Text The DIT Dilemma
This entry was based on a reduser.net thread about building DIT carts. The thread asked a lot of challenging questions about the process, the tools, the players, the evolution and the future. For reference, the original thread can be viewed here:
The official role of a DIT is one that continues requiring discussion. Defining the DIT is hard for anyone to “officially” quantify, though there are rules and regulations that suggest a textbook definition. But the more one talks to DITs, the more you find they are not “consistent” in their feelings on the job. This is not normal. If you ask pilots what they do, they tend to agree on their role. Same with directors or even script supervisors and DPs. This suggests that the future is not yet written for DITs, which means they have the unique opportunity to either shape the industry going forward in their favor, or let another entity define what their role is and even make the DIT an unnecessary expense. Going into 2013, there is significant evidence for both arguments.
[ Response to reduser.net thread]
I’ve enjoyed reading this thread since it started, and other threads like it. There are some good points made by all contributors and I take the time to read each one and “feel out” where the writer might be coming from. As they say, try to imagine yourself in another man’s shoes before you jump to conclusions.
That said, I want to make perfectly clear that what I’m about to write is based not only on extensive on-set experience, but on the relationships with production supervisors, unit production managers, producers, production companies and studios who run digitally captured features and television shows. Some DITs recognize that the “Light Iron way” of managing the DIT and data management roles differ from other entities. -Some prefer our arrangement, others do not. But the reason Light Iron manages the DIT process the way we do is because we largely designed our system based on the[I] feedback[/I] we receive from the people who do the hiring and firing. So take a read of my comments if you like and understand that I oversee the on-set dailies process of close to 100 projects per year - which accounts for more than 1,000 shoot days annually. -I don’t have every answer, but I’ve come across a lot in a short time and deal with DITs and the people who pay them.
Consider this: If you are interested in knowing what a DIT does, ask a DIT. They have plenty of ways to answer that question. But I am more interested in knowing what a paying production thinks a DIT [I]should[/I] do: so I asked the people who hire them.
From there, it should come as no surprise that the role of the DIT is one that carries along with it some controversy. -Some readers may feel the word [I]controversy[/I] is a bit extreme, but I can easily say that the role of the DIT is one that is consistently debated (partially proven by this post). But the debate of the DIT doesn’t stem from the DITs themselves - why would a DIT ever want to have to defend their own relevance? No creature on earth wants to have to defend its very right to exist, yet DITs constantly fall into this trap. No, the debate of the DIT comes from the top down and the growing number of productions that choose *not* to have a DIT as part of their arrangement. While I often feel the anti-DIT position is definitely short-sighted and (in many cases) flat our wrong, productions that regularly operate without DITs do not seem to demonstrate an inability to make their shoot days or create high quality content. So how is that possible?
Well in my experience, the DIT Dilemma is a lot more serious than some realize. There is no other production role on digital productions that is equally “in question” other than the DIT. No one is questioning the relevance of DPs, script supervisors, actors or camera operators. But whether or not a DIT is needed is a common discussion in the production office and above-the-line meetings. I have personally been in dozens of production meetings on large and small productions in which *not* having a DIT has been fervently discussed. Since I am ultimately in favor of the DIT, my vote counts in that direction, but there are plenty of cases in which DITs are not hired on a show or are demoted to another ancillary position. -If anything, that should be the initial reason DITs should be thinking about this issue: [I]they have been named.[/I] And once you are “named” and the momentum of defending ones relevance comes into question, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain favor as time goes on and trends inevitably shift.
Ironically, it was during this this observation that my partners and I continued to examine the role of the post house as well. While DIT’s have been named, they’re not the only ones: post houses are also being challenged. And then we thought: these two related areas represent endangered species in our changing media ecosystem. Consider this: if a measurable portion of the industry feels like they no longer want to rely on post houses, and another measurable portion of the industry feels like they no longer want to rely on DITs, then the beginnings of a predictable outcome starts to be revealed. -Clearly these two issues are related in some way! We can even assume that there is some portion of these two camps that believe the same thing. -Overlapping their no-post/no-DIT notion together! -Those became people worth targeting and inquiring as to “[B]WHY[/B]?” The results are typically plain and simple: economics. Everyone wants more for less. I don’t care if it’s a producer on a film or your mother at the grocery store. There is a perceived notion in the eyes of many producers that the DIT and the Post House are more expensive than the return service they provide. -And for many, that’s not a new perspective, but until now, an alternative simply didn’t exist.
The data that I’ve collected and successfully applied into my business suggests that the post house is less desirable than ever before and in terms of dailies provisions, will not exist by 2017. Mark my words. Likewise, the sophistication of cameras continues to increase and for the DITs who have been in the game for 10 years, you know that many of the tools you used to require to “normalize” images on your cart have been absorbed into the camera itself. In fact, I predict that by 2021, all the capture, transcodes (there won’t be transcodes, but the equivalent of the transcode), sync, color, windowburn, watermarking, versioning, color space conversions and even lined-script notes based on totalcode-timecode during capture will *ALL* be recorded and managed by the camera, saved to an online cloud server and instantly distributed worldwide. In other words, a significant portion of what Light Iron does today to make its money will not exists in 10 years (which is the same for thousands of people around the globe). Again, mark my words.
These predictions are based on following the data that has been compiling for 10 years, analyzing Moore’s Law, talking with targets of manufacturing, evaluating the market evolution and making a few educated guesses. The result: in 2021, we will not have DITs or dailies post houses. -Sure, I’m scared, too, but I know enough of my own abilities to predict the market that I intend to evolve along with it - as opposed to devolve in spite of it (as some foolishly attempt do). If you are a DIT today, I can assure you that you won’t be a DIT in 2021. -Maybe that’s a relief:-) But it means that one needs to find ways to A) build a career that leads to professional satisfaction in the future and B) find ways to extend your relevance today as far in the future as appropriate.
