Water Wizz in Wareham rides Hollywood wave
When Steve Carell’s latest movie, “The Way, Way Back,” opens on Friday, the Marshfield actor will be sharing the big screen with another local attraction: Water Wizz.
The eight-acre water park in Wareham, known as a spot to cool off during the hottest months, is the background for much of this independent comedy, filmed throughout the South Shore last summer.
The movie is about a 14-year-old named Duncan on summer vacation with his mom and her boyfriend, played by Carell. An awkward introvert, Duncan feels left out of the vacation and begins hanging out, and later working, at a water park, forming a friendship with the manager in the process.
The writer-director team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, an Academy Award-winning duo who wrote “The Descendants,” found Water Wizz while they were looking for places to film near Carell’s Marshfield summer home.
The park was not only conveniently located, but it brought a sense of authenticity to the coming-of-age tale.
“The thing about Water Wizz that we did need was that it wasn't some large corporate park,” Rash said. “We really wanted family-owned. It felt real — it’s just a great local place.”
It felt real because it is real.
Open since 1982, the park — about an hour from Boston — attracts about 100,000 visitors annually and is still family-run.
On a recent day, owner Patricia Kells sat in the main office holding her year-old grandson, listening to messages from customers looking to schedule birthday parties at the park.
Her daughter Rebecca is the general manager, and her husband, Eric Brotemarkle, manages aquatics and the park’s day-to-day operations.
“We have a lot of workers who have been here for 10 to 20 years,” Brotemarkle said. “If they’re not family, they certainly feel like family.”
Not many family-run businesses can say they’ve been featured in a Hollywood film, but Water Wizz has been in two major motion pictures in four years. The first was “Grown Ups,” a 2010 movie produced by Adam Sandler.
The park’s brush with fame started one winter night when location scouts for “Grown Ups” jumped the fence and poked around the grounds.
“I got a call that people were trespassing,” Brotemarkle said. “We arranged a proper meeting and were able to make a deal to get part of the movie filmed here.”
In both movies, the park kept its unconventional name, the origins of which are “shrouded in mystery and rumor,” Brotemarkle said. The name existed when Raymond Kells bought the water slide park’s original Rhode Island location. He decided to keep it and use it when the company expanded into Wareham.
Even though “Grown Ups” actors Sandler and Kevin James did not mention the park by name, eagle-eyed movie buffs spotted the Water Wizz logo, spurring people across the country to call the park to find out if it was real.
“The Way, Way Back,” however, doesn’t shy away from using the name. The park is Water Wizz in the movie, and logos, signs, and employee shirts show it. The move was a win for the production team, which had a limited budget, and the park, which gets publicity.
“This time, we were able to negotiate stronger and keep our name rights,” Brotemarkle said, sounding like a seasoned insider as he described the process of Hollywood deals.
Marie Oliva, president of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, said movies showcasing local establishments are good not only for Water Wizz, but for the region. The movie was also filmed in Duxbury, Pembroke, and Marshfield.
“When it’s in a film twice, that elevates it to a level of awareness above the norm,” she said. “When people see the movie, maybe they haven’t heard of Water Wizz before, but maybe they’ll come down and check it out.”
For people who already know the park, added exposure can only mean good things.
“The kids loved the movie aspect of it when we went and ‘Grown Ups’ had been there,” said Jen Ward, program director at Milford Youth Center Summer Camp, which brings campers to Water Wizz. “They’re going to be so excited to hear it was in another movie.”
But loyal customers aren’t worried the exposure is going to change the feel of the park. There will still be the slides, wave pools, and beach chairs, as well as signature rides Squid Row (renamed Devil’s Peak in “The Way, Way Back”), Pirate’s Plunge, and Mussel Beach.
“ ‘The Way, Way Back’ is a different type of movie; it keeps the park more like what Water Wizz is,” said Marianne Azzara,a Carver resident who takes her children there.“It’s nice in that they kept the sense of the park.”