Guest Column - April 2005
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When Hollywood Comes Calling

One Colorado Waterpark’s Wave of Stardom

By Joann V. Saitta

Fade in…

Ext. Early Morning - Customer Service Kiosk

Jaffa, a Jamaican fellow in his early 20s, arrives at Water World, carrying a dusty cardboard box. There are a few workers milling about, setting up the park for opening. He passes Eddie, a 25-something grounds worker with Down's Syndrome.

JAFFA: Eddie!

EDDIE: (smiling, nodding) Jaffa.

They do a hand-slap maneuver that they obviously have worked out some time in the past. JAFFA proceeds up to the Customer Relations Kiosk, plops the box on the counter, and enters the kiosk…

And thus begins the new feature film The Surfer King, shot on location last summer at Hyland Hills Water World in Federal Heights, Colo. The 64-acre waterpark became not only a movie set but one of the stars of the PG-13 flick, which includes actors Alan Thicke (Growing Pains), Cerina Vincent (Power Rangers Lost Galaxy), Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) and Keri Lynn Pratt (Fat Albert).

The romantic teen comedy centers on 15-year-old Robbie Zirpollo (played by Randy Wayne), a young surfer who moves to Colorado from Oceanside, Calif., with his mother after his father took his secretary—and the family's savings—to Mexico. A surfer all his life, Robbie gets a summer job at the closest thing to the ocean in the Rocky Mountains he could find: Water World. The film follows the laughter, loves and lessons of Robbie and the many other diverse characters who work in, hang out at and are associated with Water World throughout one summer.

The 27-year-old waterpark was the inspiration for the screenplay—many of the humorous moments in the film are based on actual events that occurred at the park, which is located just outside Denver—because the writer's two sons both worked at Water World for eight seasons.

Water World was approached in late 2003 by Movin' Picture Studios, LLC, a local producer and distributor of theatrical films, and IMS Productions, a Colorado company with more than 30 years of award-winning experience with film production, about the movie project. After plenty of back-and-forth discussion about the feasibility of such an endeavor, an operations document was born detailing who, what, where, when and how filming would take place.

"We were so thrilled to have Water World fully on board with us throughout the filming," says Bernard Murray, writer and director of The Surfer King and founder, vice president and creative director of Movin' Pictures Studios. "Because of that we were able to make the film right here in beautiful Colorado, in an amazing waterpark."

Principal filming/photography on The Surfer King began Aug. 9. Four 40-foot trailers were strategically placed away from the crowds at the end of Water World's 1-million-gallon wave pool, Thunder Bay, a location that would soon become known as "base camp." Wardrobe, make-up, cast food and refreshments, and usually the director, could be found there.

Much of the filming took place before the park opened, and after the park closed in the evenings so as not to interfere with guests' enjoyment of the 42 rides.

Hundreds of extra roles for teens, adults and children of all backgrounds, actors and non-actors alike, were cast locally through auditions at Water World earlier in the summer. Audition dates were carefully planned to coincide with in-park events, and literally hundreds of acting hopefuls showed up each time. Apart from park admission for sessions at Water World, there was no cost to audition and an "Audition Numbers/Time" system was set up so those auditioning could still enjoy the park with minimal wait to audition.

A surfing competition held at "The Wave," the park's dual ocean wave simulator attraction, yielded substantial speaking parts for three elated park regulars. Twenty-one of the 32 speaking parts were cast locally, including the role of a character named Eddie, who, in the movie, works on the grounds crew at Water World. The character has Down's Syndrome and as such, an actor with Down's Syndrome was cast to play the part. Additionally, the director tapped a few of the park's staff for small, non-speaking roles.

Locals wanting behind-the-scenes experience in real-life movie production applied for crew positions including grips, production assistants and interns.

Surf's Up

Slated to premier in theatres April 2005, The Surfer King is produced by Movin' Picture Studios, LLC, in association with IMS Productions and in cooperation with the Screen Actors Guilds' Modified Low Budget Agreement. This agreement requires the movie to be filmed below a $500,000 budget. As such, the budget for The Surfer King is $499,000.

Filming concluded Sept. 3. The big-screen production is expected to ultimately infuse $5 million into the local economy, while giving hundreds of local park visitors the opportunity to see themselves on the silver screen.

"This was the first movie project in Water World's history," says Greg Mastriona, the waterpark's executive director. "It means so much for this community and the region as a whole that Bernie chose to make The Surfer King here at home because it gave so many locals the opportunity to participate in the making of a big-screen production."

Hyland Hills Water World:

The Surfer King:

Joann Saitta is the media representative and communications director for Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District where summer 2005 will mark her eighth season at the 27-year-old waterpark. She can be reached at You also can catch her Tinseltown debut in The Surfer King.