5 Books To Learn How To Be A DIT
Learning how to be a DIT can be a tricky thing. For starters there’s a lot to master. You need to know the nuances of how to work with cameras and digital images, you need to know how to manage complex file based workflows and data security, you need to know how to grade like an artist and collaborate with a whole host of other professionals.
But everyone needs to start somewhere, and there’s nothing that can’t be learned with a little determination. I’d highly recommend checking out the 12th instalment of How To Be A DIT, a long running series of posts on this blog, opening up the world of the working DIT.
In this book review I’ve pulled together 5 new books for DIT’s that can help ground you in the detailed technical resources you will need to grasp in order to perform at a professional standard, as well as be prepared for the politics and pitfalls that can occur on set.
**Focal Press DIT BOOK GIVEAWAY**
Thanks to the good people at Focal Press I’m happy to announce this blog’s first ever prize-winning competition! For a chance to win a set of three of the DIT books reviewed in this post, simply sign up for the blog’s email newsletter before the end of February 2015 and 3 lucky readers will be picked at random. If you’re already signed up (smart decision!) you’re auto-enrolled. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time, but the best part of being a subscriber is that you’ll never miss a post.
To enter the competition scroll to the top right of the blog’s sidebar and enter your email address in the box and hit ‘Subscribe’…
UPDATE: – Robert Trim has said that he will add his book, Digital Imaging Technician to the prize draw too. So three lucky readers could walk away with all of the books reviewed here!
The Digital Imaging Technician – Robert L Trim
Robert Trim’s Digital Imaging Technician does what is says on the tin. It’s an excellent practical primer on all aspects of the role of a working DIT and Robert covers everything from on-set etiquette to understanding the fundamentals of colour science to step by step guides to achieving common DIT tasks in specific software.
One of my favourite things about the book is that it’s an informal and fast read, that will give you tons of practical knowledge and fine grain DIT wisdom as you make your way through the contents, tutorials and practice media that go along with it. And because it’s an ebook, those tutorials are available in a single click, as are other articles and links that the book recommends.
Another bonus to the book are the revision questions at the end of some of the chapters, which test your knowledge through some multiple choice questions, which helps to cement in your learning.
Although it’s not as extensive as Blain Brown’s The Filmmakers Guide To Digital Imaging, it is still very much worth buying if you’re serious about becoming a DIT as you will learn things in this book you won’t learn elsewhere. Digital Imaging Technician is actually a little more detailed in some of the practical aspects of a DIT’s day to day workload – such as exactly how to set up you file and folder structures and step-by-step guides to using Assimilate Scratch or REDCINE-X to create dailies.
It’s interesting to note that Robert also personally recommends that DITs read two of the other books in this list – The Filmmakers Guide to Digital Imaging and David Stump’s Digital Cinematography and you can check out Robert’s thoughts on them here.
The book is available as a PDF download or if you’re a Apple user as iBook from the iTunes store. You can also get a download link to 6 Gb’s of video assets to use in following along with some of the book’s technical tutorials, by sending Robert a quick email.
Overall this is an excellent read for anyone wanting to get a fast but effective overview of what’s expected of a DIT and a practical understanding how to deliver it on a professional film set. At $39.99 it’s also slightly cheaper than some of the other books on this list, although they ship as physical books for only a few bucks more.
The Filmmaker’s Guide to Digital Imaging – Blain Brown
To give it it’s full title The Filmmaker’s Guide to Digital Imaging – for cinematographers, digital imaging technicians and camera assistants by Blain Brown, is, at nearly three hundred pages and published this year (2015), an as up-to-date must-read manual for anyone wanting to become a working DIT, as you could possibly hope to find.
What’s more it also comes with access to a companion website featuring hours of HD video interviews with working DITs which are worth the price of the book alone. You can log in to the site after scratching off a small panel in the inside cover and watch your way through 24 in-depth videos on the duties of a DIT, DIT carts and equipment, live grading on set, dealing with production, how to get started as a DIT plus a whole lot more.
The Filmmakers Guide to Digital Imaging is a lovely big book that feels substantial in the hand and the full colour photos really helpful for seeing clearly what’s going on, especially in colour science sections. It covers everything from how camera sensors work to understanding scopes, exposure, digital colour spaces (including ACES), on-set grading, building your own DIT cart, workflow, data management and deliverables. It really is a soup-to-nuts text book for a training DIT.
The building a DIT cart chapter is chock full of nice big photos of a variety of bespoke solutions created by DITs and also some of the more mass-produced configurations created by rental houses like Bigfoot and LightIron, which gives you a good sense of the diversity of interpretations of what a DIT Cart really is. (Or that every job, requires a different set up.)
The chapters on the camera side of things are pretty exhaustive, and it’s great to get so much detail about the “other half of the job”, which is doubly helpful if you are coming from an editorial background like I am. On the one hand it’s a deeply technical book with complex answers to complex questions so it’s not really a breezy read, but that’s a positive given that you want to know your stuff right? And not just skim over the surface.
That said it’s not at all a stuffy read which makes digesting it all more enjoyable.
Opinions about the job and duties of the DIT position are varied and sometimes heated. It is not at all difficult to be a “file monkey”, one of the ones who just know the rote mechanical aspects of “take card A and dump it to the hard drive and output a 4:2:2 Pro Res.” Let’s face it, a monkey could actually do that – it’s really not that hard. OK, it would have to be a really smart monkey but we could get one of those. – p.219
If you are wanting to become a DIT, or you already are one and want to double-down on specific technical areas of the job (how particular camera sensors work, perfecting exposure at the waveform monitor etc.) then this book will be a huge help and it definitely represents a great first working manual for an emerging role.
