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11/02/2013

Who's That DIT?

By Callum Just, GBCT, The Digital Orchard, Founder and Lead Technician
In recent years we have seen significant advances in the technology behind digital production. In that time both crew and kit have needed to adapt to make the most of these changes, which have included an additional role within the camera department on set.
The Digital Imaging Technician is a new position and, with digital in its youth, it is understandably still evolving and often misunderstood. I am attempting to clarify the role as I see it and get to grips with the question: who is that DIT?
In my five years working as a DIT on major Hollywood features, top TV dramas, lower budget home grown productions and a host of commercials, I have experienced hands on the progression of this profession within the camera department and seen a huge variety of reactions to my presence on set. For the past two years I have worked with a team of DITs who collectively make up The Digital Orchard, a company I founded to respond to the industry’s need for well-trained technicians, data management skills and up-to-date kit on digital shoots. I will use my own experiences and those of other technicians to clearly outline the responsibilities of the role, suggest where it could lead and contend that the right DIT is a valuable asset and can save productions considerable time and money in the long run.
So, who is that DIT? Firstly, we should be careful not to confuse a DIT with a Data Wrangler. Data Wranglers perform a vital role, but have a limited skillset and accordingly are on a lower pay grade. They back up data, perform simple quality control checks and verify your rushes safely. A DIT will perform these tasks, but will also oversee the creation of transcodes for dailies, VFX and editorial, advise the production on workflows, perform onset grading and is on hand for the DoP and camera department for any technical questions or issues that arise.
As a DIT may be required to perform any number of these tasks, it is crucial that you know the scope of your technician’s experience before they are let loose on set. This is especially important due to the growing number of people who are picking up laptops, mastering the ‘drag and drop’, and calling themselves a DIT. These people are not DITs and their inexperience is damaging to the DIT community as a whole. One point I often find myself trying to hammer home is that digital captures should be treated with the same respect and care as celluloid. You would not dream of using secondhand stock or an inexperienced lab to develop your rushes, so why put your digitally captured footage into the hands of a rookie to be transferred onto a cheap or used hard drive? When the safety of your data is paramount to the success of the production, do not settle for anything less then a reliable, resourceful and skilled technician who adapts their expertise to the needs of your shoot.
At The Digital Orchard we aim to establish an expected level of skill and experience for the industry and encourage a consensus between technicians and the wider community of what a DIT does and how their skills should be employed to maximise the quality and safety of footage. With this understanding I feel that less time and money will be wasted on people who do not fully understand the cameras and workflows, minimising errors that consume further resources in post.
The Digital Orchard considers the role of the DIT to fall into three categories: data management, camera support and on-set technical advice, particularly for the DoP. Within these key areas we consult with each production to find out their requirements, working with them to ensure that they have the right workflow, kit and DIT for the job. It is our opinion that the DIT has the ultimate responsibility for data safety from the point of capture until the rushes are securely delivered to post production. This includes ensuring that sensible and appropriate onset working practices are established, multiple back ups are created, quality control checks are made and a clear line of communication is maintained between set and post. A DIT should be on hand to support the DoP, and depending on their digital experience and needs for the shoot this can range from onset color grading, exposure controls, and advising on camera capabilities to establishing an accurate monitor calibration and viewing environment. Finally, it is important not to forget that the DIT is part of the camera department, responsible for understanding the inner workings of digital cameras and being the quick-thinking expert on hand to fix the issues that are inevitable with any piece of new technology.
At the moment, a core element of the DIT’s role relies on a knowledge gap within the industry regarding digital technology. However, as more loaders learn how to handle data and the technology becomes more reliable, I think it is feasible that the role of the DIT will slowly disappear from commercials and smaller scale productions. On these productions, the DIT as we know it will likely be replaced by systems like Codex’s Vault that can back up and process footage at the touch of one button. Likewise, as the knowledge and experience of DoPs and camera assistants grow, the need for an extra crew member who is specially trained will lessen. So, is the future bleak for the hundreds of professional working DITs in Britain and the rest of the world? Not necessarily. I believe that there will always be a need for highly skilled technicians whenever new technology is launched, just like film, just like tape, and now just like the new developments in digital. On large-scale features especially, when huge amounts of data and complex workflows are involved, the expertise of a DIT will remain invaluable. As technology gets increasingly complicated and productions want to tighten budgets and run more efficiently, the DIT has a chance to carve out a valuable place within the industry, advancing workflow productivity, teaching the latest technology and providing cheaper and quicker digital services than traditional brick and mortar facilities houses.
While digital technicians as camera specialists who understand the importance of data safety have existed in one form or another since the advent of digital cameras, as a profession we are destined to adapt to changing technology and it is unclear where this will lead. However, so long as there is need and skill, and while we continue working to improve efficiencies in digital production, I would like to voice an appeal for all productions to consider crew, cameras and workflows carefully so that the industry is not damaged by inexperience or misunderstanding. With this in mind I aim to ensure, alongside the DITs I work with, that rapidly changing and improving technology is used to its full potential for the good of the industry and for all of us who are part of it.
www.thedigitalorchard.co.uk
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