interview
INTERVIEW WITH  JENNY LEW TUGEND AND LAUREN SCHULER-DONNER
THEY ARE THE PRODUCERS OF THE 1993



WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU FIRST SAW KEIKO - WHEN YOU FIRST WENT TO MEXICO?

For me it broke my heart I mean it really did. It was life imitating art. It was a whale that was too big for its very small and warm watered tank and it was clear that it had a rash and was rubbing up against the sides to itch the rash, its teeth was ground down and he would sometime he would swim in circles really quickly...

He couldn't splash water.

Yeah.

He couldn't displace water. There was this, he would do these shows for the audience and he couldn't, he didn't have enough energy or inertia to swim around and displace the water so they would be, these wonderful little Mexican kids with buckets of water splashing the audience to get, to give them the thrill of getting wet because the whale couldn't do it himself. That's pretty pathetic.

And he couldn't spy hop because his tail hit the bottom.

Right, right he was longer than the tank was deep and so he would do this and flop over and it was very sad.

AND WHAT DID YOU THINK?

Make the money, somehow, we can't leave having made our movie and after the several weeks we spend with him and we bond to him, we, he's the star of our movie, we hung out with him every day, we became friends, and when we're done with our business, it became very sad, the idea that we would go on with our lives and leave this whale in this swimming pool.

So... Also we were there filming, remember they captured three dolphins from the ocean and brought them in just to keep them in captivity and two of them died. And they of course told us it was 'cause they were sick when they captured them but of course they weren't, they were traumatized. But I think one of them lived.

AFTER YOU PICKED THE SCRIPT AND MADE SOME CHANGES TO IT, THE NEXT THING WAS YOU HAD TO GO LOOKING FOR A WHALE, RIGHT?

Well the first thing you do when you're going to make a movie as producers first thing you're gonna do when you make a movie about a killer whale is to go find your killer whale I mean, right and so the obvious place we thought was Sea World, they're in the killer whale business, it was obvious.

and with their co-operation we saw a very practical way that we might be able to make this movie so the first order of business was to send them the script, which they flatly rejected. And they came here, in fact they came here to this office and yeah everyone was all very businesslike and very, very cordial but bottom line was that unless we were going to change the ending of our movie, they couldn't participate in a project that in fact was the antithesis of what they're about. They're an institution that makes a profitable business on capturing animals and we set ours free.

Right, so they wanted to change our script and we said no.

.... they wanted to change the ending and we couldn't do that.

WHAT ENDING DID THEY WANT?

Oh, that it went to a better aquarium, it went to a better place of captivity. Like Sea World. From a bad jail to a good jail.

...They liked the project, they liked the idea of the project, they thought the essence of a family film was a nice type of film for them to be associated with, but on a purely base, business basis they couldn't get, involved with us.

DID THEY TELL YOU THAT RIGHT TO YOUR FACE....?

Well sure, they said we would be interested in getting involved if you make the following changes. Obviously, it would've benefited us because we coulda used their whales and their transportation and, tied in and advertising and all that however they wanted to have creative control over the contents and that would defeat the whole purpose of making the movie.

DESCRIBE THE RESPONSE WHEN THE MOVIE CAME OUT.

We knew when we did our preview, we did an audience preview and at the end of it we were waiting outside because we give questionnaires and the audience fills them out so we're waiting for the answers and a man walked up to us with I think it was $10.

And actually tried to give to Dick, and he said 'here this is to help free the whales, and save the whales' And we were like whoa, hang on, don't give us your money. We'll have an organization and then the response in the preview was, was very strong, tested unbelievably well and then we knew, yes we had touched a chord in everybody.

Not just kids but this was a grown man who wanted to try to help us somehow, it, the movie had, had, affected him in some way.

And that's why at the end of the movie we had an 800 number so that, 'cause we figured there must be other people like him who do wanna help.

SO UNTIL THAT MOMENT, YOU HADN'T REALLY THOUGHT OF MAKING A FOUNDATION?

No. We were still creating, trying to come up with ways on helping this animal, I mean it's not an easy thing to come up with a plan, and to raise the money to move a whale in a foreign country into a place that is sort of a rehabilitation, mid, halfway house before freedom. It's very politically sensitive.

Yes, very politically, we had a bunch of different ideas and different plans, and different groups on the side of freedom opposed it and so that's finally when we turned to Earth Island, we finally turned to Dave Phillips and said please help us you're our last resort. And Dave is sort of guy that is so well respected that he was able to bring all these groups together and get one great plan. He found the coast aquarium in Oregon, he really was our savior, he's really Keiko's savior.

RIGHT, HOW DID WARNER BROTHERS GET INVOLVED?

