Before Dolphin Image Studios, there was Patterson Studios. It’s a historical monument to Central Florida because of its place in the local film production industry. Without it, Dolphin Image Studios would not be the company it is today. One of the ways we’d like to show our respect for Patterson Studios is by telling the history of the studio from the words of the Patterson family. This is a brief history of Patterson Studios.
Patterson Studios was founded by John D Patterson in the early 60’s. He’d made a name for himself working under Dick Pope Sr. as Director of Cinematography. He turned his creative eye toward creating a film production company. The story goes that, rather than go to LA or NYC to continue his craft, John wanted to stay in Winter Haven to raise his children.
Patterson Studios breaking ground in 1963: Dick Pope, John D Patterson, Dick Pope Jr
The first part to be constructed was used as a small office to manage the land. That room would evolve from a starting point to a multi-purpose room. It had a projection screen for productions to review footage or dailies. It was also sound proofed to double as a recording studio. The room has continued to evolve into what the Dolphin Image Studios Recording Studio is now.
Very early on, Patterson’s new venture had the blessing of Dick Pope and Cypress Gardens. The theme park still contracted the studio for all of the park’s commercial video and videography. Mr. Pope also made some critical introductions that would help build the studio’s client base.
McDonalds would become Patterson Studios first client, contracted to make employee training videos. Very quickly, other big names like General Mills, Sears and Wrangler Jeans would work with Patterson Studios. It soon became obvious that a soundstage would be in order.
To this day, the soundstage (now aptly named the Patterson Stage) is an incredible achievement. It is the largest soundstage in Central Florida and one of the largest in all of Florida. The location of the soundstage would prove to be ideal for reasons Patterson didn’t see at the time. Because Winter Haven is located between Tampa and Orlando, local and large clients could take advantage of a large soundstage while not being far from great locations to film in. This would set up the company for decades of commercial and creative work.
The work of Patterson Studios went far and wide. We’ve compiled a playlist of old advertisements that Patterson Studios created. Between Trix and Count Chocula, there’s some of us who remember those advertisements on TV when we were kids. Through the rest of the 60’s and beyond, commercial video was a mainstay at Patterson Studios.
As the 70’s came in, Patterson wanted to flex his creative muscles in the narrative space. So when the opportunity came up to direct a feature film, he couldn’t refuse. The film, titled “The Legend of Earl Durand,” would release in 1974 and star Peter Haskell, Martin Sheen, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickins and many others. It was filmed predominantly in Arizona with Patterson’s crew and equipment handling the show.
Patterson would direct two more feature films in his career. There was Deadly Innocents, a 1989 film produced in Orlando starring Mary Crosby. The other was The Spring, released in 1990. This was also filmed throughout Central Florida, including being the first film to have shot scenes within the Universal Studios Orlando lot.
John Patterson and son Shawn working on a Manger scene for a Music Video shoot
The work of the Studio would continue to expand through the 90’s and 00’s. Because few Florida soundstages have a Cyc Wall and a Recording Studio, it would attract a lot of music video shoots. In fact, the sound proofed walls of the Recording Studio were covered in signatures and handwritten notes from artists and voice actors who worked in the studio.
Patterson Studios was always busy with many different types of videography work in Florida and beyond. Businesses would always ask for short videos and still photos of their products, for instance. They would also setup interviews all over the country for people such as Shaquille O’Neal and Tiger Woods. And of course, traditional advertisements, with clients including Pepsi and the New York Yankees.
Circle it, Moving On
Of his own admission, John Patterson will never retire. Even though he’s in his 80’s, he still feels like a kid at a theme park when he’s filming. To this day, he’s still ready to do another feature film in Florida.
He also admits, however, that the business had changed in ways that lose some of the fantastical elements of filmmaking that he enjoyed. For example, while he acknowledges the necessity of a green screen studio for a shoot, he finds it too easy to generate the same enthusiasm as before. The challenge and creativity required to make the impossible possible is not what it was, as he says.
John Patterson touring the Studio, adjourned with memorabilia and accolades
Another example came when we first met him. When he first toured us the Studio, he took us upstairs, which was a long hallway with several film editing stations. He still revels in how tangible film is, and how holding the art in your hands is more satisfying that seeing it as a collection of digital files.
Honestly, with about 60 years of experience under his belt, we believe him. Dolphin Image Studios couldn’t be more grateful to build on the land and legacy that John Patterson built. We’ve expanded the soundstage and updated it with new technology and tools, like including Podcasts in the Recording Studio and adding an LED Wall to the soundstage. But never at the expense or detriment of what John created. The path forward for the film/entertainment business in Florida is clearer than ever, and Central Florida, either through Patterson Studios or Dolphin Image Studios, will always have a place in it.