Saturday, 11 November 2017

BEATS - Rave Music and Steven Soderbergh

DIT Grant McPhee recently finished up on Beats, a feature from Ken Loach's Sixteen Films.

Shooting on the Alexa with Ben Kracun

EXCLUSIVE: BFI, Creative Scotland among backers of UK movie now in production.
Steven Soderbergh
Altitude Film Sales and Wild Bunch are teaming up to launch 90s rave movie Beatsat Cannes, co-selling the feature which started production in the UK on 30 April.  
Ocean’s Eleven director Steven Soderbergh will serve as executive producer on the project, which will be produced by Camilla Bray (Oranges And Sunshine) of Rosetta Productions, which is housed under Ken Loach’s Sixteen Films.
Beats is being directed by Brian Welsh who recently helmed The Entire History Of You, a popular episode of Charlie Brooker’s hit series Black Mirror
The screenplay was co-written by Welsh and emerging screenwriting talent Kieran Hurley whose original play inspired the feature and led to a residency for him at Scotland’s National Theatre. 
Set in a small Scottish town in the mid 90s, the film tells the story of best friends Johnno and Spanner who, despite being total opposites, have a deep bond. 
The explosion of the free party scene and a hedonistic youth movement is in evidence across the UK.
In pursuit of adventure and escape the boys head out on one last night together to an illegal rave. Journeying into an underworld of anarchy, freedom and a full-on collision with the forces of law and order, they share a night that they will never forget.
Developed by BFI and Creative Scotland, the film is being funded by the BFI and Creative Scotland with National Lottery funding, alongside partners BBC Scotland and Lipsync. 


Altitude will handle North America, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, German-speaking territories, Italy, Spain and Airlines/Ships. 
Wild Bunch will handle Benelux, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, all Asia, Israel, Middle East and Turkey.
In addition, Altitude will handle UK distribution, whilst Wild Bunch will distribute in France.
Producer Bray said: “Beats is a deeply personal film for Brian, and one that looks to the classics that have mythologised a particular youth culture at a specific moment in time - Dazed and ConfusedThis is England and Clerks to name a few.”
Bray’s Rosetta Productions was a recipient of a BFI Vision Award in 2016.
The tie-up marks the latest collaboration between Wild Bunch and Altitude, the latter being a regular distribution partner of Wild Bunch in the UK.


Mike Runagall of Altitude added: “Brian and Kieran have created an irresistible coming of age story that is both unique and universal, set against the backdrop of one of the 20th century’s defining cultural movements.”
Wild Bunch commented: “Camilla and Brian are upcoming talents of the European industry who will bring to international markets freshness and energy in that irresistible revolutionary teenage tale of music, freedom and political rebellion of young people claiming a common space, capturing the essence of what makes us human, that is somehow lost in the world around us.”


Country Music - Julie Walters and 8K Red Weapon

We provided an onset DIT running Livegrade and Datalab for a new feature shooting in Glasgow, starring Julie Walters.

DP George Steel and Director Tom Harper decided to shoot their latest feature at 8K on the Red Weapon with a mixture of anamorphic and spherical lenses.  DIT Grant McPhee and Ben McKinstrie provided onset and dailies services for Digital Onset

From The Sun:

DAME Julie Walters looks in need of some retail therapy as she shoots scenes inside a busy shopping centre today.
The Harry Potter actress, 67, seemed fed up between takes for latest flick Country Music at Silverburn, Glasgow.

EXCLUSIVE: Sophie Okonedo and James Harkness have joined the cast of Faye Ward’s much-anticipated comedy-drama Country Music, which has just begun shooting. They will join stars Jessie Buckley (TabooWar & Peace) and Julie Walters (Billy ElliotPaddington 2) in the tale about a young singer from Glasgow who dreams of making it to Nashville.

