On this episode of Cool Production Peeps we have Sean Sweeney, a Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) based in Montreal. He specializes in on-set digital imaging, data management, color correction, among with others.
Many of us confuse a DIT as someone that just backs up footage but when you are working on the projects that Sean does, you need to know a whole lot more.
RR: Hey Sean thanks for joining me today. Can you tell everyone out there what a DIT is and what you typically do on-set?
SS: Thanks for having me Rob! DIT stands for ‘Digital Imaging Technician’. It’s a pretty broad term nowadays, but the core of it remains to be image control/management. What this means specifically on-set can vary wildly from project to project. The baseline of it is QC, i.e. making sure exposure and color levels are acceptable, matching cameras on multi-cam shoots, but it can quickly get a lot more creative with on-set color work. On some shows you’ll do live color (with LiveGrade or other software) and sometimes you’ll ride the iris for your DP, on others you may do color after the fact in something like DaVinci Resolve. Sometimes DITs will also handle data management, especially on smaller gigs like commercials. We’re often creating editorial dailies, or iPad dailies for producers/directors. On larger feature films, the DIT will usually just have to deal with live on-set color, and data management and dailies prep will be handled by the data management technician (DMT). We’re also the number one place to charge your iPhone, haha. That’s a bit of a running gag in our field.
It’s a job that’s continually evolving, so our day-to-day tasks change constantly. Ultimately we’re there to help the DP get the most from his material, and to help streamline image control from prep to post so the DP is able to move smoothly between all phases of production.
RR: How did you get into the DIT role?
SS: My very first job in the business was rolling cables at an old grip-and-lighting shop here in Montreal. It was backbreaking work, but it got me onto my first sets as a 5th grip! It was a great learning experience, and from there I made contacts with people and moved into the camera department. I was working in 16mm and 35mm as an AC for a while when digital cameras started flooding the market. I’ve always had a strong interest in IT and digital imaging, so when a friend asked me to help him streamline his RED One workflow, I jumped at the chance. I worked primarily as a data management tech in my early years, and then transitioned into digital imaging tech work.
RR: DIT is such a new role in the world of film making so how did you learn what you needed to learn and get on the bigger sets?
SS: There wasn’t much formal training available when I started, so there were a lot of long nights of reading up on anything I could find relating to digital imaging, camera manuals, whitepapers, etc. I had a few friends that owned digital cameras at the time, so there was a lot of hands-on testing happening as well. A good portion of the work of a DIT tends to be staying abreast of new technologies, and trying to attend seminars, presentations, and get as much hands-on time as possible with tech that we can apply to on-set work. Techs getting started now have access to a wealth of great content online. I highly recommend Ben Cain’s website Negative Spaces. It’s a treasure trove of great information for DITs, and anyone interested in digital imaging.
RR: Any advice to those that want to be a DIT?
SS: Learn the cameras inside and out. Learn about post. Learn how to use NLE’s, learn about lighting, gripping, lenses, etc. Learn as much as you can about departments outside of your own. People will often turn to the DIT for all sorts of technical questions, so upping your game as an ‘on-set technologist’ in addition to your DIT chops is a smart move.
RR: What’s the coolest/most fun project you’ve had?
SS: I think the coolest/most fun project I’ve had was the IMAX film ‘Jerusalem’. It was a wonderful experience getting to travel there and see the eclectic mix of history, culture, and religion. It was a remarkable experience. (For the record I was the data management tech and dailies colorist on that show, not the DIT)
RR: In your opinion, what makes a great DIT?
SS: Outside of strong technical skills, I think a creative eye is a big plus. A strong willingness to learn new things, to constantly push their own personal limits is great. Being a great communicator is one of the most important things. Having to deal with the camera department, post, producers, even directors means a deft ability to communicate clearly and concisely will go a long way.
RR: What’s been the best experience you’ve had? Any terrible experiences you can tell us about?
SS: I think the first time I got to see a car blow up in person might’ve been one of the most remarkable experiences, haha. As a kid who loved action movies growing up, getting to see it for real was just insanely cool. And getting to have experiences like that on a regular basis makes me feel incredibly grateful to do what I do.
As for negative experiences, I think sometimes when there are communication breakdowns it can be frustrating. That or when crafty has bad coffee!
RR: Do you see yourself doing any other roles on set? And why/why not?
SS: I love what I do, so in a professional capacity I can’t see myself doing anything else at the moment. Personally, I love to shoot, and I work as a DP on personal projects with friends in my free time. It’s not something I think I’d ever pursue professionally. It’s pure love of the game, and that’s how I like it.
RR: My favorite question: What is the best and worst advice you’ve been given in this field?
SS: One of the first AC’s I worked with once told me something along the lines of this: “Murphy’s law was invented for the film business. What can go wrong absolutely will go wrong. Prepare yourself for the worst, and generally you’ll come out alright.” I’m not sure if he was paraphrasing an already existing quote, but I’ve found what he said to be particularly apt for what we do in the film business.
Make sure you check out Sean’s website to find out more about him and the work of a professional DIT.
If you are doing cool stuff in the production world I’d love to talk to you too! Shoot me an email at Rob@RuscherVisuals.com or find me on Twitter. Be sure to check out all the Cool Production Peeps here.