Welcome Mark, thanks so much for joining us today! Its great having you with us and I’m very interested in hearing about your workflow as well as your journey into the DIT role. I know you have a long history in the industry but a lot of that was spent outside your current role, could you walk us through what brought you to where you are now?
Mark: Only through determination, and the invaluable guidance of other DITs did my break into the role come about. Given my technical background it was not the easiest role to get into but with the right contacts things really took off for me at the start of 2022.
Prior to working in the industry my career started out as an electronics engineer with an apprenticeship servicing TV and Video equipment. In the early 90s I moved into the IT industry working for Digital Equipment Corporation, now part of HP, where I spent a lot of my time serving tape backup and storage systems. I still remember the day DEC launched DLT tape, now known as LTO, which is testament to how advanced and forward thinking DEC was at the time as we are still using LTO Tape today.
In the early 90s IT companies found it hard to recruit staff with previous experience in IT as the industry was still very new. I was fortunate to receive intensive training over 6 months, followed by ongoing training and development throughout my career with DEC.
Companies are no longer investing so much in staff and prefer to hire people with previous experience. So how does the new talent of today get into technical roles that need experience and training? And how do you gain the knowledge needed to become a good DIT? More on this later.
In the later part of my IT career I specialized in data security and storage working at Seagate, Veritas, Acronis and Datto. Early 2000’s I studied Digital Photography and took a sabbatical from the IT world and became a freelance press photographer plus took on commissions for commercial PR and events.
In 2016 I initially entered the film industry to become a stills photographer but work was hard to come by and pretty low paid when entering a new industry. It was while on set I met a DIT which peaked my interest with my technical background. It just fascinated me how this poor guy was sitting cross legged on the floor in the back of a dark van hunched over his computer watching his backups.
This DIT recommended some books to read and I researched as much as I could about the role and even attended a 3 day DIT workshop in London. This workshop actually put me off the idea of becoming a DIT as it seemed unachievable to go out and spend £50,000 on kit and then go about finding work with no experience. At the time it felt like an impossible role to get into unless I worked my way up in the camera department to get the skills and contacts to progress.
I put the idea of becoming a DIT on the back burner until in 2021 when I met Sarah, a DIT working on a UK TV Drama series. My role on this TV Drama was Covid Marshal and talking to Sarah I told her my experience so far and how impossible it appears for an outsider to get into DIT roles. Thankfully she put me on the right track and helped get me started to what I do today and now I absolutely love the role.
That’s awesome. So what types of productions do you usually work on and if you could, what are the main ways in which they differ from each other?
Mark: So far most of my work is long form HETV Drama and Features. I find I enjoy TV Drama Series, the workflow is well structured and driven from the post production. As the DIT you need to be on your game and ensure your workflow is seamless and those dailies are delivered without issues as there are a lot of people wanting to review them. Features tend to be a little less formal, but this is probably due to the low budget jobs I have been on where post production is a little more fluid.
I really enjoy doing shorts too if I am not booked on other jobs. It provides the freedom to experiment with new products and workflows plus you can make new contacts that will help land more work in the future.
My first DIT job was on a short film called Wake, Directed by Rebecca Rose. The entire cast and crew were on zero pay but the script was totally moving. If it helps just one person open up and talk about their issues and not contemplate suicide then it was all worth it. Following on from the shoot of Wake, Rebecca helped me immensely to get my career started by providing references and recommendations for the next couple of DIT roles I took on.
Mark’s DIT van with cart
Wow, very powerful. So, do you have a favorite type of production to work on?
Mark: I really enjoy the challenges that come from long-running TV Series and managing vast amounts of data and fulfilling the technical brief provided by the Broadcaster. Long form shows come with prep days to design looks with the DP and design the workflows. Each one seems to have their unique challenges which provides the opportunity to research and learn new techniques to get better at the role. As the weeks go by on long form shoots you really get to know what the DP is looking for in the look and the work becomes instinctive.
Now everyone has different preferences and a different cart/workstation set-up, could you tell me about yours?
Mark: For the majority of the projects I have worked on shoots that are location based and I am based near set in a van. But I can equally work on set as I have everything loaded on a film cart so I can roll on to set at a moment’s notice whenever the DP needs it.
My film cart holds a 19” 14U rack, APC UPS and EcoFlow. I have customized the cart to include 2 monitor arms which are drilled and bolted in place and also fixed a mini rack for my SmartScopes on the top shelf.
For media offloading I use a 17” MacBook Pro Apple M1, 72TB G-RAID Shuttle, CalDigit TS4 hub to connect all types of card readers and shuttle drives too. Plus clip QA and review on Flanders DM241 Monitor.