Peaky Blinders helmer Tom Harper, one of the hottest directors coming out of UK at the moment, is directing the feature from a script by Nicole Taylor (The C Word). Ward produces via her Fable Pictures banner while Entertainment One snapped up worldwide rights to the project in May this year.
Oscar-nominated and Tony Award-winning Okonedo, whose credits include Hotel Rwanda and Doctor Who, has just come off the West End production of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia. Rising Scottish star Harkness has had roles in projects such as Rogue OneMacbeth and The Program.
Country Music is shooting in Glasgow and Nashville and follows the story of Rose-Lynn Harlan (Buckley) who is bursting with raw talent, charisma and cheek. Fresh out of jail and with two young kids, all she wants is to get out of Glasgow and make it as a country singer. Her mom Marion (Walters) has had a bellyful of Rose-Lynn’s Nashville nonsense. Forced to take responsibility, she gets a cleaning job, only to find an unlikely champion in the middle-class lady of the house (Okonedo). It’s a comedy-drama about mothers and daughters, dreams and reality and three chords and the truth.
The film will showcase country music from both sides of the Atlantic with Rose-Lynn’s band led by UK folk royalty Neill McColl and features Scottish music legends and founders of The Transatlantic Sessions, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. Bob Harris, whose BBC Radio 2 show has made him an ambassador for country music in the UK for more than 40 years, will also appear in the film. The project features a range of classic and modern country music and the soundtrack will feature an original song written by Caitlyn Smith, actress Mary Steenburgen and Kate York.
Project is backed by BFI, Creative Scotland and Film4, all of whom developed the film with Fable Pictures. Eugenio Perez co-produces while exec producers are Natascha Wharton for BFI, Leslie Finlay for Creative Scotland, Polly Stokes for Film4 and Xavier Marchand for Moonriver Content.
“Nicole Taylor has written a cracking script full of energy and charm,” said Ward. “Her witty dialogue will have you in stitches but at its heart, this is a moving, universal story about roots and dreams. Jessie Buckley is a revelation in the lead role and I can’t wait for audiences to hear her sing.”
Harper added: “Nicole has written the most wonderful script: hugely entertaining, sharp, funny and with something to say about the way we live today. I am thrilled to be bringing it to life with such an exceptional team of people.”
Buckley is repped by United Agents and CAA. Walters is repped by Independent Talent. Okonedo is repped by UTA and Hamilton Hodell. Harkness is repped by Curtis Brown Group. Harper is repped by UTA and 42.

In Plain Sight - Digital Onset and serial Killers in Glasgow

In Plain Sight: Where was it filmed?

Most of the action in the ITV drama about 1950s serial killer Peter Manuel takes place in suburbia - but Glaswegians will recognise some of the locations

In Plain Sight stars Douglas Henshall as William Muncie, the policeman who tracked down narcissistic serial killer Peter Manuel.
In the 1950s, Manuel brought terror to the streets of suburban Scotland. “It’s a very domestic drama and therein lies the real horror of it,” explains producer Gillian McNeill. “How terrified people were that such things could happen in quiet suburbia, which was aspirational after the Second World War. Things were getting better and for this ghastly thing to start happening in 1956 was terrifying.”

The Laurieston

“The Laurieston, which is on Bridge Street in Glasgow, doubled as The Stag pub in our story. It’s a pub that is just so gloriously period and has been used in innumerable other productions and films. It was a delight because the period detail hasn’t changed. It was really nice to find a pub that had that atmosphere.”


“Sloans in The Argyll Arcade doubled as The Whitehall restaurant where Peter Manuel met William Watt and his lawyer Laurence Dowdall. Watt had been accused of the murder of his own family, and Peter Manuel kept saying he knew who did it and taunted this poor man. He arranged to have a meeting in The Whitehall and Watt’s lawyer went with him in order to corroborate anything that Peter Manuel might say to entrap himself, which he didn’t in the end.
“But that was an absolutely fabulous location: all mahogany and beautifully etched glass. It just looked like something that had remained in aspic for years. It’s very popular as a venue for private parties and there’s a very buzzy pub downstairs. “

George V Bridge

“The George V Bridge over the River Clyde. It’s where Muncie talks to his informant about Peter Manuel. The river looks stunning and you see the reflections of the bridge and you can hear the trains going over. We added the sounds of boats as a reminder that the Clyde was very, very busy place at one point. I thought that location was gorgeous and so Glaswegian somehow: this beautiful bridge over a gorgeous river.”

South Portland Street bridge

“The suspension bridge is the only location in the entire three-parter that was the real location. It’s where Peter Manuel threw his gun over the bridge into the river, and that is exactly the spot where it happened.”
In Plain Sight is on Wednesdays ITV 9pm

