessed and it went well,” Harris said.
Muldoon played football at USC and was supposed to be a lawyer, his father has a practice in Wilmington, but he caught the acting bug after his first acting class. He started auditioning during his sophomore year in college, but his first job in the entertainment industry was modeling for Calvin Klein.
His first acting gig was “Who's the Boss?” in 1990 before landing the role of Austin Reed in “Days of Our Lives” in 1992.
Muldoon said he still gets recognized for the role on “Days of Our Lives.”
“You're part of the (show's) family for the rest of your life,” Muldoon said.
With a budget of under $1 million, “Bernie the Dolphin” was sold to 130 countries. It will be released theatrically in 25 cities on Dec. 7, including AMC Rolling Hills 20, located at 2591 Airport Drive in Torrance. It will also be available on iTunes the same day.
“The movie looks fantastic,” Muldoon said. “It really looks like something in 1,000 theaters. It really is beautifully shot and plays like a much bigger movie. The props go to our director.”
Harris and the cast returned to Florida last week where they are currently shooting the sequel to “Bernie the Dolphin.”
“Bernie the Dolphin” stars Lola Sultan as Holly Ryan,” Logan Allen as Kevin Ryan, Kevin Sorbo as the bad guy developer Winston Mills, Dahlia Legault as Abby Ryan and Lily Cardone as Sidney Simms.
For more information, visit berniethedolphinfilm.com.