Jesus Haro, nuestro director técnico, participa en una entrevista patrocinada por B&H a 7 DITs destacados en el mundo sobre su trabajo en el set.
7 Expert Digital Imaging Technicians (DITs) Discuss their Role on a Film Set
In the world of film production, a Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) can be many things. Depending on the scope of the production, the scope of their job is constantly evolving. Taking advantage of the wonders of email, I checked in with a few working DITs to get a better understanding of their complex and ever-changing job. What became apparent quickly was that although most people in the industry start off as beginners, taking on the role of DIT requires a healthy balance of experience, people skills, technical knowledge, and an almost fanatical devotion to staying ahead of the curve.
Why do you need a DIT?
Let’s just say there is a whole lot of data being generated on film sets these days, and not all of it is generated by the camera. Whether you are shooting compressed video to media cards, or shooting raw files and recording to an external recorder, someone ultimately has to be responsible to check the data, copy it, and make sure that each department gets the materials it needs to do the job. Beyond that, the position becomes nebulously defined, depending on the type of shoot, what cameras are being used, and the post-production workflow. Can you get by without having someone fill the DIT position on your shoot? Absolutely, and many people choose to do this for a variety of reasons, but it is a balancing act between the cost of having a DIT and not having a DIT. Many smaller shoots eschew the cost of a DIT, and feel that just having someone dump the data to a hard drive is enough. However, a good DIT brings much more to your shoot than just someone to transfer your footage.
DIT Lorne Miess (left), screening dailies with Director of Photogaphy Michael Balfry, CSC (right), Emmy nominee for R.L. Stine’s “Haunting Hour.” They used Assimilate Scratch to marry the Arri Alexa footage with LUTs to create the dailes. A Microsoft Surface makes a great viewer because the DIT can calibrate the screen with Spectracal’s Calman for color accuracy.
This is a NOT a job for a PA
In the days of shooting film, you would often entrust the entire day’s work, the undeveloped film and audio tapes, to a production assistant (PA) to drop off at the lab to be developed and printed on film stock or transferred to videotape. Even when working with professional video, in the days of Beta, Beta SP, and DigiBeta tape, at the end of the shoot the tapes went to the client or back to the production facility. In both cases, you ended up with physical media. However, when saving footage on HDD, SSD, or media cards, there is no longer a physical camera original, and with the capture media designed to be used repeatedly, the paradigm today is to transfer and copy your footage to drives for editing and backup. There are many people who just do a simple data dump to a spare drive without significantly evaluating the images or verifying the data, which may work—but it is risky. I have adopted this workflow on a few run-and-gun projects and gotten away with it. However, it is worth noting that while you may feel that this workflow is sufficient, you are missing out on the advantages of working with a person who is dedicated to protecting your image, as well as your data.
Abby Levine’s DIT cart and setup. Photograph by Abby Levine
Steven Gladstone: Some would describe the DIT as a data wrangler, others as a clapper loader for the digital age, while some others might consider the DIT to be an advanced video playback technician. In simple terms, how would you describe the role of the DIT?
Abby Levine: The ongoing struggle has been to define this role in simple terms. Naturally, technology moves at a pretty breakneck pace, and so, it is a moving target to categorize. Ultimately, we consider ourselves to be responsible for all the technological aspects of the chain, from camera origination and recording, to transfers and data integrity, to consultation, and support for helping the DPs realize their vision in a digital production environment.
Abby Levine, DIT. Photograph by Jonathan Goor
“The DIT’s primary function is to be the other set of eyes for the DP.”
Dave Satin: In production, the DIT’s primary function is to be the other set of eyes for the DP. Each DP will define the camera-related responsibilities that they wish the DIT to undertake. For instance, it is normal for the DPs that I work with to make me responsible for not only picking the ND filters used on exteriors, but also to maintain the exposure that they favor as the light changes during the day. Other responsibilities related to production are on-set color manipulation, real-time QC of the shots as they are being made, especially as they relate to focus, and the oversight of the downloading process, as well as careful record keeping of what color metadata gets associated with which shot. Post-related responsibilities include initial design of the workflow, which is dependent on the equipment being used and the producer’s requirements, ensuring that all data generated on set… makes it to post, and communicating with the dailies colorist or operator, and the assistant editors to make sure that everyone is getting what they need in a timely manner.