For those that are interested in what that exactly looks like, I can tell you what Light Iron does. Again, while some people disagree with the Li model, I can tell you that it has changed the lives of the producers who take advantage of the system and the people who are our regular operators. We call it “OUTPOST.” OUTPOST is not the only system out there, but it’s the largest fleet of mobile systems and has cumulatively done more shoot days than just about anyone else combined. To illustrate the significance of that point: Light Iron is a company of less than 30 people at the time this was written. Currently, there are 16 carts out in the field servicing shows internationally. Concurrently, we’re in the middle of 8 DIs. That’s a combined active slate of 24 projects. No post company has ever had a business model that can service nearly a 1:1 ratio of feature film projects to employees. That’s never been possible before and that is why my findings should be taken very seriously. When the implications of a statement that significant are fully comprehended, the future and the past will have finally and fully divorced.
On Light Iron systems, we have been tailoring our tools so they can provide these popular processes on a set:
• Visual QC
• Automated Scene and Take naming
• CDL color
• Advanced Live Grading (based on a new system we are announcing publicly in 2013)
• Sound Syncing with 1/4 frame accuracy
• Transcoding at over 90 frames per second
• Parallel rendering
• Advanced reporting (PDF, CSV, XML and TD, ALE)
• Advanced iPad integration
• LTO [automated robot support]
• (Virtually) unlimited camera support
• ACES or 709 color space management
• Transcoding to MXF & Quicktime with custom naming/automated Scene and Take metadata
• CDL/ALE/ArriXML/XML/FLEx/EMD/RMD sidecars
Admittedly, there are a lot of very smart people who can build systems that are capable of all of the above. But just as there are differences between a Dodge Neon, Dodge Ram and Dodge Viper, so there are differences between tools that claim to provide the same thing. On Li OUTPOST carts, we have operators that handle up to 4 hours of ArriRAW and provide everything listed above on the set. Even on our smallest mobile system, Lily Pad Case, we had an operator do an average of 6 hours of dailies in Africa which included backup, color, syncing, rendering to AVID MXF and H.264 for web uploading and ended up uploading to the web for dailies viewing. But on the average show that shoots 2.5-3.5 hours of footage per day, the operators are having fun doing all this so quickly and efficiently. Creative liberation is what speed delivers, and the creatives you serve sense that right after the first mag.
Sound people play along when we manage expectations correctly. Sound will be perfectly synced - in fact, I teach a syncing training course that gets people to learn how to sync takes in under 8 seconds per take (which means a 20-take magazine can be synced in about 2 minutes and 30 seconds - even with TC drifts). We build custom drives that eliminate slow downloads and transfers - as our systems take that into account with 500MB/s read/write for shuttles (ie: once off the mag, we move 1 hour of Epic 5:1 in 7.5 minutes to the Li shuttle drive). Smart people make it clear that doing this correctly is expensive - which is the truth. Be prepared to invest if you want to do this without compromises. But when LIght Iron is able to improve the horsepower with more significant investments, realize that is an answer to the call of the production, not a threat against weaker, less expensive owner-operator tools. I don’t set the pricing, I simply install what is required to solve the above list. That requires a good DIT to have access to the latest and greatest and even develop improvements, software and hardware.
The post house is at the end of its life, and unless DIT’s realize this is their last chance, DIT’s will share in the slowly fading demise of post houses. The DITs that quickly point out they don’t have time to do certain tasks, or that it’s not their job are the prey of the post house; big post houses absolutely love the DITs who don’t deliver things complete, correct or compliant because it enables them to charge production for the same services all over again. -Often at a premium! But for the enabler DIT - the ones that have desire and the skill set to provide the services that post is, they are the threat to the post house and the white knight to the producer. Remember: based on the changing media ecosystem, most post houses use similar equipment DITs use. -Only they are willing and able to finish the job. If you share similar tools, then it becomes more of a mental game of completing the task, not a physical one.
In a matter of survival: focus on what you can bring to the production, not what you can’t.
Focus on how you can protect the filmmaker, not protect yourself.
Focus on what technologies exist that elevate potential and possibly, not just copying what everyone else uses (there are lots of bad DIT habits that are spread across the world).
Focus on practicing and improving on the areas in which you struggle, not ignoring them or pass them off to another person.
I have personally operated numerous jobs in order to learn the way and the truth and from that experience, I’ve applied it into some of the best DIT carts in the world. I’ve also done some of the hardest jobs in the world and probably do the largest jobs with the smallest footprint. -And our systems are getting better with 2 new massive upgrades in 2013. I love working with DITs and helping them make more money and provide more services and satisfying the creatives they serve in a completely new way.
If you are providing all of the above, then you know what I’m taking about. Your job is a lot more protected when you can demonstrate you are more relevant than a dailies post house.
If you are doubting all of the above, then I wish you the best. It truly is a dilemma and we can all agree it’s a complex issue. But know that the post house is dying and that it’s hoping that DIT’s make mistakes and refuse to provide services. The less DIT’s do, the more air in their lungs. And while that may seem good for both the DIT and post house, it’s bad for the creative. The truth is getting out and there are creatives who are experiencing life without a post house thanks to the talent of good DIT’s. By this, a new standard is being born and I have watched it explode over the past 3 years - which is why this is all worth debating. But one things is for sure, 3 years ago on-set dailies was but a fraction of a fraction of services on set. Today, it’s 100% of my dailies business and growing with companies all over the world. If you think the DIT as a post provider is a phase that will phase itself out, then you are already less valuable than your employers think…but they’ll figure it out soon. They always do.
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