Hunter Thomas: Data Expert Series

Hello and welcome! It’s great to have you here with us. Now before we go in depth with your experiences and workflow in this interview, could you tell us a little bit about how you got your start in the industry and what led you to the DIT field?

Hunter: I attended NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts) in the media arts program, that really gave me the stride and enough knowledge in the field to examine my place in our industry. I learned about lighting, camera, sound, music, editorial and so much more. After high school I started working as quickly as I could, finding as many projects to join as possible. I started with Grip/Electric and after a few projects made the jump to sound, then eventually to camera & directing. I really took pride in being a jack of all trades it allows me to converse with just about anyone in any department. I found camera to be the best for my work and mind, and have been moving through camera positions for about 7 years. I started as a Utility and 2nd AC, eventually moving up to 1st AC, doing some Digital Loading, as well as some Operating and DP work. Recently I started taking everything I’ve learned and starting doing some DIT work. In the past 2 years I have been focusing on DP & DIT work.


What types of productions do you usually work on? What are the main ways in which they differ from each other?

Hunter: I usually Run of Show around the indie and Tier 1 scene but have been doing much more day playing on larger shows for networks and streamers in the past 3 years. I feel like I have much more control over the picture on the indie and Tier 1’s than I do on something a bit higher budget, the responsibilities are the same but the needs are different. On a large show everything is so setup, on my last day play DIT gig I did only 1 significant color beyond matching lenses and applying the show look and that was using the Alexa Mini LF’s large dynamic range to show that even with a M18 blasting the camera that we still had shadow data, everything else on that day was basic exposure matching. Compare that to Indies I work on where I am making significant changes to just about everything, some on behalf of the studio and some for the DP. Knowing how to play the field and make specific looks for specific people is beneficial, on a job recently I got a call from the network that the footage was looking a bit dark, after checking my notes I realized they were shooting it dark, so I did some look manipulation so we were shooting closer to middle ground but it appeared darker, (shooting for picture rather than shooting for clip).

Hunter working as a DIT & On Set Using a Dana Dolly Cam


And a follow-up question to that, do you have a favorite type of production to work on?

Hunter: I like to work on intelligently written projects, something with a pretty lax crew and production. Living in New Orleans, a city full of amazing food my camera teams and I will usually go out to a nearby restaurant for lunch rather than eating from crafty, so anything that gets me out of the sound stage and around the city. Beyond that the productions all pretty much blend together.


Now everyone has different preferences and a different cart/workstation set-up, could you tell me about yours?

Hunter: I tend to like horizontal camera carts rather than vertical carts. I’ve had issues with a cart nearly toppling over on me when a BNC cable get caught in a wheel. Having been an Assistant Camera before moving to a DIT I didn’t have a DIT cart, so I modified my Magliner by drilling holes in the top shelf and installing some wall pins for my reference monitors and iMac (I was doing dailies on that job as well and wanted the iMac over my MacBook Pro). I am currently developing a more permanent setup for the cart and a Nanuk case version of my rig for process trailer and 2nd Unit material that will just be dropped onto the cart instead of being laid over it. My normal setup is based around SmallHD, Atomos, Teradek, and Blackmagic hardware. I’ve been acquiring it over the years so you don’t need to go out and drop a huge sum of money for the cart if you are starting out. My Signal Pipeline goes like this (Teradek Bolt 3000/4K – Blackmagic Signal Distribution – SmallHD 1303, Atomos Shogun (False Color), Atomos Ninja-V (Proxy Recording), Teradek Serv Pro, BlackMagic Recorder 3G (Livegrade), and sometimes Sound Monitor output). Multicam shows are a little different they use multiple Distro boxes and a BlackMagic Decklink instead of a recorder 3G. All the signal ports and cables are labeled so if something suddenly stops working we can find a quick and easy solution to fix it. I like making my kit so easy to understand that someone could come in blindly and intuitively figure out the workflow.

Hunter’s Horizontal Workflow Setup


For those that may just be starting to build their cart/workstation, or are in the early stages of it, what are some pieces of equipment that you consider absolutely essential?

Hunter: A nice cable tester *the worst feeling in the world is running a 150’ cable to discover that it doesn’t work… Getting multiple label makers (P-Touch, and Nimbot) are the ones I use. USB expander, sensor swabs, monitor cleaner, blackwrap, P-Tap to 2-Pin Lemo’s, 2-Pin Lemo’s to AC power, a backup battery, outlet tester, and voltage testing pen. They are all support pieces that you don’t realize you need until you need them.


Going along with the previous question, do you have any tips for beginners in the field? What’s something you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

Hunter: Learn as much technical about every camera you will be working with, different workflows, data speeds, metadata, formats, color space. Once you have a working knowledge of cameras and workflows partnering up with a few DP’s when they work you work. Being able to bounce in and cover for anyone in camera is important, you never know who will have a last minute emergency and need to take a few minutes off.


What resources were most helpful to you when you were first starting out?

Hunter: My years as a 1st AC introduced me to sales and service reps from the major camera and monitor brands, when I have technical questions I can reach out to them very easily and solve most problems, otherwise reading technical manuals, and using apps allows you to stay up to date on the newest cameras settings and formats.


Do you have any on-set stories you’d like to share?

Hunter: I am one of those engineering jack of all trades people, I am constantly getting calls from friends and co-workers looking for a specific workflow, rigging option, or signal pipeline.  I am one of the people that can step into any position and support.  A while back I was on a low budget shoot and when I laid out my rate and kit fees production fought back and didn’t wanna pay the rate & kit fee.  It took the DP demanding it, Post Sup pushing for it and a kit fee reduction to get approved but we did the project.  We had 5 people on the camera team (DP, 1st AC, 2nd AC, Utility, DIT).  By the end of the shoot the DP & I were the only 2 that stayed on from the beginning and I took a few days off to be on another show.  On one of the later days I was watching the monitor and saw a pretty sizable spec of dust on the sensor and flipped to 1 and called a Code Red and went and swabbed the sensor.  While I was cleaning it the Exec Producer and DP were watching intently.  The DP looked over to the Exec and said “this is why we are paying him as much as we are.”

Hunter’s Color Grading Setup


Is there anything else you would like to share that was not asked?

Hunter: Find a good group of people you like working with and work to keep them involved in your shoots and they will bring you with them on their shoots.


Awesome advice, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us! Your responses will go a long way in helping others learn more about the field, and I think you shared some great pieces of equipment to add to your kit, whether you’re a beginner or having been working for a while. 


Be sure to keep checking back as we continue this interview series!

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