Jesús Haro: I think that the DIT must be all of those. In fact, I defend the position of doing DIT tasks and video tasks all in one person for some movies, not all. But he is not a clapper loader. He is someone who knows about IT, color management, exposure, new gear, lenses, filters, camera menus, optimization of camera menus, calibration, storage, workflows, post production—quite a lot of things.
Michael Urban: The role is very varied, and sometimes I think that can be its downfall. How I explain it is I run the technical end of the camera and I am the bridge between set and post, plus I’m willing to help with any technical problems on set—except for setting up Agency Wi-Fi. Each job is different; you might be on a run-and-gun shoot with a data laptop, a pix240 and a 17″ [monitor]. Or you might be on a big-budget film where the roles are very fragmented and different people are in charge of small parts to make the big puzzle fit together.
“One thing a DIT isnot, is a playback operator.”
Chris Ratledge: One thing a DIT is not, is a playback operator. While there may be a blurring of the lines between departments and roles due to changing technology and the DIT coloring a live signal that feeds “Video Village,” a DIT is not a VTR or playback operator in any way. I hate terms like “digi-loader” or “data wrangler” or even the common mistake of calling a PA who drags-and-drops copies a DIT. As far as what a DIT does, I would describe it as a technical extension of the DP, as an immediate bridge to the post process for digital filmmaking, and can take the place of some of the operations associated with the dailies film labs of old.
With the capabilities of the equipment now used to lens digital imagery, the DIT can assist the DP to get a closer approximation of final intended exposure value and color, immediately on set. The position can comprise various duties, as some will say DITs should never handle the camera media itself, some will say they should never do any on-set processing, and some will say that they can and often do those things, as well as color a live video feed from the cameras. I am of the latter camp. Should they do all those things? Very debatable, but often up to the particulars of a given production. Another thing, I don’t agree with some who state a DIT is a camera diagnostician. While I think it prudent that DITs know about camera settings and operations pertaining to the recorded and output image, I am not of the camp that believes the DIT should be the only one inputting values and changing menu settings on digital cameras or handling every camera reload as standard operating procedure (SOP). That is and should remain the venue of the 1st AC.
Chris Ratlidge, DIT. Photograph by Brian Douglas, IA 600
Lorne Miess: A DIT can have big job description. There are so many cameras and workflows. I don’t think there is a cut-and-dried description; it can be very large or smaller depending on what’s expected. The main reason you’re hired is to ensure the DOP is supported in their vision of the project. That can be from enhancing images before they are distributed to producer and the networks. The better the images look, the more confident investors are in the project. Securing the data is a very important part of the DIT position and can be done in conjunction with Data Wrangling/Loader. Video Playback is a separate position in the gig and I don’t get involved with that.
Lorne Miess, DIT, grading in his grading cargo van. Near-set grading is done on a show, and Scratch is used with a calibrated Sony OLED monitor and an Apple Cinema Display.
David Lezynski: The DIT, strictly speaking, has a hand in the final color outcome of our movie. Burned-in looks, LUT, OnSet Color, post-shoot transcode, color-correct delivery. Data management is a subtext to DIT. Transcode with CC is super text to DIT. Data wrangler? We work with “Incredibly Expensive Camera Original Data,” not livestock. I do wish everyone would drop the wrangler part and give the job a little dignity. Data Manager is fine. Clapper Loader works in front of the camera and closely with script super. They’re not data/tech people… way different job, although a meticulous DIT/DM is always comparing clapper/script/camera reports. Playback? There are video assist operators who make a living being alert to the needs of director/DPs with instant feedback that their work is wonderful, minute by minute. Data management and CC take a bit of download/processing time.
SG: What is the history of the DIT, where does it come from, did it previously exist in another form, or under another name? What is your history being a DIT, how long have you been a DIT, and what was the learning curve like?
DS: First of all, I should point out that the term DIT* is a union designation, not a job description. Only Digital Technicians who are members of Local 600 IATSE can be called Digital Imaging Technicians. You can certainly do the job that a DIT does if you are not a member of Local 600; you just can’t call yourself a DIT… I started working in the film and TV business in 1974, and have been a video engineer since 1976. The equipment has changed, mostly for the better, but the basic job function—make sure the footage gets to post looking the way the DP intended—has not [changed].
