While doing some research into building our DIT cart I came across a post by Michael Cioni, CEO of Light Iron, a post production company. In the post, Cioni presents the idea that both post houses and DITs may become a thing of the past in the film industry, due mostly to advances in camera hardware making their roles redundant and economically unjustifiable. I happen to agree, mostly because here at Dawnrunner we have already moved our workflow beyond the need for a DIT or post house.
Let’s backtrack a little here. In 2010 Dawnrunner purchased a RED One and shot our first feature film, The Darkest Matter. It was a learning experience to say the least, and an opportunity for our crew to exercise their creativity not just on the film itself, but in the process of filmmaking. Since then we’ve been developing, evolving, and refining our process. Building a workflow that takes advantage of new technologies was important to us, as was leaving parts of the process open to experimentation. So when we looked at the missing bridge between production and post we saw an amazing opportunity for innovation and dove in.
Digital filmmaking allows for a near instantaneous turn around from set to post. On many feature sets these days dailies can be prepared almost as quickly as the crew can shoot, and edit-ready proxies can be handed off to editors at the end of each day. All of this is amazing, really, when you consider how things were done even 10 years ago. And central to shuffling all this data around is a DIT. A DIT’s precise role is hard to nail down unlike some other crew positions, but in this case we’re talking about visual quality control, data ingestion, metadata ingestion, media conforming, and ultimately getting data ready for post. In some productions this also involves a post house that picks up at the media conforming stage.
It’s a job that involves a lot of digital elbow grease, a lot of computing power and bandwidth, and a lot of repetitive tasks. But it’s the repetitive nature that allows many aspects of this job to be mostly automated and the rest broken up and delegated to various other crew members. Can a loader (typically the 2nd AC), download a magazine? Of course, especially when the process is automated and all that is required of the crew member is putting the mag in the reader. Can the footage be automatically synced with sound, with scene metadata, with the script supervisor’s notes, with motion data from a smart tripod, dolly or crane? Yeah, it can. And now the most important question: can you make this massive amount of data and metadata useful to the post production team seamlessly and automatically? Yes, with the right software, of course it can be done. In fact, we’ve been pioneering these changes with our own in-house software and hardware solutions over the past 4 years. Not only can a fully realized internet-of-things-enhanced set do everything a DIT typically does, it can do more.
So if we’ve eliminated the need for a DIT on our sets, why are we building a DIT cart? Well it’s a bit of a misnomer. We’re calling it the MCP (it’s an acronym without a precise meaning: media/metadata, control/consume/conform, process/protocol/post… or just Master Control Program if you like). It’s the hub and heart of our smart set. Not only does it house all the typical computing power and digital storage you’d typically find in a DIT cart, it also has all the hardware we need to gather metadata from all of our gear in real-time. As the scene plays out and the camera rolls we’re getting position data from a moving dolly, the focus distance from the lens, the striped script data from the script supervisor, even data from our lights. All of this data has been captured on our on-set wireless network and is ready to be married with the footage as soon as it’s ingested. In fact, it’s already paired up with a live proxy of the shot, and shows up in a edit bin ready for an editor seconds after the camera stops rolling. This allows our directors to see an assembly edit of the scene as it’s being shot. Not only did we see an opportunity for shortening the bridge between production and post, we’ve tried to close the gap entirely.
So back to the main point, are DITs and post house’s days numbered? They could be. Not everyone needs or wants a system that so closely merges shooting and editing, but it has changed the way we shoot and we’re not turning back. At the very least the DITs job will evolve, as it has from the time it was created. With all the data being gathered on set the image is just one part of the puzzle; DITs may need to branch out and become data wranglers, metadata managers, or set network technicians. We’ll see.