Pinching Pennies with Trickery

I am so bored now by TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES that all I really notice are all the things they are doing to cut corners on the budget…which mostly involves lots of shooting on the standing sets and the Warner Brothers backlot. 

But they also use some other common TV tricks. In last weeks episode, for example, Sarah and John go to visit a friend who is staying at a house/lighthouse near the ocean. You assumed it was near the water because of the lighthouse and a boat on a trailer parked out front. 

What I suspect is that the lighthouse was a CGI shot, and that the house was nowhere near the water. There was never actually a shot tying the house to the water or the boat dock. What they had was the sound effects of surf and seagulls…and they did a scene with John and another guy working on the parked boat on the trailer. Why wasn't the boat in the water? Because the location was no where near it…at least, that's my guess. Later, there is some action on the boat at the dock, but there are no shots tying the boat, or the dock, to the house. You also never see the boat leave the dock…

I could be wrong, but what I think what I saw was a typical TV illusion, one I have used many times myself.

On DIAGNOSIS MURDER, we did an episode set in a small, seaside village. But we never got anywhere near the water, either. We used stock-footage establishing shots of Mendocino, California, a village on the cliffs above the raging surf, but we shot the episode entirely Moorpark, a farming community at least thirty miles inland from the ocean. We simply dressed the shops with surfing, beach, and fishing props and put lots of people on the street in beachwear…and in post-production, we added the sound of seagulls and crashing surf. We actually got letters from people asking where the town was so they could visit it.

On the first season of BAYWATCH, we shot footage of the Venice beach promenade and then dressed the commissary and garage of the Columbia Studios lot to look like part of it. We shot tight, filled the screen with people in bathing suits, and added the right sound effects. We did it more for convenience than to save money… afterall, we'd dumped a fortune into recreating the entire Santa Monica Lifeguard Headquarters, interior and exterior, on a massive soundstage (as well as an entire house, inside and out, but that's another story). Having a fake stretch of the promenade on our "backlot" saved us the trouble of a location shoot to Venice beach and allowed us some flexibility to complete a day "on stage" even if some exteriors were involved in day's shooting schedule. 

This kind of trickery is done all the time…and when it is done well, you don't notice it. The CSI shows are particularly adept at it…since CSI (LAS VEGAS), CSI: MIAMI, and CSI: NY are mostly shot in Los Angeles and not the cities where they take place. But thanks to the smart use of  establishing shots, some simple trickery, and compelling stories, viewers rarely notice…

1 thought on “Pinching Pennies with Trickery”

  1. Although not a tv show I recently saw a diet commercial (is it Jenny Craig?) with Valerie Bertenelli and a “non-actress” and it looked to me like one had been cgi’d into the scene with the other..but I am not 100% sure – so if it is done right…so be it!


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