“When shit hits the fan on set, DITs are the one everyone looks at to get it fixed. Whether it’s a monitor going dark, camera setting change, lighting issue, flicker issue, anything. DITs are there to make sure all of the gear works smoothly.” - Chris Cavanaugh, Local 600 DIT.
But as any DIT will tell you, their roles encompass far more than just being the repair guy on production. These days, DITs juggle multiple tasks ranging from routing video, dailies, color grading, image management and much more. And unlike positions such as cam ops or ACs, the roles of DITs are always evolving.
Chris Cavanaugh is all too familiar with this changing dynamic. Based in Hollywood CA, Chris has a DIT history spanning over 10 years, having worked on some impressive titles like Captain America: Winter Soldier, Furious 7, Star Trek: Beyond, and most recently the eponymous remake of the famous 80s show, Magnum P.I. (premiering in September).
He shares with us how the relatively new DIT position has changed since its inception, and what essentials he keeps on his cart for productions.
The OG of DITs
“The start of my path down this road can be traced to loving film growing up. I’ve had a passion for film and shooting ever since my teenage years, which made me decide to attend film school in Colorado in the early 2000s. I was hired as an intern for this production company that purchased two of the first 25 RED cameras ever made. This was around the time that digital cameras first started making an appearance, and filmmakers were scrambling to figure out how to work around the technology.”
“Back then, my job was to get the data from the cameras and transcode it into a usable format. When I moved over to Los Angeles after film school to work in the industry, I found a lot of productions required someone to also color grade this footage. Remember that this was when digital cinema cameras were still brand new. Converting files took a long time and some people even found it crazy that a digital camera could do the same thing as film. So I went around as a downloader and first pass colorist for this media.”
“As digital technology started replacing all of the old film tools, the roles of our DIT positions evolved too. On top of getting dailies and transcoding, technology allowed for live color grading on-set. Production wanted us to handle lighting, image routing, live color grading. Now, we DITs have become the base of operations when it comes to every piece of technology on set. Our expertise working with digital tools that most filmmakers don’t have time to learn makes us invaluable to a production.”
“Filmmaking has changed a lot in recent years. Today, everyone wants to have cameras that are mobile. Mounting them to Steadicams, cranes, dollies, drones. These can get some amazing shots, but feeding them to our production can be a real challenge.”
“When people mention monitoring, they probably think it’s as simple as putting a Bolt on a camera and having the receiver in video village pulling the feed. But it’s not always so simple. More and more productions want to do shots that require movement, so you have to think about where to position yourself so that the video feeds always reach you. If it goes dark on your end, that means the entire team isn’t seeing the image, and that can really disrupt the work of the crew.”
“As a DIT, my job is to anticipate when these difficulties will occur. On Furious 7, there’s a scene where Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham) starts in a hospital room and progresses out of the hospital, all in one take. We would only get one shot at this because they’re blowing up parts of the building as he moves.”
“The crew was all watching from inside the building, and I knew that once the Steadicam op went outside, we would lose image. So instead of relying on one receiver, I had our Bolt multicasting to 3 receivers hidden in this scene: 2 inside and 1 outside. As they walked out, I was patching in different receivers so our entire team can continue getting image. The end result was the opening scene of the movie.”
What's On His Cart?
Here’s what Chris likes to keep on set:
- Inovativ Apollo cart
- Blackmagic 40x40 Videohub
- 4x FSI BoxIO color boxes
- Furman Power conditioner
- Mac Pro w/ Pomfort LiveGrade & Silverstack
- Tangent grading panel
- Odyssey 7Q+ monitor
- 2x Sony A250 OLED monitors
- 2x Teradek Serv Pros
- 2x Teradek Bolt 3000s
- Teradek Link
- 2x Decimator QUAD
“The Link is one of the main tools in my kit. It allows me to create my own local area network - which isn’t connected to the Internet - that I connect the Serv Pros to. That way, anyone on set with an iPad or iPhone can connect to monitor without having to stand behind our production monitors. I also use the Link for camera control, changing settings on the Alexa and RED with ease”.
“It's also useful for streaming dailies. Using Live Play 3, anyone also connected to my network can stream the dailies from their own iPads. This gives the Director and Producers much higher-quality dailies compared to videos hosted on the Internet. Also, if I ever need to move away from my cart, I can give my iPad remote access to my Mac Pro, allowing me to use my computer directly on my iPad.”
“For many of the shots filmmakers want to achieve these days, wired systems are a thing of the past. You can’t tether a camera that’s also moving vigorously through the set. That’s why the Bolts and Serv Pros are huge for me.” - Chris Cavanaugh, DIT.
“We always need a reliable image that works just as well as a cabled system. With Bolts, I’m getting those feeds to my cart instantly and rerouting them to every monitor and iPad/iPhone on set. A lot of crews love having the Serv Pros too. My DP is able to take his iPad onto set and not run back and forth to the video village. Hair & makeup can also take notes from their stations, and the boom op can adjust his positioning without bothering the crew.”
“Over the years, my cart has gone through so many iterations to be where it’s at now. The tech behind filmmaking has evolved so much since the inception of digital cameras, and now we’re starting to see everything go wireless. It’s up to us to stay updated on the latest trends and processes, so when these issues happen on set, we’re always ready to fix them.”
Check out Chris’s work at @cavcam.
Also check out his IMBD here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3075477/