The Wife - Glenn Close, Christian Slater and Glasgow

Kerr Loy recently finished up on The Wife, filmed in Glasgow.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than a writer whose feelings have been hurt.” The speaker is Joan Castleman, the charming, enigmatically discreet and supportive wife of world-famous author and New York literary lion Joe Castleman. It is a fascinating and bravura performance from Glenn Close, in this hugely enjoyable dark comedy from director Bj√∂rn Runge, adapted by Jane Anderson from the novel by Meg Wolitzer. Perhaps it’s Close’s career-best – unnervingly subtle, unreadably calm, simmering with self-control. Her Joan is a study in marital pain, deceit and the sexual politics of prestige. It’s a portrayal to put alongside Close’s appearances in Dangerous Liaisons and Fatal Attraction. This is an unmissable movie for Glenn Close fans. Actually, you can’t watch it without becoming a fan – if you weren’t one already.
The Castlemans are on the plane to Sweden, ready for Joe to get the Nobel prize. Yet they are being pestered on the flight by a certain Nathaniel Bone, part stalker-fan, part parasitic hack who wants Joe to cooperate with a warts-and-all biography he is planning to write. Joe gives him the contemptuous brush-off but Joan cautiously advises a more diplomatic treatment. It is a key moment in this hugely enjoyable drama when things begin to fall apart.
Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the cantankerous and conceited old writer, a man now childishly addicted to praise and luxuriating in his colossal quasi-Bellow reputation. Christian Slater is the insidious and dangerous Bone. Max Irons plays Joe’s moody son David who also has plans to be writer, desperately needing the old man’s approval and yet prickly and resentful at Joe’s sorrowing criticisms of his work – criticisms which do not convey any great reassurance that his son has chosen the right career. And there is an unsettling moment in his Stockholm hotel suite when the great man appears not to recognise the name of one of his own characters. Is Joe succumbing to dementia?
And of course Close plays Joan, a woman much loved and admired within Joe’s circle of acquaintance: supportive helpmeet, mother – soon to be grandmother – and deeply affectionate spouse, apparently happy with a life lived in the titan’s shadow. Yet everyone is aware of a difficult truth; despite Joe blandly telling people at these cocktail parties that his wife “doesn’t write”, Joan had her own literary ambitions as a young woman. Joe’s moment of Nobel triumph appears to be triggering a late-life crisis in Joan.
Flashbacks to the 1950s and 60s show her as a co-ed taking a creative writing class with the young, insufferably pompous and married Professor Joe Castleman – who has himself only published minor short stories. She flirts, babysits his children and submits an outrageously seductive short story to his class, entitled The Faculty Wife. Things go as expected and soon Joan is wife number two, with a perennial suspicion that as Joe’s eye once roved to her, it could rove on to other people. Joe continues to stray, right up to the Nobel ceremony – and the film’s present-day section is set in the Clinton 1990s, when denying having sexual relations with younger women had become a political trope.
The film shows how Joan’s own literary ambitions began to wither in that sexist time and place: Elizabeth McGovern has an amusing cameo as an embittered minor author who advises her to give it all up. Later she gets a job as a reader in a publishing house whose smug and cynical editors are looking for “a Jewish writer”. Shrewdly, she puts Joe’s manuscript forward and his journey to greatness has begun.
The intrusive and insistent Bone thinks he has figured out the secret of Joe’s success and that of their troubled marriage. The drama resembles something like John Colapinto’s About the Author or James Hadley Chase’s Eve. Yet for all Bone’s investigative excitement, the movie shows he still does not fully understand the truth about them, and perhaps Joan has herself not fully understood the nature of her wifely submission until that moment. The final plot turn can be read as a parable for patriarchal politics and the artist’s prestige: when people read novels, they are not merely responding to a text, they are consuming the artist’s prestige and reputation, which is itself a created performance. It is a smart, supremely watchable and entertaining film, and Close gives a wonderful star turn.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Digital Onset - Back on Outlander for Series 3!

We are delighted to return to the Outlander family for Series3.

Series two was a very different set-up from the first series. Firstly, Stephen McNutt ASC was pivotal in the introduction to Livegrade for Outlander Series 2.


Churchill - More Brian Cox and Arriraw

We recently worked on Brian Cox's latest film - Churchill.

It was directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, director of The Railway Man (again shot in Scotland) and photographed by David Higgs BSC.

No Livegrading this time.  All back-ups, editorial dailies, and iPad dailies were created near-set.  The editorial dailies were 'sent down the line' to post using AFrame at Serious and coloured using Davinci Resolve onset.

Unsurprisingly, shooting Arriraw on 3 Alexa's generated a lot of data. Sometimes upto 5 hours a day which was no easy effort to provide 30 minutes after WRAP. But it was done!

The Ever Changing World of the DIT and Digital Cinematography.

The Ever Changing World of the DIT and Digital Cinematography.

As the 10th anniversary of the Red One Cinema camera approaches, I thought it would be a good time for an overview of the changing roles of the DIT and Cinematographer in 2016.

The purpose, other than an overview of the recent changes in technology and practice is to bring more awareness to the current application of the DIT and to aid the progression of cinematography today.

The role of the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) is one of the most ill-defined roles in cinematography, which is as equally surprising as it is unsurprising. It's surprising as the role has been around (in current present form) for roughly 10 years - essentially since the introduction of the Red One Cinema camera in 2006. It is unsurprising as the nature of technology and budgets have developed at such an alarming rate that dramatic changes to duties and expectations have arisen. Really, the role has been in flux since its earliest days and continues to do so, making it very hard to define.

Starting Out

My first introduction to the Red camera was in very early 2007. It had not been officially released then but a lot had been written about its potential on the internet. At that time I'd been working between being a 2nd AC and Video Assist Operator on 35mm commercials and feature films. Very early days for my career and being very enthusiastic, I would scour the internet for information on all camera formats. I was surprised that not many of the people I was working with had heard about this new camera, or those who had just dismissed it as 'vapourware'. In 2007 film was still the gold standard, though things were changing. 

I'd worked as a daily 2nd AC on a shoot in 2007 that had shot on the Viper Filmstream. The Viper was a pioneering digital camera but dismissed by most as an unworkable novelty as it was tethered to a very large series of hard drives. Very restrictive. The less restrictive Red camera however gradually began to be used on productions throughout America and word soon spread over here, mostly in hushed tones of an industry changing camera/silly toy depending on your stance. As an aside, Marc Dando owned that Viper camera and would soon go on to dominate the industry as the creator of Codex.

By chance two simultaneous productions occured which would change my career path in early 2008. One, was a short film that a friend directed. This friend had received a small amount of funding (there actually were such things at the time) and managed to persuade the very talented Robbie Ryan to DP. He also suggested that Robbie shoot on the Red, which was obviously very exciting to me on both counts. I was hired as the 2nd AC (though ended up being the 1st part way through). Unlike other shoots I'd been on, a technician came with the camera. This was strange to me but as it transpired, completely necessary. Although we had spent a lot of time looking at Red manuals and tutorials, in the heat of a shoot it was very easy to forget where menus were (Red never being good for menus) and actually no idea what to do with the Red Drives once they had been shot out. Our technician would copy these drives onto computer drives overnight (this seemed very scary and technical). Everything being new I would spend every spare opportunity memorising the menus, asking questions about downloading the data and reading about every new firmware update (which Red would release to make the camera work properly). I believe we were on firmware 13 at the time.

Production two happened the week after. A commercials production company I worked for as a 2nd AC had decided they'd had enough of shooting 35mm and wanted to try the Red instead. By chance they had a shoot lined using the Red and they were wondering if I would be interested in helping. This allowed me even more experience working with Red in a short space of time.

Throughout the year and into next I'd moved from being an average/not great 35mm AC to an in demand AC/Technician working with digital cameras. Ironically this gave me more experience on larger 35mm shoots where I became a little better as digital cameras were being used for certain shots, and by then, not just Red. I distinctly remember the laughter (myself included) when a director wanted to use his newly bought Canon 5D2 for a shot as it shot video (30FPS HARD at that time) – little did everyone know.

Then something unexpected happened. A union strike in America had the unintended result of nearly everyone switching to digital productions for TV overnight. This would change the way films were made forever. Nobody expected a change to happen so quickly, least of all Kodak and feature DP's. Over a very small period of just two/three years 95% of productions had switched to shooting digitally – crazy to think as 35mm had been used for 95% of cinemas 100 years. 35mm Productions would 'step down' and S16/HDCam productions would 'step up'. A perfect storm had happened.

Steven Soderbergh, early adopter.

Obviously there was complete chaos. Producers, some cinematographers and AC's and especially post production companies were struggling to make headway into this new digital world. The 35mm workflow was essentially universal but the digital workflow would change for every production. And that uncertainty was confusing for everyone.

And this is where part of the confusion as to what a DIT does is arises from.

Generally a DIT then would be a technician for a camera – mostly as AC's were more used to film or ENG Style Video Cameras – and importantly download the data. AC's are smart people and very quickly they would come to operate the camera menus/set-ups themselves. Only the copying of data cards/mags was now left to the DIT. Backed up data would be sent of to large post houses, and really dealt with in a similar way to film being sent to a lab. Not all post houses however had the same set of skills, which caused issues which will be discussed later.

The first DIT confusion for producers/production managers was that certain DPs expected the DIT to have a good understanding of how the camera worked on a sensor level and be able to offer advice on ASA settings, colour temperature, exposure etc - things the DP did not need to think about too much themselves as they had so many other things to do. Other DP's or AC's were more technically aware of how cameras operated so a DITs knowledge of finer technicalities was not needed so much in those cases. Confusion would occur between a need for a data wrangler and a DIT, but mostly DIT was still a catch-all term.

Classic early DIT set-up 

As the downloading of data very quickly changed from a dark art to 'pretty much anyone with a laptop can do it' the role of the DIT started to become more cause for concern. Producers did not really have the time to spend hours working out what a DIT really did. Like every other crew position they relied on CV, or word of mouth to ascertain someone's suitability. By this time everything had turned a bit 'wild west'. Runners or Trainees were given roles as DITs on some productions. This would be fine for one job but cause all sorts of problems on others where more technical knowledge was expected. Soon lots of horror stories would appear such as cameras not working (in a lot of cases down to user error), rushes going missing or some DITs thinking their job was a bit more important than it was. But as operations quickly became simpler and clearer; cameras easier to use and workflows more generalised productions inevitably (and rightly) started to employ less experienced DITs with good results in general.

And this is where Post Houses come in and the DIT was reborn.

The role develops

It's a myth that shooting film resulted in a perfect floor to post workflow. From the popularity of Telecine, dailies were always interpreted by operators. From a personal perspective, as a 2nd AC I recall a DP having stern words with me after forgetting to write 'Night/Int' on a particular shot. The TK operator had interpreted this scene as 'DAY/INT' and graded appropriately. Most instructions were written on Neg Report sheets but were very vague – 'Good, Strong Blacks', 'Make Warm', 'Cool Morning' etc. Discussions and tests were shot before hand but Telecine Operators were very experienced, DP's tended to shoot 'in camera' so results were usually consistently good. For features most DPs were used to shooting pre-DI where they pretty much got the intended look on the day.

Initially many of the filmlabs (like Kodak) did not want to enter the 'video' market, so pre-existing boutique, general or new operations dealt with the data from Digital Cameras. With very inconsistent results. Like the DIT Wild-West there was a Post Wild-West. Some of the top-end houses produced excellent results, some of the brand new operations produced excellent results but many produced very poor results. There were a lot of very poor results which caused DPs skills to be questioned more than post house inadequacies. What was so frustrating about the situation was that very early on, Red had clearly seen the future and actually (via Assimilate initially) implemented some very clever methods for maintaining a consistent look from the camera floor to the edit suite. Unfortunately this look information was not always successfully passed on, and ironically one of the main reasons for this confusion was REDs forward thinking. In thinking so far ahead, they had stubbornly pushed their custom workflow, which was not compatible with what existed in most production houses. This would be their Achilles heel and the main reason that to this day people associate Red with a difficult workflow. In making the camera itself cheap for the end user, they had licensed many of-the-shelf components to make this possible and it became clear that this was actually a unique new way to shoot cinema. The Red was a camera which was 50% onset cinematography and 50% post cinematography. This would be where the next revolution in cinematography would be – and currently is now.

The original Redcine (before X), which was pretty much Scratch!

What Red had done was produce a camera that shot raw data ie. data/images that would be finalised after shooting. In real terms this meant that unlike film which can only be developed once, Red Raw data can be developed again and again – even years after when the algorithms to do so have improved. But to do this caused a MASSIVE amount of processing power. A standard computer from 2007 could take weeks to process this data into useable images. As a result, only large companies with expensive computers could turn around dailies quickly enough to please customers. So for a while, Red processing existed only in the realms of large post houses. The Red Meta Data sent was often ignored, and to keep later post costs down, the raw data was transferred to various DPX (some linear, some log) files for editing/grading. The power of raw was lost in many cases and results were very variable.

As previously mentioned Red licensed some technology to help them keep costs down, one of these products was Red Rocket, a GPU that accelerated the raw data processing. It was very expensive and it also meant that for years Red were tied into using it alone, long after computer processing had caught up (they opened up GPU processing a couple of years ago). But what it did do then was allow the processing of rushes to be taken out of Post Houses and onto Set. This would a) give DITs a new lease of life but more importantly b) further cinematography by giving control back to the DP. The DP could now authorise rushes before they were sent to editorial.

Obviously this did not go down too well with post houses, as they were losing a good chunk of income. For a while there existed a mix of DITs backing up and transcoding rushes, syncing sound and delivering dailies. There were also experiments between continuing as before, or some cases where all rushes were sent of to a post house. Both outcomes were good. DITs had re-invented themselves and post houses produced better quality dailies. Rather than laptops for downloading Red CF cards, 12-Core Mac Pro Towers were needed. But the lab had arrived onset for the first time. And that brought about a new set of creative possibilities.