“The DIT category was born in, perhaps, 2001.”
AL: The DIT category was born in, perhaps, 2001. In an effort to bring the newest incarnation of imaging under the umbrella of cinematographic expertise, IATSE Local 600 endeavored to organize those workers endeavoring in the imaging practice into the local. During the second season of production on Sidney Lumet’s 100 Centre Street, the Local created the category, and Barry Minnerly and I could be considered the first two DIT members of the International Cinematographers Guild. In concert with Chaim Kantor (currently Eastern Regional Director, and then a member of the National Executive Board), who was also a camera operator on the show, we crafted an initial working definition of the responsibilities to be covered by the category. In those days, those of us working in digital imaging, particularly in the nascent years of HDTV, had video engineering backgrounds, as was necessary in this immature yet in-demand technology, and so, many of the aspects of the working definition included engineering acumen. Many of us came from engineering backgrounds.
DL: Most of the early DITs were video engineers, multi-camera shaders, or Video Controllers. The DIT originally had their hands in the guts (via remote controls) of early cameras like the Sony F-900, Sony F-950, Panavision Genesis, and the occasional Panasonic Varicam. At the time, what we did with cameras was the final outcome of the recording process. All recordings were videotape based, with the Sony HDCam, Sony SRW HDCam (most amazing machine), and DVCProHD. There were disk-based devices like the Aveca, Abekas and some proprietary disk arrays. I was hired in 2001 by Lucas Films with the position “Digital Vision Engineer.” I was the only member of IA 600 ICG with that job classification until 2007 or so, when I had to rerate to DIT.
CR: I started as a DIT in the file-based era from my past as a camera assistant, meaning initially, any color or exposure manipulation performed by me was done after the fact on the ingested raw footage, but obviously, the position also has a heavy background from live video engineers and broadcast camera shaders. Those still exist but I doubt they call themselves DITs, which is a title seemingly specific (and appropriately so) to cinema and commercial production.
“Now that I’m on set, I can advise the DP of what goes on in post and help them work through issues and even final grading.”
LM: I’ve been a working colourist for 30 years. I started out doing shading / video engineer for news and TV shows and then switched to telecine work. I did both dailies and finish-grading for TV movies and series television on the industry standard Davinci 2K. I began grading TV series when Apple’s Final Cut Pro 3 came out. It was new ground and most colourists thought it was a toy, but there were ways to use your imagination and experience to make nice pictures. I was also teaching Digital Colour Theory at The Art Institute of Vancouver, on the side. This gave me access to young filmmakers who constantly asked why I did tasks in a specific order or used specific workflows. They always made me think of better and faster ways of grading projects. The classes worked hand in hand with grading. This knowledge allowed me to pick up Lustre, Resolve, Scratch, and Apple Color much faster that just using Davinci 2K. After being a colourist for years, I’ve been on the receiving end of what comes from the set and have seen lots of issues. Now that I’m on set, I can advise the DP of what goes on in post and help them work through issues and even final grading. It’s a really fun position to be in.
Lorne Miess, on set with gear on NBC/Universal’s “The Magicians”
MU: I started out in episodic television and used to read AC mags; digital was becoming more commonplace and if a film was shot on digital, it was a big thing. I heard about DITs, but at that stage, in New Zealand, no one was really using a DIT. I worked as a CCU operator, controlling the iris, black level, and colours for multiple live cameras. Through that I learnt a lot about the technical aspects of a picture and what parameters we had to work within. Along with editing, a bit of VFX, some lighting, and [through] general eagerness, I found myself with an opportunity to be a DIT on a small film. I have been a DIT for about 4 years. The learning curve was steep and still is. That’s what I like about it—even when I’m working on commercials, no job is the same.
SG: It is obvious that on a smoothly functioning set, the DIT and the DP will work closely together. Can you give any insight into that relationship?
AL: Yes, my first responsibility is to the DP. Of course, that person largely dictates the relationship, and while one would hope that it is a collegial relationship, it varies from person to person. That could be said of all closely collaborating relationships on set. Depending on the DP, my input to the process will change. In some cases, I might offer up suggestions and observations that may have gone unnoticed. In other cases, I might strictly execute orders. Of course, my overriding interest is that everything proceeds smoothly, technically speaking, before I would consider expressing a creative opinion or choice. Again, that collaboration has much to do with the DP and our relationship. Generally, I approach a project assuming that the DP knows everything, and that I know nothing. I’m usually proven wrong on both of those counts.
DS: I have never met a DP who didn’t want to work with a DIT if they were shooting digital. Who wouldn’t want to have an extra set of eyes on the monitor, eyes that can be depended on to always be there and whose only job is to make sure that they are getting what they want? Some DPs like to sit next to me. Some DPs like to be next to the director or on set; it’s really up to them. Certainly, it’s all about communication. It is more efficient for me if the DP, key grip, gaffer, and I are all together at the cart while the operators are lining up and the crew is lighting the shot. The close proximity helps me to achieve a working rapport with the DP and I am able to be more responsive, faster, with a cameraman who I don’t know so well. Some directors like to have the DP next to them on set or in video village. We still have to communicate and so it will be via walkie-talkie instead of face to face.
CR: This is different every time, in my experience. I have worked with some DPs who possess what I can only describe as a “loathsome” view toward my position, maybe even possibly being threatened, as I have heard some of their horror stories of other DITs they’ve previously worked with calling out stop changes without their knowledge or approval to the camera assistants, or listening to the producers or director, who almost always end up in the DIT tent instead of the village tent, instead of listening exclusively to the DP’s direction concerning image manipulation. I have worked with other DPs who have been relieved to have me there, by contrast, and still others who are completely indifferent to my presence and shoot with their meters, gray cards and chip charts, and false color, without much interaction with me at all.
“A qualified DIT can make the DP look like a hero and no one gets embarrassed.”
DL: DPs are in a tough spot. Very often, they are assigned a camera/format that they have little experience with. A qualified DIT can make the DP look like a hero and no one gets embarrassed. I now assign hours to camera knowledge, i.e., Sony F55/RED Dragon are 200-hour cameras, in that it takes a committed DP or tech 200 hours of exposure to the camera to understand 50% of the accessories, workflow, exposure, noise, color, shooting modes, and framing. Seems like a lot of time, but I deeply believe that hour meter to be true.
SG: On a film set, the clapper loader works for the camera department, but also is contact with the continuity supervisor and editorial. Who is it that the DIT interfaces with on a set?
DS: The loader works for the DIT, who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that all of the set-generated materials flow through to the dailies process. When shooting, the Script supervisor makes script notes, the sound mixer makes the sound report, the second assistants fill out camera reports, and I make a color report. All of that information must be reconciled with the script supervisor to make sure that we all have the right number of takes recorded for a particular shot. So I check with sound and script to make sure that we really did do 5 takes of scene 104 on both cameras, and double-check that the assistants know that, as well.
JH: The DoP is the leader of a team of people helping him to get the best result and his creative intention. The DIT is dealing with camera setups to optimize exposure. He is dealing with tools to do some quality control of the image, and he is doing color on top of the exposure; at least non-destructive color, but the color intended by the DoP that will be the color that will go to the dailies and then to the editing, so the Director will work with those images and will fall in love with them and then the movie will not be in a different way. So it is better that the intention is in the very beginning and that is a task of the DoP and the DIT can help with that. The DoP trusts his DIT for all of that. Also, the DIT is the link between the DoP and every new technology, as the DIT is in charge of being up to date with the technology. The DIT and his systems are the new telecine on set. So it is the same relationship that the DoP had with the Lab people in the past.
“I seem to attract the producers, whom I will often interact with regarding dailies and distribution.”
CR: Interfacing with the AD and Locations department is vital, as are electricians for providing AC power and grips when a flight of stairs has to be traversed with my cart. Transportation department helps with loading and any company moves, and if I’m also doing data duties, that means I sometimes will impact an electrician and a driver before I can shut down at wrap. Since my monitors are the “God” monitors on set, even with the existence of video village(s), I seem to attract the producers, whom I will often interact with regarding dailies and distribution, and while I don’t typically have a great deal of interaction with the Director, I certainly interface most and directly with the camera department, especially the 1st AC and DP. Depending on the post-workflow plan, I can deal with various members of the editorial department, mostly with the Assistant editor, however. I have yet to do much work with any VFX as a DIT, but I could see interfacing with the VFX supervisor, as well.
MU: The DIT interfaces with a lot of people. Production, camera, sound, lighting, grips, post production, and more. I find you are really the technical interface between set and post. I make sure I know who to contact at the post house and build a relationship during prep. I like to start a job with as many questions answered about the workflow and tech specs as possible, so it doesn’t get in the way of the fun stuff.
SG: Do you see productions that won’t benefit from having a DIT? Can’t you just have a PA copy the data to a laptop and a few hard drives using one of the many software packages available?
AL: Certainly, as mentioned earlier, this would occur on a case-by-case basis. One could make the argument that in the film days, the lowest-paid employee was responsible for carrying the only copy of the original material to the lab, and that that original negative was always at risk in transit and processing. The situation has changed. Now that it is possible to have multiple identical copies, the issue of image and camera original security is a new one. However, the idea of a PA merely copying the data, while possible, ignores the fact that there is a certain amount of training and expertise involved in guaranteeing the integrity of that process. Some productions will respect and demand that expertise, and others will not.
MU: For sure, there are loads of productions that don’t use a DIT and get away with it just fine. I do have a problem with the lack of respect that data gets sometimes. It’s not very difficult to back up data, but it is easy to stuff up, and reshoots are a lot more expensive than a good DIT or data wrangler’s wage.
DL: 90% of the time, PAs can suffice for media management except, as a PA, they’re expected to help with the folding tables for lunch and being whipped by the producer. We just don’t know which 10% of the time production needs a DIT… depends on what happened to the producer last week. A box truck is pretty easy to drive except when the PA makes a hard left and swings the box into a parked car. Is an untrained, unqualified, uncommitted PA responsible for media blunders? Or shall they be going back to doing ordinary PA work? If an insurance claim is made for media errors, who is responsible? An untrained, unqualified, uncommitted PA? Or the Producer?
LM: I always recommend using a DIT as an insurance policy. DITs are skilled to see many issues and resolve them quickly. If you think a PA can be responsible for cost of the material they download, then go for it, but I’ll take the skilled DIT for my peace of mind.
Lorne Miess, on set with gear for NBC/Universal’s “The Magicians,” with Director of Photography Elie Smolkin. There are five monitors on set in the field of view that are calibrated for color accuracy. DITs use a lot of gear on set and there is a fine balance between equipment and weight.
CR: I don’t think any production is well served by letting a PA or any lesser-experienced person handle the raw footage, whatsoever. I came from a camera-assisting background, and even with the performance record of even just drag-and-drop copy operations, it is extremely dangerous to trust your footage to a PA. Would you let a PA into the darkroom with an exposed film magazine? I certainly wouldn’t, and it’s way easier to ruin file-based video. One wrong click and poof—there goes the movie.
“Who is going to say no to the producer who insists that you pile into the van and download the camera media while driving to the next location?”
DS: In my not-so-humble opinion, as long as you are generating data with a camera, and you are planning on handling that data in some way, then you need to take steps to guard against the loss of that camera data that could be catastrophic. The easiest way to do that is to hire [a] professional to safeguard that data. So if you have enough media to get through your whole day of shooting, then you probably don’t need a DIT. The reason to not hire the producer’s nephew, who owns a MacBook Pro, is that downloading software that generates an MD5 checksum, or does the simplest form of verification still costs money, and in the case of the more fully featured software, a lot of money, and the chances of the PA having made that investment is not very likely. What about hard drives? What kind, how many do we need, what is the archive plan, what is the workflow and who is going to be there to make sure that the workflow is followed accurately? Who is going to say no to the producer who insists that you pile into the van and download the camera media while driving to the next location? What other duties does that downloading PA have besides handling your precious camera media? Lunch orders? Emptying the garbage? Driving the grip truck?
