Day 2: 24 Insights in 24 Days 2018 New Year Marathon
Team Mixing Light Note: This is the first Insight from DIT Ryan Nguyen C.S.I.! Please feel free to welcome Ryan by saying hello to him in the comments! This is the first of what we hope will be many Insights, where he shares his experiences and tips – to further the craft for all of us. You can read more about Ryan on our About Us page.
Getting Started With Silverstack
Welcome to my new series on Pomfort’s Silverstack! I’m super excited to be able to talk about what color and data management looks like on-set. DITs are traditionally born from within the camera department, first starting out as experienced Camera Assistants, but with the recent dramatic change across the film landscape, the cost of entry for DITs is now as low and accessible than ever. Before we dive into the software and tools itself, it’s important for us to stop for a moment and examine some context and properly define a few key terms first.
What is a DIT?
The Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) is one of the most misunderstood roles in the film industry, and there’s a pretty good reason why for that – the wants, needs, and responsibilities of a DIT is deeply rooted and involved in the technology of the modern-day video production. It’s a fairly new position in production and it’s constantly evolving and devolving as quickly as the technology of film production changes.
One of the many core responsibilities of a DIT is to manage, secure, and verify all data coming through the set; but that’s not the only responsibility of a DIT:
“The DIT is the camera department crew member who works in collaboration with the cinematographer on workflow, systemization, camera settings, signal integrity and image manipulation to achieve the highest image quality and creative goals of cinematography in the digital realm.”
What is a Digital Loader?
A Digital Loader, also commonly referred to as a Media Manager/Data Manager/Media Wrangler, only performs a subset of a DIT’s broader duties and strictly manages downloading video from camera cards (or ‘magazines’). In other words, if you are strictly backing up footage on set without integrating yourself into the overall camera workflow from set to post, making transcodes, or supervising and modifying color on set, then you are working as a Digital Loader (not a DIT).
Fun fact: The word ‘Loader’ (or ‘Clapper Loader’ outside of U.S), is a carryover term from the film days, where he or she would be physically responsible for loading film reels in and out of the camera.
Some productions try to get away without hiring a Digital Loader, and entrust a Production Assistant to handle the cards. This is dangerous, and the consolidation of jobs is frowned upon in the industry as it increases liability and undermines the importance and proper procedure to securing media.
Real-World Checks and Balances
I’m not trying to be a DIT gatekeeper, but words have meaning and the distinction between DIT and Digital Loader is significant. You need to feel empowered to politely remind those working with you about the precise nature of your job (whichever position you’ve been hired for); this helps minimize mistakes of others assuming you’re tasked with duties that aren’t yours.
Because the distinction between DIT and Digital Loader is not particularly enforced in non-union production environments, it makes for an on-going issue of identity crisis for professional DITs, who often find themselves needing to diplomatically set the record straight as it relates to their career, and quite often discover that they are hired to just perform the duties of a Digital Loader.
Learn more about becoming a DIT
In bigger shoots, it’s common for a DIT to work with a companion Loader (often hired by the DIT) to keep up with the pace! One of the best ways to learn hands-on is to shadow a working professional DIT, if that option is available to you. While it’s great that we can read about the work duties of a DIT ahead of time, nothing beats being out there in the real world and getting your feet wet.
There are many facets to being a DIT; a few of them include abiding by on-set etiquette, managing relationships between production and post, and understanding what authority you have and don’t have! I could make an entire Mixing Light series about the life and inner workings of a DIT, but there is simply too much to cover in a single insight. At the bottom of this article, I’ve linked to several valuable resources to get you started, if you choose to further immerse yourself in this world. In my mind, they’re essential reads for any aspiring or working DIT.
From Set to Post
This series is focused on Pomfort Silverstack. The program remains an industry standard for on-location data and workflow management. The following video insight is a brief look at what Pomfort offers, and what separates Silverstack from the other ‘download’ programs currently available on the marketplace. Pomfort has their own short series of What-Is and How-To videos on their website, which I highly recommend.
Instead of recreating what they’ve already produced, this series aims to clarify and investigate their software in a deeper context; and I’ll be sharing all the good, bad, and ugly things that I’ve personally found myself dealing with in the software while working in fast-paced and high-octane environments. As much time as we will spend looking at how to use the software, we will be talking about why these tools exist in the first place.
Please note that Silverstack is hard coded to Mac OS only – for those who strictly come from the Windows camp, you’ll quickly discover that a lot of film production apps and ecosystems have a steep lean towards the Apple side. Many requests have been sent to Pomfort to port their products over to Windows, but at this time Pomfort remains a fairly small company with such a large and prolific user base that they have instead decided to better invest their energy in improving and refining their products. Not a bad thing, if you ask me.
This is a subscription-based software. You can both rent your time with Silverstack annually or rent with what Pomfort refers to as a Project Basis. The shortest time is 14 days; a generous amount of time for those who don’t purchase the yearly license, as most productions that aren’t features or narrative television typically run anywhere between 1 – 7 days anyway.
And if you’re following along with this series, Silverstack comes with a free 14-day free trial so you can start learning straight away!
Silverstack comes with an entire gamut of features – it truly is a Swiss army knife in many regards. But depending on the requirements of each shoot that you may find yourself on, you may not end up using some more of the ‘Pro’ features that exist. For that reason, Pomfort offers three levels of Silverstack:
- Silverstack XT
- Silverstack LAB
The difference between Silverstack and Silverstack XT is limited to advanced tools and additional camera support. Be sure to confirm what camera systems you will be working with before a shoot begins as it correlates with your software edition. Personally, being able to send a signal through SDI-out to a calibrated monitor for a quality check at your cart is one of the most essential features I use and therefore I highly recommend Silverstack XT by default.
Silverstack LAB is essentially Silverstack XT with a fully integrated and improved transcoding ‘module’ for making sound sync dailies. From inside of Silverstack LAB, not only can you manage your offloads and media, but also create all manner of transcodes without needing to Command+TAB out of the program and handle a roundtrip to DaVinci Resolve – though that option is still available for all who choose not to use LAB (we’ll cover this function in more detail in a later Insight).
Pomfort offers a useful comparison of the various editions to help ensure you subscribe to the proper version.
About this Video Insight
In this video you’ll learn:
- Why Silverstack is so popular on productions, worldwide.
- The main features of each of the versions of Silverstack.
- How to choose which version is right for you.
- What happens after your subscription expires?
Alternatives to Silverstack
- DaVinci Resolve: For those who need to get working straight away or are not in a position to work with Silverstack, don’t forget that DaVinci Resolve has a Clone Tool built in it. It’s part of Resolve Lite, so it’s essentially free, and the best news – it works with Windows as well!
- ShotPutPro: Another app commonly used on set is Imagine Product’s ShotPutPro. It offers many core and attractive features for Digital Loaders who need something done quick and fast.
- Hedge: This software has been making waves on the DIT forums, you can check out the programs through the links below.
- DIT Fundamentals Series by Rich Roddman C.S.I.:
Here on Mixing Light, Rich’s series goes through selecting and building a DIT cart.
- Anatomy of a DIT Cart by Abelcine:
- 7 Expert DITs Discuss Their Role on a Film Set:
- Jonny Elwyn’s “How To Be a DIT” Feed: