Posts Tagged ‘director of photography’

The Value of a DIT in Today’s Digital Workflow

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011
Composite image of flash memory cards, showing...

Image via Wikipedia

File-based work flows in video production have presented an incredible amount of benefits to the overall production process, but they have also demanded that video producers/directors reshape the way they move from production into post-production, and finally, to delivery. One of the key members of a tapeless video crew is the DIT, or Digital Imaging Technician. This individual, depending on the size of the shoot, is responsible for many things, but in my opinion, the most important function of the DIT is managing all of the assets while on location. This means taking the memory cards from the DP or camera assistant and transferring them over to hard drives. Once on the hard drives, a DIT will usually back up those files to a redundant drive and ensure that everything transferred correctly before re-formatting the cards for use again on the set. In addition, a DIT will prep each file for use in post-production and will prepare dailies for the director and the client to review.
For projects with smaller budgets, it may be tempting to forego the services of a DIT and simply let the director, DP, or a production assistant handle the duties of a DIT. Although this approach works, consider the side effects of this approach:

  • Using the director and/or DP to handle this job could slow down the pace of the shoot considerably. Once the cards are full, the director or DP must stop work, start transferring footage, wait for that footage to be transferred, confirm the transfer, reformat the cards, then return to the set. A DIT can handle all of this while the director and/or DP continue their work of shooting, setting up for the next shot, or working with the client and/or talent. This maintains a good work flow throughout the day and ensures that everything stays on schedule.
  • Using a production assistant as a DIT means assigning a less experienced person to do the job. An experienced DIT knows the equipment, knows exactly what he/she is doing, and can properly communicate with the director/DP.

So, even for those shoots that have smaller crews, a good DIT is a valuable asset to the team. However, with the ever-increasing capacity of memory cards, and the ever-decreasing cost of those memory cards, it will become easier for small ENG crews to spend an entire day shooting to memory cards, without ever having the need to transfer and reformat. All of the cards can simply be stored until the end of the day, then transferred at night, and used again the following day. But if the production turn-around is extremely tight, it may be in the producer’s best interest to hire a DIT and allow him/her to transfer all the footage during the course of the day, start prepping for post, and begin work on a rough edit. This will save a lot of time and will allow the producer to get the final video out to the client much quicker.

Ultimately, the use of the DIT depends on the situation, but don’t underestimate the value of that position in the ever-increasing world of tapeless video production.

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Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival 2010 Commercial

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

In 2008 I worked as Director of Photography for the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival’s TV commercial. Filament Artists, a local creative services agency, handled production and post-production. Todd Hornsby was the producer and Sam McDavid was the writer/director. This year, the decision-makers at Sidewalk asked Filament to do it once again, and I had another opportunity to work as Director of Photography for the project. The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival is now in its 12th year, and will be held in downtown Birmingham September 24-26.

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Shooting the Grocery Store

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Twice this week I have been up all night working as the DP for Filament Artists’ latest short film, entitled “Love at the Grocery Store.” The screenplay was selected as the winner of the Production Prize at the 2008 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival and will premiere at this year’s festival on September 26.

Shooting inside a grocery store has its particular set of challenges and so I wanted to pass along some things to remember if any of your projects take you inside the same environment.


Most grocery stores are lit with fluorescents, meaning that everything will be washed with a flat, even, diffused light. If the tone of your piece calls for high-contrast lighting, you might want to see if the grocery store manager will allow you to turn off the overheads, giving you more freedom to light as you see fit. If this isn’t possible and you still want to create a surreal look with high-contrast, you can always light your subject with hard, direct light, that comes from the side, creating harsh shadows. The hard light will force you to stop down your f-stop. This should darken the background, while leaving your subject properly exposed.

Since fluorescent bulbs cast an even, diffused light, your subjects can come out looking drab, flat, and uninteresting. You will need some additional light to help create more natural skin tones and make colors that pop just a little more. However, reflectors alone won’t get the job done. They just won’t provide enough reflected light underneath fluorescent bulbs. And aiming a 1Kw or 650w tungsten at your actors will create an obvious difference in color and tone.

To give your shots a warmer look under fluorescent lighting, start by using your tungsten lamps and reflectors together. Mount a large piece of white foam core onto a c-stand and then bounce light from a 1Kw lamp onto your subject. The result is a soft, diffused light that isn’t overbearing, and yet one that warms up the scene a bit more. And I always recommend a little rim lighting to help your subjects stand out more from the background.

Bear in mind that the above solution assumes that you want a natural, warm tone for your project. If the mood of your film is a bit darker and somber, then you might like the sterile, flat, “blue” tone that the existing lights create.


Shooting under fluorescent lights can affect the white balance of your shot. If not properly monitored, the lights may cause the color of your shot to drift slowly from a cool tone to a warm tone, then back again.

However, I’d advise you to look back at our previous post for a more extensive look at shooting under fluorescents. To that article let me add that using a Kino light bank will be a big help. Kino’s do use fluorescent bulbs, but unlike the bulbs installed overhead in a grocery store, these bulbs burn at a constant color temperature. This will give your shots more accurate color representation while maintaining a consistent look with the rest of the lighting in the store.

Fluorescent lights might also appear green on camera. A green tone might work well for your project if the mood is more sinister and the location of your story more urban, decayed, or threatening.

Look for the comedy, “Love at a Grocery Store” at this year’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The screening is tentatively set for 9pm at the Alabama Power Building.

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Lessons Learned From No-Budget Filmmaking

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last night marked the end of production for my latest short film If Only. I think everyone is relieved that we have finally wrapped. This particular project was plagued with delays and some unexpected problems, but I feel confident that we will make a solid film with high production values.

I have made several short films over the years and I have learned a lot about no-budget independent filmmaking. So, for those who also share my passio, allow me to pass on a few lessons that will hopefully help you in your endeavors.

Don’t let the lack of money prohibit you from getting out and making films. If you have something to say, then say it. But also remember that low-budget

  1. Low budget doesn’t mean low production value. The fact that you have little or no money doesn’t autmatically mean that your film will look horrible. But you have to study the ins and outs of cinematography. Ask questions. Practice your craft. Learn by watching what others are doing. Solid execution will give the impression that you spent more than you actually did.
  2. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. In 2004 I wanted to produce a short comedy. However, I was just getting back into production full-time and I didn’t know too many local filmmakers. So I decided to take on every behind-the-scenes role myself. I was the writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer… I did everything, and as a result the quality of the film suffered. When you make it a goal to direct your film, recruit others to work in key positions. For example, having a talented DP on set to light the scene and run the camera will give you much-needed time to rehearse and direct your actors. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and neglect the performances from your talent, unless you have others working with you on set.
  3. Things will not go as planned. This is true of even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, but even more so on low-budget short films. Expect the unexpected. A location will not be available when you need it to be available. An actor will have to reschedule at the last minute because of a conflict with his or her day job. You will get rained out. The police will tell you to shut the whole thing down. You will be forced to eliminate certain camera set-ups (or perhaps entire scenes) due to uncontrollable circumstances. That’s just the way it goes.
  4. Always have a plan “B.” This point is a direct result of point #3. When things go wrong, you need to have a contingency plan in place. If it rains and you have to be outside, how can you re-work the story to incorporate the rain? When the owner of a location needs to pull the plug on you for some unforeseen reason, what can you do to complete the scene? A good producer will help you think through these potential problems before they even happen, so it’s important to go over these issues in pre-production.
  5. Maintain a comfortable pace while in production. When everyone is getting paid thousands (or even millions) of dollars to be involved with a movie, you can afford to work everyone for 16 hours a day, six days a week. However, when you’re on a low-budget short and everyone is working for free, it’s important to remember that they are doing you a tremendous favor by being involved with your film. Pad out the shooting schedule so it isn’t too demanding. At the same time, be up front with those involved and remind them that filmmaking is a time intensive process. You can’t shoot a five-minute film in thirty minutes. Be respectful of their time, and be honest about expectations.

In my experiences as an independent filmmaker living in Birmingham, I have met a lot of gracious, wonderful people who are eager to see the production industry thrive in this region. And I’m certain that in your own film projects, you will be just as fortunate. Be professional, prepared, courteous, and respectful, and people will want to work with you again and again.

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Help Your Editor – Tape Preparation

Monday, May 11th, 2009

It can be incredibly monotonous to sort through raw footage, especially if the director of photography has failed to properly prep and label the tapes. Imagine sitting at your work station trying to organize footage that has broken time code, mismatched labels (or worse yet, no labels at all), or labels with incredbily vague information (like “Tape 1.”) Any good cinematographer should always think of the editor when prepping for a shoot. It will make post-production a much more efficient process. Here are some important tips to remember:

  1. Pack Each Tape – When you unwrap a brand new tape, fast-forward all the way to the end, then rewind all the way to the beginning. This method of “packing” the tape is much like an athlete stretching before an event. It will help prevent drop-out and digital artifacting.
  2. Stripe Each Tape – Pop the tape into the camera and roll about 15-30 seconds of color bars and 1KHz audio tone. This will help the editor calibrate his/her equipment before capturing the footage.
  3. Label Each Tape – It’s amazing how often people simply forget to label the tape, or they neglect to put enough information on the label. Always label both the case and the tape itself. On the label I like to write the client’s name, the project name (and a project number, if applicable), the date, and the tape number.
  4. Preset the Timecode – Set the “hours” mark of your timecode to correspond with the tape number. Tape #1 should be, “1:00:00:00,” Tape #2 should be, “2:00:00:00,” and so on. That way, when the editor is looking at the footage in studio, he/she can tell instantly from which tape a particular scene came. Also, if someone ignores tip #3, an editor will know instantly what number tape he/she has in the deck.

Video Production is a collaborative process and a professional courtesy is always appreciated.

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