What a difference a DIT makes

callum justFounder and lead technician at The Digital Orchard, Callum Just, has been a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) on everything from major Hollywood blockbusters such as Jack Ryan and Maleficent to commercials with big-name brands such as Adidas and Nokia.

Callum tells us what the relatively new role involves…

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, or DIT for short. This is a relatively new position and, as such, it is understandably still evolving and often misunderstood.

In my years working as a DIT on Hollywood features, TV dramas, lower budget home grown productions and a host of commercials, I have experienced the progression of this profession within the camera department and have seen a huge variety of reactions to my presence on set.

For the past three 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 believe that hiring the right DIT can save productions considerable time and money.

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.

What does a DIT do?

Often, a DIT is confused 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.

We consider 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 colour 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.

A DITs place in the camera department

There is still a great deal of confusion as to where the DIT should be placed in the camera department structure. This is in part due to the fact that the role is so new but also because of the vast variance of quality in DIT working today. A good DIT will work alongside a DoP and their 1st AC (assistant camera) to make sure the digital camera is performing to its maximum potential, whereas the less experienced DITs will sit at the back of a set with their laptop, not even getting up to fetch media as it is offloaded from the camera.

The DIT is ultimately answerable to the DoP but should take his or her lead from the 1st AC. Communication is vitally important on set, and having a clear chain of command keeps the department productive.

As a DIT may be required to perform any number of tasks, it is crucial that a producer or DoP knows the scope of their 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.

So, a warning to producers: you really will get what you pay for; an inexperienced DIT is a false economy and will end up costing you more in the long run.

The pay scale

The daily rate that a DIT gets can also cause a sticking point. Most DITs are now paid on par with 1st AC’s. You can have a DIT that’s been working in the industry for only six months getting the same as a focus puller who’s worked their way up in the department for several years. It is entirely understandable that this can cause some friction, and DITs needs to be respectful of this fact.

What skills and experience do you need to become a DIT?

To be a great DIT, you need to have had plenty of previous experience on set and have worked within the camera department as at least a loader. You always need to be looking at new technologies and how they can affect the film industry. You should keep a good relationship with the rental houses and post production facilities and be able to hold your own when talking to experienced film professionals. Finally, you must know your place in the department. 

The Knowledge would like to thank Callum for his industry insight and expertise.