Just another Download Monkey?

I read an interesting article in ICG (International Cinematographer’s Guild) Magazine yesterday.  In ‘Got My Back,’ a featured article from the February 2010 issue, Pauline Rogers writes about the crucial partnership that exists between the director of photography and the DIT (digital imaging technician).  If you get a chance after reading this article, head on over and check it out.

Previously, I had heard one shooter use the term ‘download monkey’ in a self-deprecating manner (he no longer wanted to do DIT work, but rather branch into cinematography) and since then, I had wondered why a cinematographer would ever consider a DIT to be simply a button-pusher.  Conversely, on another film set, the director said, ‘DIT, AC… they’re the same thing now.’  At the time I remember thinking, ‘doesn’t the DIT also need a bunch of extra, separate skillsets.’

And then I came to this article.  It did an excellent job of laying out a great little analogy that I plan to use in the future.  DIT Tony Salgado likened the DP-DIT partenrship to a surgical team, stating that the DP was like the surgeon and the DIT like the anesthesiologist with the production being the patient.

Having not thought of it in those terms before, it got me thinking.  What about a production with all hands on-deck where there’s no money for even an intern to serve as the DIT?  Many who read this will probably stop right there and I can definitely relate.  A production that needs a DIT needs a DIT.  If the production needs one, but can’t get one – whether for free or for pay – then maybe that production should reconsider the technology being used.

Another school of thought would be to simply barrel forward, making do with what’s available.  Having been in both aforementioned  This blog is primarily for that production and for the working shooter who is willing to serve on that shoot.  What follows are just a few practical tips for a hypothetical small shoot with limited resources and no dedicated DIT.

1. Know your workflow beforehand. Jumping into a production with no clear workflow established ahead of time is a sign of unprofessionalism and will come back and bite you in the rear every time.  And don’t just know it, but if there’s time, do a trial practice run.  Test the transfer times, the post software, the edit bay & DIT station… make sure everything works like you think it will work and how it is supposed to work.

2. Test & know your equipment prior to the shoot. Being on-set with a dead battery that you had no idea about until the day of is a poor way to start a shoot (true story).  Purchasing a Redrock Micro adaptor but having no lenses for said adaptor and finding out the night before the shoot that you need PL mount lenses is not even worth mentioning (again, true story… but no, I was not camera dept on that one).

3. Set aside a small area just for download & ingest. Even if this is just a laptop on a case, with a small portable drive, make sure that you have a designated space for downloading from cards.  Misplacing or mixing up cards is not the way to go.  Additionally, you will want to have a labeling/filing system for media that is ready to be wiped and returned to set (can be as formal as a full carbon camera report or as informal as a piece of colored gaffer tape).

4. Make sure you have all the necessary cables. Again, this sounds basic and simple, but you’d be surprised.  Just last weekend, I took home some video to cut over the weekend only to arrive home and find that I had every Firewire cable imaginable… except a 6-pin to 6-pin (which was the only cord I could use).  I suggest having a separate set of cables just for your computer you use for downloads and keeping them altogether in one pouch or bag.

5. Don’t try to save money when it comes to Media. There are reliable, affordable cards out there.  The same goes for your card reader.  You don’t have to break the bank, but get something fast and reliable.

6. Make sure your DIT laptop is up to the task. Adequate off-board storage, a solid processor and enough RAM.  This computer can’t ever fail you in the field… and have mercy on you the day it does.  I run a Macbook Pro Dual Core with 4 GB of RAM and at least a 1TB external hard drive.  Software package includes full Final Cut & Adobe Master CS4 suites, as well as RedCine, StreamClip and Magic Bullet Looks.  It’s not amazing, but it gets the job done.  😉

7. Be a continuous learner. There’s always some new tool or little free tip or trick online on the forums or on blogs.  Some great places to try include ProLost, ProVideo Coalition, Cinema 5D, Planet 5D, Filmmaking Central and many more that focus on all aspects of production.

And there are probably many more tips… those are just a few that come to mind as the production world as a whole rockets forward into DSLR and digital cinema frontiers.

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~ by Carlos Tovar on March 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Just another Download Monkey?”

  1. Long before the advent of camera systems requiring IT based workflows and protocols many other Digital Imaging Techicians as well as myself performed essential job duties as the on set camera colorist “camera shader”, or as the engineer in charge (EIC).

    Even to this day these additional job skills are essential to navigate on set the highly advanced digital cinema camera systems and formats used today. An experienced D.I.T. can easily handle single or multiple camera productions in addition to dealing with the never-ending stream of emerging technology.

    The key for a successful D.I.T. is understanding how to advise and apply the technical knowledge to the overall creative process in a manner which aids the producer, director, Director of Photography and others involved in the production process.

    Veteran D.I.T.’s should not be considered “monkey button pushers” as they have extensive knowledge along with years of prior experience to push the right button, for the right reason, at the right time.

    Not hiring a qualified D.I.T. or for that matter any other essential crew member who understand and comprehends the overall technical and creative process ultimately could be deemed to be one of the point(s) of failure for a production.

    Tony Salgado
    Digital Imaging Technician
    IA 600

    • I’m so sorry that I’m writing this comment on this blog, but this was the only way I could find Tony Salgado after realizing that tony@24-7dtv.com is not valid. Tony, I’m an editor wondering if you have a HDCAM technician referral for me in NYC. Could you please email me at marrian(at)gmail(dot)com?
      Once again, sorry for hijacking the comments section, and Thanks!

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