The only ‘negative’ thing I can think to say about the book is that (due to the role of a DIT) it’s deeply technical in it’s content and so you do need some previous technical understanding to find your way through it and to make the most of what you’re reading.
The book does have the odd anecdote or tip from a DIT but it could have benefitted with more stories from the field to give you a practical flavour of the work, although there is plenty of that to be had in the lengthy video interviews with DIT’s on the companion website. If you only buy one book on this list, get this one.
Modern Post – Workflows and Techniques for Digital Filmmakers – Scott Arundale & Tashi Trieu
Modern post provides a simple and clear guide to digital filmmaking that is comprehensive and accessible with relevant and fascinating interviews and case studies. – Terra Abroms, Sony digital arts centre and post production supervisor, American Film Institute.
Unlike other (admittedly much older) editing books that I’ve previously read which have majored on the film print workflow, Modern Post catches the reader up to speed in just 8 pages of historical overview before plunging into the badlands of the ‘digital frontier’. Which makes it feel like a modern read, given the demise of film-based post production.
One of the best things about Modern Post is that it’s designed as an accessible guide to readers from all levels of background knowledge and so there are lots of helpful side bars and definitions, including an extensive glossary, which means if you are a film student or relative newbie then it’s an informative and educational read.
Overall the book offers an excellent introduction to the entire digital filmmaking landscape – from the sensor to the screen and beyond. It works through the digital workflow considerations for all aspects of production including on set with the DIT, in post with the editors and colorists and in the VFX department and trailer cutting house. It even covers restoration and archiving and there are also two extended interviews to round out the book. One on theatrical feature Don Jon (largely focused on crafting the edit) and another (largely focusing on workflow) on documentary Tim’s Vermeer. (Which as it happens is a personal favourite of mine and is well worth a watch!)
Part 3 of the book does cover some aspects of the DIT role but in nothing like the depth of a whole book devoted to being a DIT, such as Brown or Roberts book’s reviewed above. But it does provide a concise read for other departments like editorial, VFX or even marketing. The section on budgeting for post production is also a great read for any editor or producer who needs to learn how to manage budgets and schedules for the first time.
As a quick aside there is also a companion website with a couple of DaVinci Resolve related tutorials that go along with the dailies creation section of the book, which you can check out here.
So why should you read this book to help you learn how to be a DIT? Because it offers a detailed perspective on the entire process of modern filmmaking, that you cannot easily find elsewhere. This helps to fill in some of the blanks of what might have happened up or down stream of you, and how that might affect your decision making in the heat of battle.
Digital Cinematography – Fundamentals, Tools, Techniques and Workflows – David Stump, ASC
The longest, and therefore the heaviest (1.2kgs!), of all the books on this list, Digital Cinematography by David Stump, ASC is a 460 page compendium of everything you could possibly want to know about acquiring digital images today. It details all the major production cameras, lenses, recording systems, displays and other paraphernalia that are needed to tackle the daunting task of capturing light on a sensor, through a lens.
Let me firmly establish a little groundwork. I love shooting film. I love shooting digital. I love analog technology. I love digital technology. I have no agenda for either, and I make my living by knowing and using both effectively. The constraints that the history of cinema has imposed on our view of cinematography are disappearing. A new view of the future of cinematography is emerging.
Written by an ASC whose credits as a visual effects cinematographer include X-Men 1 and 2, Contact, Flightplan, Breaking Bad and many, many more, you know this book is written by someone who knows what they’re talking about. It should also be said that this book isn’t for the faint-hearted when it comes to graphs, algebra, scientific diagrams or workflow charts, as it’s packed to the gills with all of these, which, as a geek, is great to my mind! And to give you a sense of the depth of material the Contents listing spans 20 pages alone.
From the perspective of someone wanting to become a DIT proficient to a high level of technical mastery of the digital image, you can’t really afford not to buy and absorb the wealth of information spilling out of this book. That will be no easy task, but a highly rewarding one. The chapters on Camera Set Up and Operation, Workflow Design and Testing, Color Management, Compression and Workflow, Displays and Post Production and the Digital Intermediate will all be a worthwhile investment of your time and mental energy.
If you are a dedicated Director of Photography, DIT or Colorist then Digital Cinematography would be a sound investment in your career, provided that you actually work your way through it and take the time to experience how all the component parts of digital images work together – from the crop size of the sensor to the dimensions and peculiarities of the lens, to the acquisition format and colour space through to the final distribution format and compression. There is so much to learn, but you can get there page by page.
Data Management, Backup and Archive for Media Professionals – Marc M Batschkus
One of the main technical attributes a DIT needs to have is the ability to think like an IT professional. Understanding not only how to manage files, drives and systems, but how to build them from scratch and repair them on the fly. Also because a DIT is often solely responsible for the safety and integrity of the data under their care, knowing how to build a system that will adequately protect that data (through numerous back ups) is an essential skill. Thankfully Data Management, Back and Archive for Media Professionals, is a thorough and free read that will help you on your way.
After you’ve been reading the book for a while it you start to get the feeling that it’s really one long pitch for Archiware’s P5 data management apps, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading it as there is a lot of valuable information from a variety of sources (15 different contributors) that will be essential in helping you think through your rock solid workflow.
The book is packed with handy tips and suggestions including helpful mnemonics, such as 3-2-1. Which stands for: Always have 3 copies of your data, on 2 types of storage media, with 1 stored off-site. There’s also several useful ‘insider’ stories on the perils of data management gone awry.
In summary Data Management is a very useful and fast read that will certainly make you think about how you are securing your data, whether you are an editor, DIT, or regular joe. And it’s free!