Arrival of new systems

Around then the Alexa arrived. The Red was suddenly old hat. Arri was known to most cinematographers, especially in Europe through their range of film cameras. It was well built, the menus and buttons were in the correct places (being German), its specs were way ahead of the Red (pre MX) and more importantly it had been designed to fit into existing workflows. Almost. It initially shot Log encoded ProRes only (raw to come later). 
 Nearly everyone could edit straight away with the files it created (well the 422HQ iteration at least, 4444 being trickier) except for the fact that everything looked washed out. That was because the camera encoded the linear sensor as LogC. Log had been developed for DI technology so was only known within a small field. To view the images properly as was seen onset a LUT (look up table) was required in post and a new set of terminology was suddenly introduced into wider cinematography. Along with Rec709. Now everyone knows what LUTs are, then it was a mystery. Very few pieces of software could work with them, usually only very high end finishing packages like Iridas and Baselight. For the first few months very convoluted methods were utilised to apply a LUT to dailies: importing into Final Cut, applying the Nick Shaw LUT, exporting as ProRes again, importing into Avid then exporting as DnxHD36 etc. As well as Gluetools, AlexICC etc

Kodak Cineon Log Files for DI

The Great Progression

Original Davinci 2K Plus

A year later one of the greatest progressions in cinematography arrived (again). Davinci was a very high end finishing hardware/software package for 35mm productions. As the Film world (Labs and Kodak/Fuji) had been decimated by digital Davinci was essentially about to enter bankruptcy. A small Australian 'converter box' company, Black Magic Design bought them and then released Resolve as software for £1000, and to be run on an Apple Mac! This allowed everyone access to a proper super-high end grading package for the first time. This was something way beyond the limitations of Apple Color and incredibly exciting. Other than allowing independent filmmakers using 5Ds and other DSLRs the ability to use serious post tools, it allowed DITs to significantly improve the quality (and ease of use) of making daily deliverables. Everyone was happy.

Davinci Resolve on a Laptop!

In a very short space of time Black Magic would release a free version of Davinci Resolve and Apple would concurrently release the Macbook Retina. This combination made it possible again for anyone really to back-up and create dailies for commercials and medium budget features on a cheap laptop. Technology had again expanded the possibilities of cinematography and allowed into the hands of all.

Very large features were slightly different. The big Post Houses or the very smart indie operations had created very powerful datalabs. Essentially they went back to the concept of overnight dailies. At the end of a shooting day original camera cards (in some cases drives when a copy was made onset) were sent away, dailies created and returned the next. Unlike at the beginning of the digital revolution there was an important difference. The DIT had a very different role, one very like the real origins (onset video broadcast engineers). They would sit next to the DP and manipulate the sensor signal, they would not back-up cards or transcode rushes (though this would sometimes happen, especially as drives/ports are becoming so fast). The technology to do this was incredibly expensive; so expensive in fact, that only the very largest of Hollywood features could afford to work this way. They would, to all intents be 'Live Grading'. The equipment to facilitate this would be expensive LUT boxes made by Truelight/Filmlight/Baselight or Pluto and very expensive software by Colorfront or Iridas Onset. It's certainly nothing new, 3CP by Gamma Density had developed their system years ago for using stills camera images for passing colour information to Telecine Operators for 35mm shoots.

Livegrade For All.

As with everything in the development of Digital Cinema equipment progression has made prices significantly cheaper for everyone to access. The latest technology has allowed the current role of all DITs to develop even further by significantly assisting DP's to have significant amounts of control over their images. Namely, through cheap access to Livegrading. Blackmagic were unsurprisingly involved, but not directly. In 2012 a German company called Pomfort hacked a very cheap BlackMagic conversion box – the HDLink.

They created software, which surprisingly had not been named this before – Livegrade. All this could be used with any Macbook computer for around £500. Its genius was to bypass any capture devices and rely on simple, previously developed technology.

What does a current DIT set-up look like?

As we are discussing current DIT and Cinematography equipment and conventions it makes sense to explain one of the current working practices of this set-up in a little more depth.

As the Alexa is by far the most used Digital Camera on features and commercials it makes sense to use it as an example.

Firstly, the kit and set-up, in simplified form:

Non Livegrade set-ups would use an HDSDI output from the Alexa straight to the monitor. This would either show standard Rec709 signal, or an Alexa Look File (still in Rec709). If you changed the Gamma setting in the Alexa to Log C the monitor would display the LogC image. Great for displaying the recorded signal, not so good for anyone else.

In order to apply a LUT to the monitor there are various options. For our purposes we will use a Black Magic HDLink Pro – these cost around £300. To fit this into our current chain we have it between the camera and monitor. So, Camera>HDLINK>Monitor.

The HDLINK is not a capture device, all it does is to alter the signal between the camera output and the monitor input. In order to manipulate the image you need to connect it to a computer, any Macbook will do. The free software allows you to add a single LUT. It connects to your laptop by USB2 (very little processing) which enables you to change values between the HDSDI signal.

This software is clunky and slow, and not really useable other than burning a LUT into the box.

To manipulate the signal live you need software such as Livegrade. The current version is Livegrade Pro 3. You can connect any grading panel to the laptop (again by USB2), I use Tangent Wave's though it's a bit big.


You can now alter Lift, Gamma, Gain, Saturation and Curve non destructively. Grading from Log is a massive leap forward from working with Rec709, doing this live massively increases the options a cinematographer has available to them. A new tool. But a livegrading system can offer up far more creative possibilities which were more difficult to achieve in the past.

One of the greatest benefits is an option which was very common with film, but less so until recently with digital (for various reasons, one being onset monitoring). The DIT/DP in a Livegrade system will always have a remote iris control.

 In combination with Livegrade you are offered the ability to 'print up' or 'print down'. In practice this means you can control where 18% grey lies on your curve. And this can bring out a new possibility for skintones. To illustrate this imagine your log skin tones being 30%, you can open up your physical iris 0.9 stops to roughly 40% and in Livegrade non destructively stop down.

 Your Lutted image will pretty much look the same but you have changed where your skintones lie on the recorded log signal. This is amazing for various reasons, for creativity (skin tones do look different at different points on the curve) and also great for dealing with noise in shadows. Or vice-versa for adding texture.

Not a great example to be fair. Sorry!

With Lift, Gamma, Gain you have greater flexibility with colour control. Rather than tint/white balance which changes the overall image you can change parts of a scene. Highlights can have warmth added, or taken away while shadows remain the same.

Early versions of Livegrade pretty much allowed only this flexibility, with the benefit of saving LUTs/Loading LUTs for various post packages. But there was little metadata other than CDLs.

Livegrade Pro allows a capture card to be used. This has two advantages. One is the timecode is referenced to onset tweaks. Referencing timecode means that other software – specifically Silverstack XT can read these tweaks. This means that you have a great guarantee that what you are seeing onset will be seen in the colourists suite.

The capture card also allows you to refer a previous take with a current take. It's difficult to understate how big a deal this is. Whole projects can be built up around a film. To illustrate this think of the film Colour Palettes that appear on various film blogs (colour schemes that various named films use - Greater control can be used to achieve these, and maintain consistent skintones throughout. On shoot day 23 you can immediately bring up a directly cutting scene from day 4 and wipe it across your live screen etc. Or even shots from the same day, matching two or three cameras or mis-matching IRNDs (different casts always occur) or throughout weather changes. Combined with your iris control you have a serious amount of creativity at your fingertips, all seen live.  

This can then all be put into a single document for referring to in post, cdl and 3D LUT. It's staggering how much control the DP has lost to Post and some options for taking back this control are essential. So many people shoot and leave it to the grade. This is no longer enough. By the time your footage has gone to the cutting room, or even the dailies - if your look is not stamped in people will forget your intended look. And by that time it is very difficult to convince people to return to your intended look. Remember the early days of LogC? That is why so many commercials had that washed out look – because directors and producers could not see it any other way after the cut.

How does a DIT facilitate this system for a DP?

Unsurprisingly every production requires different methodologies. The reasons for this are usually down to budget, location logistics, camera system used but principally to fitting within a DPs method of working. At it's heart, a DIT is just another tool to help a DP. And like other tools available they are used in very different ways to achieve the most suitable photography for the story being told. Because of this a DIT in addition to understanding the technical aspects of their job have to understand the political, and in many instances this is far more difficult. Every DP has a different way of working and every DP has a different personality. Previous working relationships help enormously – especially with new technology and thus different approaches to using that but you have to very quickly adapt to defining boundaries. It is imperative to understand that you are being hired to assist the DP. Some DP's like feedback, suggestions and initiative while others prefer you to do as you are told. It is important to be impartial and work within the boundaries presented and understand neither approach is better than another. With experience it quickly becomes apparent how to approach a single production.

In general, on a production using Livegrade - like most other productions a DP will light to a certain T-stop. Often this would be around 2.8/4 at 800 ASA. Though this can change, especially for low light scenes and depending on lenses used so can change throughout the shoot.

Sometimes a DP will be with you for the entire shoot, sometimes they will spend a percentage with the director and sometimes they will operate and spend very little time with you. Responsibilities and expectations will change depending on how they wish to work.

A simple, one camera setup.  A DIT blackout tent would be used in most cases (but it gets very dark in there for photos).