They financed the film, therefore, they rec, they were responsible for the continuation of Keiko's life and they were also they received a lot of mail, requesting....

Sacks of mail. Sacks and sacks....

Sacks and sacks and sacks.

Mail, people, asking Warner Brothers to help out this whale so as we were going to them asking for money, the public was going to them and asking them to also to do it and they were very kind spirited and very, extremely generous.

Oh sure Keiko was the star of a very big movie for them and you wouldn't turn your back on a human star if he came to you who needed help after the very nice association so, in the same way they, they weren't about to turn their backs on Keiko either I'm sure.

SOME PEOPLE HAVE SAID 15 MILLION DOLLARS OR 8 MILLION DOLLARS OR WHATEVER TO MOVE KEIKO IS A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY TO SPEND ON MOVING ONE WHALE.

Well, I say yes it is a lot of money to spend on one whale, they're right. However if this one whale is rehabilitated and freed, then the money that you spent on him can be spent on all of these whales that can be taken out of captivity and put back. And to see if it can be done.

And the facility will still be there, as Lauren's saying the facility will still be there to receive new animals once Keiko's released ultimately to Iceland, we hope if that happens, then there is a, infrastructure in Oregon to receive new animals and quite frankly these aquariums should retire their animals into a good healthy, humane environment.

WHAT IS KEIKO'S MEANING FOR YOUR?

Well for me I think Keiko could be an ambassador for freedom I mean, what he symbolizes if this whole plan is successful and he is properly rehabilitated to the extent that he can be released back to the wild it would be very hard to argue that other animals couldn't follow in his suit.

Right now there is a huge argument over whether he would make it or not. We hope he does and if he does then as I said it would be hard to argue with that.

Yes, I agree, there's another whale, Lolita that, that there are a lot of people wanted, because she's older she's no longer performing and they would like to return her back to her waters in the Northwest and, it's very useful to study him and, and see whether be re-introduced. He's a symbol of freedom, I guess he's more to me a symbol of captivity because of his fin which is atrophied and because it made us pay attention to see that animals in captivity live a shorter life, they're prone to diseases. That it's just difficult to take an animal out of his natural habitat and expect it to exist. Exist in a healthy way. That we can study these animals with movies with documentaries, simulated presentations, we don't have to take the, capture an animal out of its environment.

TELL ME A STORY ABOUT KIDS' RESPONSES.

Oh we got tons of letters, all kinds of letters just from kids saying oh my favorite part was when his hat blew off or my favorite part was when he jumped over the, the boy I mean, and school ruse school, classes would put together kits, studying whales. And they would send us their kits and send us their questions.

And they would always draw, they would, when they drew they would always draw the scene in the movie where the kid's doing this with his hand the whale's, that was just the heroic icon moment of the movie, kids draw it and they would ask us, how many whales did it take to jump over the wall till you got it right. Ten, twelve they were they wanted, they actually really intelligent questions, in sort of a nature or scientific way they wanted to know more about it.

DO YOU THINK YOU MADE LITTLE CONSERVATIONISTS?

A woman came up to me and she said, are you Lauren Schuler? And she said my daughter was not interested in school at all, and the prospect of college was gonna be non existent and I desperately wanted her to go to college, she saw Free Willy, and she said now she wants to go to college and become a marine biologist. So I thought to myself, my god, if we affected that one girl, imagine how many kids we affected how many kids that movie hit.

[They were] wanting to know what they could do and once the word got out that the real Willy, Keiko, in fact was in trouble schools, teachers, organizations, everybody started writing how can we help, how can we help so it became quite a ground swell, actually gave us a lot of pride into what we had done because I think Free Willy had become part of our culture. And that the whole Keiko thing became a much bigger issue, than the movie itself 'cause this is real life but inspired by the movie so it was one of those rare opportunities, I don't think it happens very often.

No, no. It's funny, just talking about it now, it's, just we forget 'cause we've moved on how powerful it was at the time. Really how powerful, how much it did just became part of our whole society, our vernacular everything.

CRAIG MCCAW SAID THAT HE GOT INVOLVED BECAUSE, THE CHILDREN WHO SAW THE MOVIE BELIEVED THAT KEIKO AS OPPOSED TO WILLY WENT FREE AT THE END OF THE MOVIE. AND HE FELT HE HAD AN OBLIGATION TO MAKE GOOD ON THAT PROMISE.

Well he's right, he's right. And thank god he got involved by the way because we couldn't have moved it without him, without his involvement, we couldn't move Keiko. No I think he's right, yes. What's funny though is if you go to any aquarium, if there is a whale of any sort, all the kids, most kids, young kids call him Free Willy, not Willy but Free Willy.




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