For Dailies creation including the above I use Plugable SSD Thunderbolt drives for fast transcoding, Tangent Ripple Panel for grading, and my StreamDeck is a great time saver when capturing Slate information.
When I am on set with a live feed, whether it’s just for QA, capturing live stills for the DP or livegrade, I use TVLogic IS 4k Mini and Blackmagic Duo SmartScope plus Blackmagic Switch.
Mark’s DIT film cart
And for those that may just be starting to build their cart, or at least are in the early stages of it, what are some pieces of equipment that you consider absolutely essential?
Mark: My essential kit list when I started out included a 13 “ MacBook Pro with thunderbolt hub, RAID Drive, Flanders Monitor, UPS and ShotPut Pro. Essentially this is all you need to start when doing data management. The Flanders Monitor is optional and is used purely to QA the clips. But I highly recommend getting a decent monitor that the DP can trust. Nobody questions Flanders and it is often used as the reference monitor to calibrate all other monitors onset. If you can not afford a Flanders when getting started then rent one.
Using ShotPut Pro to Offload Cards on set
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?
Mark: What I wish I knew from the start, which sounds obvious now. You can start as a data wrangler on short films and you could get away with just having a good laptop and ShotPut Pro. Managing data is essential, no matter what level you are, so focus on this to start. You can then learn how to transcode and grade etc… when you have quiet times on set. But always be learning as there is no one book or course that will teach you everything you need to know. Above all, test your workflow and your kit again and again from start to finish. Never leave it to chance on the day to plug something in or install software updates. Technology goes wrong often and it is knowing how to correct things quickly. If you offload starts taking you 4 hours to complete you need to know why and how to get around issues.
Drop-off basket and camera cards
You mentioned there is no one book or course than can teach everything. Are there any resources that were particularly helpful to you when first starting out?
Mark: Shadowing or assisting another DIT is by far the best resource you will have to get started. If you don’t know any DITs then you better get a job on set so you can hang around them. Any job will do, just be on set and learn from others and tell them your goal is to be a DIT and eventually it will happen through hard work and focus.
In addition to this read camera manuals, blogs, events and training available from all manufacturers of the kit and software you will use in your workflow. Especially learn DaVinci and some basic grading from www.fxphd.com.
Getting your first couple of jobs can be tough as productions don’t want to take a chance on someone with no experience. My first job on a short film was unpaid but the director paid me back in more ways than one by recommending me for other jobs and being a reference. This gave me a great boost and filled up my calendar for most of my first year.
Great recommendations. Any on-set stories you’d like to share with the readers?
Mark: While I mentioned above you can start your career with minimal kit, please beware.
On my first full length feature, a comedy musical called Christmas on Mistletoe Farm which was unscripted and shot using 3 Sony Venice at 4K. Creating dailies was a challenge on my 13” 8 GB MacBook Pro but offloading to the master drives was taking hours. I found myself sitting on my own in the loft of a deserted farm house at night with rats gnawing on the floor boards below me. The rats got so used to me being there, my furry friends took up residence in my DIT Rack to keep warm on the hard drives.
I quickly learned that having a high spec machine and fast SSD drives to transcode onto will save you hours of working way past wrap time and allow you to get more sleep.
Later that week I upgraded my main machine to a 17” MacBook Pro 16 GB which has been a great machine. I will probably upgrade to a Mac Studio later this year.
Workstation set-up while inside DIT van
I imagine the rats were quite thankful for you, hopefully the production crew was as well! Before I let you go, is there anything else you would like to share that we didn’t talk about?
Mark: Coming from a corporate background I find the Film and TV industry is still very much behind the curve on good data protection best practices. Compound that with the very challenging environments we work in and time pressures and it becomes all too easy for mistakes to occur and data to become lost. If you are new to the role then you need to be confident in your methods and advise production teams, camera crews and post production on how data management is to be approached.
You are the expert on set and there’s no one to blame if data gets lost. A DIT must hold a workflow meeting during prep and document every step and provide daily reports on card offloads.
Productions often give data wrangling duties to runners and camera assistance who have come through film school yet know little to nothing about how to wrangle data. I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to protect their data. When on a job I always make a point of offering some time to educate crew on basic data wrangling and show them why they should use a tool like ShotPut Pro instead of just dragging and dropping files.
Well I would like to personally thank you for that, educating others on data protection is a huge part of our mission here at Imagine, so it sounds like you’re contributing greatly to that mission! I’d also like to sincerely thank you for you responses. Not only is it important to educate others on protecting their data, but providing resources for those interested in the field is also extremely important, and your answers do just that.
And for those reading this, be sure to keep checking back for more interviews… we have just a few weeks left in this series!