For DITs not used to working with Livegrade one of the surprising differences is that you will mostly be in control of the exposure. You will be in charge of a remote iris for each camera and it is your duty to set and maintain the t-stop. This is fairly simple if the DP is lighting to a defined stop with the gaffer in a studio situation. Your duty is to provide the DP with a good negative, so use of a waveform monitor is essential, as well as a properly calibrated grade 1 monitor. Some DP's, if not at your monitor, will allow you to liaise with the lighting department – usually the gaffer who will often be at the monitor with you. You can work with them to ensure highlights are not burning out and to fill any any areas of the image that have no light on them. Unlike on film, black areas have no information and allow the introduction of noise. A simple fill can be 'graded down' with a curve to make the image appear black but still record code values. Quite often you will print down with Livegrade to maintain a thicker negative if stop allows.

Some DP's prefer to deal with this themselves but passing on these small tweaks to a DIT, rather than loosing any creative control really just frees them to concentrate on other aspects of the photography.

Exposure filters are also handed over to the DIT to deal with in most cases. At this point it's appropriate to mention that you will be in radio contact with the camera assistants – passing on instructions from the DP, or exposure/colour/menu instructions from yourself. Mostly your discussions will be the introduction or removal of ND filters, and it's vital you understand how these effect the image very quickly. If shooting outside you still want to maintain a consistent shooting stop, so if you are shooting at around a 2.8/4 you want to ND up to achieve this. Again you have Livegrade to print up or down with. It becomes trickier with constantly changing light conditions, and even trickier when different lenses are being used.

 You have to be aware of the size and type of lens being used in certain set-ups. If A-Camera is shooting on a 25mm lens at 2.8 with a 1.8 ND it's not appropriate to have the same stop on a B-Camera shooting 48fps on a 300mm lens. So you will have to change your ND and stop to give the focus puller a chance.

 Also, if one camera is using a brand new Leica lens and another is using a 20 year old zoom lens it's probably not appropriate to have both wide open as the old lens will not work to its best ability. This can become hectic so detailed notes have to be taken otherwise you will end up with a very sore head. To give you an even bigger headache, some cameras have different base ASA ratings so making calculations to match multiple cameras can be very tricky (ASA, stop, shutter Angle, FPS, ND, lens size, lens type all need to be taken into consideration). Other than for artistic reasons it's not necessary to burden a DP with these as a DIT can do them - in much the same way a DP does not have to pull focus, operate a camera, move a light, mark a clapperboard, write negative report sheets.


Colour theory is important to understand. Some DP's keep things simple, others have very elaborate ways to achieve different skintones. A DP recently wanted to eliminate magenta from the spectrum as he thought it looked too 'video-ish'. To achieve this he placed colour filters on the camera, with the opposite filters on the lights. This created a very green image which he would, in Livegrade time to a 'normal' image. The image before the colour filters and the end result looked very similar but on close inspection on a Vector-scope you would notice that magenta had mostly disappeared and it did look subtly nicer. It was an elaborate process involving complicated stop and white balance calculations but the end result looked fantastic. Achieving this without Livegrade, and the ability to bring up previous shots to grade to – essentially maintaining a consistent skintone throughout the film would be very difficult if not impossible without having producers question the dailies.

Livegrade has freed up DP's time and allowed a greater flexibility in onset control, and as importantly a greater quality control on the rushes sent to editorial from set.

What is next?

Who knows. Already most cameras are integrating Livegrade into their onboard software.  The process can only get smaller, faster and better.  The software can be controlled with WiFi, WiFi that works unlike other manufacturers earlier attempts.

ASC CDLs, LiveGrade and LUTs should all form part of a cinematographers toolkit.  Control must be given back to the cinematographer and the 'lab' should return to their world. DPs don't necessarily have to have in depth knowledge of bit-rates, codecs or file formats - DITs can do that for them but maintaining control of an image can be achieved with new tools.  So much damage has already happened but pushing for these options on shoots, stamping your authorship on images is more important now than it ever has been.  The irony with cameras with so much latitude and deep bit-depth is that they offer up options for post and producers long after a DP has left a project.  The final grade is not always the place for offering up your original intentions.  Often, long before final colouring takes place others have made decisions often based on what they saw in the edit and this should not continue.  The great thing is this actually is now starting to happen but only for the DPs who push for this.  The equipment is now so inexpensive that looks can be set, onset in most situations now.  

Obviously this article does not cover every aspect of what a DIT does, it's written from a singular perspective and many productions, DITs and DPs work and operate very successfully in different ways. This is good as cinema is meant to full of diversity, that's what creates great images.