These days you can save a lot of cash and do things zero budget with the use of the computer, and for that matter, old-time camera tricks. Most of the time it only entails creativity (or stealing old ideas :)), forethought, and planning.
Case in point, when we shot the film “Walther,” we had limited funds but we needed to recreate scenes from 150 years ago. For our ship steerage scene, we used the second floor of an available old barn, and to get the ship rocking, we put the camera on a piece of plywood that was sitting on a block of wood. So we rocked the camera (plywood) instead of the boat (barn), but the effect was the same. (Old trick, but still useful – stolen from old movies from the earl 1900s.) You can see the effect in the trailer. Of course, proper lighting and sound effects of a ship in the water helped to round out this effect (and saved us the cost of the trip to the Atlantic, renting a ship, etc etc…)
We did rent a ship in the Gulf for the shot we needed when the travelers first spotted land, and pre-planning (and the aid of the computer) helped us pull this off. We had to shoot on deck this time, but the view off in the distance included other boats, houses, and did not look at all like the Caribbean with Puerto Rico in the background. A couple of passes through the computer replaced the existing shoreline with pristine ocean water and skyline, and then on top of this we placed the island – off in the distance. (This is what is called rotoscoping.)
Another example of rotoscoping we used, and which saved us a ton of cash, was when we needed to create our colony disembarking from the steamboat on the Mississippi River. We placed our cast to the left side of the screen walking toward the camera with the actual mighty Mississippi in the background. To the right of the screen was a 21st century building (which you can see in the trailer – this is the “before” shot :)) that we replaced with more river and trees, and then on top of this we placed a video clip of a steamboat we had captured previously. Bingo – it looked like our cast was walking away from just getting off of the steamboat.
What are some useful camera or computer tricks that you have used to great effect in a film? I’ll have more on this later, because this is at the heart of saving money and making a feature with a zero dollars.

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