The Clever Way James Cameron Dealt With an Interesting Problem in 'Titanic'

If you know your Titanic history well, the thumbnail for this article should look very strange to you. This is because "Titanic" director James Cameron had to deal with an interesting issue during filming, and this neat behind the scenes video takes a look at how he solved it.

"Titanic" was a massive undertaking, with a budget of $200 million (about $320 million in 2019), but of course, as we all know, it was rewarded, becoming the first film to gross over $1 billion worldwide and holding the record for total earnings for 12 years until it was eclipsed by "Avatar" (surprisingly, many predicted the film would be a huge financial disaster before its release). I stumbled across this video recently and found it quite interesting. 

Even with its massive budget, the production still had to try to save money where possible. It turns out that Cameron made the decision to build the replica ship seen in the movie on the starboard side only. This choice was made because at the filming location, the prevailing wind moved from north to south; thus, this would blow the funnel smoke aft, making it look as if the ship was moving forward through the water. The problem was that the actual ship was docked on the port side at Southampton; thus, it would look like it was being loaded and boarded on the wrong side in the film. To get around this problem, everything in the Southampton scene was flipped horizontally: letters were reversed, costumes buttoned backward, and actors reversed their horizontal directions. Then, in post-production, the film was flipped. 

You can watch the unflipped scene below:

I thought it was a pretty neat solution to the problem and impressive dedication to avoiding a historical mistake. Check out the top video for the behind the scenes commentary. 

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10 Comments

Jon The Baptist's picture

That's amazing! I love Hollywood solves for puzzles like this!

Paul Scharff's picture

In my previous life in advertising, we were shooting a commercial at Cafe Reggio in New York City, and it was very tight. So the director shot into a mirror to double the perceived distance and flipped the film in the same way.

jonas y's picture

This is amazing! I love this engineering solution!

Jue Mad's picture

Or the idiot could've built the port side and then just flipped the shot of the ship traveling. Could've said the time, effort and cost of having to have wardrobe and signs all done backwards.

Alex Cooke's picture

In a three-hour movie, you can either flip five minutes of the ship docked at Southampton or 2 hours and 55 minutes of the ship in every other scene. Also, flipping the ship horizontally wouldn't make the smoke travel the correct direction.

Jue Mad's picture

So the ship was onscreen sailing for 2 hours and 55 minutes? How did they have time to fit in a story?!

Jue Mad's picture

So the cost and time to film everything backwards is easier than flipping frames of a shot? That's hilarious

Jue Mad's picture

They used CGI to create artificial breath to come from the actors' mouths in the cold waters. They certainly could've created artificial smoke and not pollute the air.

Ryan Davis's picture

I assure you that the people who would have been left sputtering with rage that the Titanic was depicted as having been boarded from the incorrect side, had they seen the film, have never seen the film.

Rod Kestel's picture

Reminds me of the trick used to look like a person's being stabbed (eg in Pulp Fiction). Play the clip backwards.