“I want to have a standard setup, but that’s almost impossible…”
SG: Can you describe the tools that you bring to a shoot, software you use (such as back-up utilities, card readers, etc.), your archiving and shuttle setups, or anything else that you feel would let someone know what your day is like as a DIT?
CR: For live color-grading, my system is totally different than it is when I’m just doing backups, and totally different again for when I’m doing one-light editorial processing and dailies. When those duties combine, so do the systems I utilize. Among the hardware must-haves are a good fast laptop and a good fast server machine for PCIe expansion. I recently invested in a video router, a couple of LUT boxes, and some external hardware scopes.
I think you will need at least one good reference 10-bit monitor, and there is a double-edged sword of going with an OLED. They look fantastic, but even in a movie theater, the image is never going to look that good (contrast) again. This may be the direction that all monitors will go in the future, but for now there is a bit of balance that must be decided… do you go with the gorgeous blacks and contrast of the OLED, or do you go with the more ubiquitous LCD? I can see and make arguments for both, in certain situations, and I currently have an OLED, but in the future will be operating a cart with two smaller and more portable 10-bit LCD monitors. The cart and form factor of all this is a big factor, too, and I am a big fan of Rubbermaid carts. They are cheap and lightweight and reasonably tough. You can go crazy and broke building a custom solution, and I have done that a bit in the past too, but will do so sparingly in the future, as the technology changes so quickly that as soon as you build some new cart or case to hold your gear, the gear changes, and when you upgrade you have another useless case again.
LM: I want to have a standard setup, but that’s almost impossible, as there are so many cameras and workflows, you spend a fortune trying to cover all the bases. Do the research and spend the money to get the best setup. Cheaping out with [will] just give you a headache. And you don’t want things to go sideways in the middle of production. Remember, you have the DP’s back, so don’t let them down.
On set with his gear on Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle” photoshoot. Lorne Miess says, “I used a scaled-down version of my gear on this shoot. We used a Red Dragon and Canon 5D for grading and monitoring footage.”
DL: MacPro G5 12 core tower w/ USB3, eSATA, sas, big graphics, big memory, internal RAID, backup OSDrive, 3 iterations copying software, post/keying software, external engineering drives, MacBook pro Thunderbolt X2, 2X SxS readers, 2X Red readers, 3X USB3 CF SD readers, Express 34 eSATA USB3 adapters, expansion chassis TBolt-PCIe, 2X power conditioners, 3X reclocking Das, SDI-HDMI interface, small routing switcher, stand-alone waveform vectorscope, 7″ HD monitor, 17″ HD monitor, static test charts, dynamic test chart, data/display cable interfaces 20 lb, light meter, color temp meter, OnSet LUT color-correction device and control computer, 5X time code generators, 1X time code master clock, large production/data cart, smallish production/data cart, Wi-Fi hot spot, pots full of software… some of which was expensive but a totally bad idea, pots of interface thingies… some of which was expensive but a totally bad idea, 2K portable generator, fuel can, van of substantial breeding—and never getting reimbursed for it.
MU: Main setup revolves around a Mac. I use Shotput Pro, Assimilate Scratch or Resolve for Dailies. I prefer Scratch, as it is better at organizing and has more advanced metadata capabilities. Plus, I find the colour and output workflow easier. Other than that, it varies for jobs, from scopes, monitors, SAS drives, USB drives—the list is endless.
DS: I use picture monitors, waveform monitors, trackball panels, color-management software, downloading and data-verification software, media-player software, color-correction software, dailies-generation software, and color-calibration software. I also use Adobe Photoshop and Dropbox. I use LUT rasterizers and card readers; SXS, SD, CF, and CFast. I also have Codex Dual Dock SAS and Thunderbolt media readers. I have HDSDI routing switchers, down converters, and distribution amplifiers on my cart. I use Thunderbolt, eSATA, USB3, and SAS hard drives, either single-platter shuttle drives or no less than five-platter RAIDS. I always download to two separate drives, an editorial shuttle and an archive drive that I hold on to.
If the Job is Arriraw on Codex or 4K on AXS media, then I use the Codex Vault 2. If it uses electricity, then it is plugged into a UPS, never into the wall or a generator directly. Oddly, all of the software I use for color management, dailies generation, and QC runs on Mac only, and I have two MacBook Pros and a Mac mini in an expansion chassis on my cart. My cart lives on the back of the camera truck, so that I can get my cart off of the truck and headed toward set as soon as the lens cart is unloaded.
