MARINELAND -- This gorgeous pocket of oceanfront land has long had the feel of old Florida, from its vintage marine park tourist attraction to its absolute lack of huge stucco condominiums with cute names.
That's one reason why the Flamingo Drive-In Theatre fits in so well here, rising out of the palmetto scrub in shades of aqua green and pink. And it only seems natural to see a gleaming, mid-'60s Cadillac convertible parked in front of it, complete with an old "67-68 Sunshine State" license plate.
It looks so time-warp real that tourists have even pulled into the Flamingo, wondering when the next show starts on its giant screen.
It's all an illusion, though: The Flamingo didn't exist a few months ago. And it'll vanish within weeks.
It's part of an elaborate set for The Flamingo Rising, a high-profile TV movie that wraps up a month of shooting at the end of this week. It's scheduled to air Feb. 4 next year as a Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation on CBS.
Starring William Hurt, Brian Benben (of HBO's Dream On) and Elizabeth McGovern (Chasing the Moon, Ragtime), it's based on Larry Baker's 1997 novel of the same name.
Set in the mid-1960s, it's about the relationship between two families, one that owns a drive-in theater, another that owns a funeral parlor. In Baker's novel, their businesses sit along A1A on "one square mile of Florida real estate halfway between Jacksonville and St. Augustine."
That's not too far from Marineland, an out-of-the-way part of Florida that was just what the filmmakers needed. Location manager Mike Leon, based in Los Angeles, drove down the East Coast from Wilmington, N.C., to Key West, then around the Gulf Coast to Corpus Christi, Texas.
He put 4,700 miles on his rental car that trip.
Leon liked a spot near Mexico Beach and another near Galveston. And he looked around Jacksonville with the city's film and TV commission but couldn't find the space he needed.
But Marineland, south of St. Augustine Beach, was just about perfect.
Marineland, with its huge aquarium and dolphin shows, was a thriving tourist stop for decades after it was founded in 1938. Parts of old movies and TV shows -- The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Lloyd Bridges' Sea Hunt -- were filmed there. But it's been in financial trouble for years as fancier, bigger attractions opened elsewhere and now is open on just a limited schedule.
But this picturesque spot still has what was so pungently described in Baker's book: open beach, low coastal scrub and wide open spaces -- properties in rare supply in Florida today.
Filmmakers filmed a few days in one of the old sections of St. Augustine, which plays itself. Some interior shots are being filmed inside a warehouse near the St. Augustine airport. But most of the filming has taken place at Marineland.
Locals from Jacksonville to Orlando -- about 240, according to filmmakers -- are working on the crew or as extras. …