SG: Any tips, suggestions, or words of caution to someone who thinks they may want to pursue being a DIT?
LM: I think a post person should do some time on set. I think a set person should do some time in post. We’re a big team and each should be aware of what goes on to make thing flow better, faster, and help the DP’s vision.
Lorne Miess screening dailies with Director of Photogaphy Michael Balfry, CSC (right), Emmy nominee for R.L. Stine’s “Haunting Hour.”
MU: I think you have to be passionate about your job and filmmaking, because to stay on top of the game you have to do a lot of research. Technology is always changing and it means you’ll be spending your spare time reading up. It pays to have a good base of knowledge, work out how ISO relates to dynamic range and what frame speed you need for different countries, etc.
AL: There are a lot of skill sets involved here. Once you have some basic knowledge, top of the list is knowing how to work in concert with a DP and camera department. Suffice it to say that every DP and department will have different needs and desires and requirements of you. It is crucial to be flexible with them. More issues stem from an inability to communicate effectively than from technical problems. I will pretty much let the DP dictate how I work, unless I feel that it’s detrimental to the process. In that case, a little delicacy and diplomacy can go a long way to making an efficient working environment.
Having glossed over the skill sets in favor of the above, they are a moving target that runs the gamut from engineering and technical know-how, good troubleshooting, and knowing what you don’t know, to creative application of the engineering and color science background you should have. In truth, if the only thing you plan to be there for is copying files, then you’re not behaving as a DIT.
“You have to be passionate…Technology is always changing…”
The DIT also has a personal responsibility to stay conversant with the technology in order to stay relevant and make recommendations, in some cases on the most effective way to achieve a desired result.
DS: Never stop learning. Go to every seminar, take every class, attend every industry function you can, never stop reading. The DIT thing is a relentlessly moving target and it takes a lot of effort to stay at the top of your game.
* The term DIT, or Digital Imaging Technician, is a Union designation and, as such, only members of I.A.T.S.E. local 600 can actually use the title DIT, although there are many people who do the job of a DIT.
I wish to thank Dave Satin, David Lezynski, Abby Levine, Chris Ratledge, Jesús Haro, Lorne Miess, and Michael Urban for their time and thoughts concerning the job of the DIT, and thanks as well to Michel Suissa of The Studio-B&H. Thanks for reading and please see below for their short bios.
David Satin started working in the film and TV business in 1974, and has been a video engineer since 1976.
David Lezynski worked on many multi cam projects for sports, opera, symphony, rock’n’roll, events of all sorts as a camera shader. In 2000, the Sony HDCam w F900 and F950 were released, and it looked like video was getting interesting again, so he took Sony training classes in Compression, HDCam Maintenance, F900/F950 Maintenance and a couple of others. He was hired, in 2001, by Lucas Films, with the position Digital Vision Engineer, and was the only member of IA 600 ICG with that job classification until 2007 or so, when he had to rerate to DIT.
Abby Levine is an independent DIT, video engineer, and software developer who has been at the forefront of the emerging digital imaging business in television, commercials, and cinema for more than 30 years.
Chris Ratledge provides digital cinema data and color services as an IATSE 600 DIT and freelance colorist, through his company, RatWorks LLC, operating primarily in the Midwest on independent feature films and commercial productions. When not working, he spends time with family and enjoys marksmanship, hiking, and cycling.
Jesús Haro is a cinematographer and consultant for both film and digital technology. After leaving Deluxe Spain in 2013, he is running his own company, OUTLABS, dealing with on-set workflows. He is also merging video assistance with dailies, data wrangling, and live color on set.
Lorne Miess has been involved with color for his entire career. Starting out as a colourist more than 25 years ago, he switched to onset colorist, in 2009.
Michael Urban is a DIT based in Auckland, New Zealand, working on a range of productions, TV Commercials, online, TV and Films. With a varied career working with all kinds of cameras, media, and workflows. This has helped Urban cement a career as a problem solver, hard worker, and a reliable source of solutions and knowledge.