Thursday, 3 October, 2013

24-25 fps in the digital age

There's still a fair bit of confusion in the minds of professionals who work in cinema about this '24-25thing'. By cinema, I  mean movies that get made for showing in theatres. And this confusion is deep amongst sound recordists and sound engineers. And to a smaller extent, with VFX and DI 'artists'.

In the film days, video from telecine (conversion of film to video) came out with a 25fps timecode. The editing system tracked 25fps timecode. But it played back film originated material at 24fps.
Sound recorded by sound recordists could happen at 24fps timecode or 25fps timecode. But recordists often recorded with 25fps timecode. 

Sound has no fps denoting speed. Sound is a continuous phenomena with no 'frames'. 'Frames' happens in video and film only. But some sound recordists still believe that there is such a thing as timecode rate and frame rate and they have to be different. Duh?

In digital filming - shooting with Red/Alexa/F65 etc - we shoot at 24fps. And we edit digital 'rushes' at 24fps. So there's no 25fps timecode or frame rate employed anywhere in the chain. And this significant fact has escaped many a sound recordist and in India they continue recording sound at 25fps even for digital 'films'. Even some Oscar, and multiple Filmfare or National award winning sound recordists continue to record sound at 25fps. Again, duh?

They claim that it works just fine even if the film is being shot on digital and the editing is being done at 24fps. Maybe it does, but its largely unnecessary. Maybe their ProTools sessions still track 25fps timecode that's why. But it's simply illogical to run the sound session at 25fps when the picture edit sessions are running at a frame rate of 24fps and a timecode of 24fps.

fps in the film days

I've written a fair bit in this on this before and you can check it out here

But very briefly, its like this... 
When we shot film - 35mm or 16mm film - the film had to be converted to video for editing on a Avid or FCP or whatever. This is called telecine. In India we always did telecine from film to video at 25fps. Meaning film ran at 25fps and tape ran at 25fps.

I just met a very senior sound recordist last week who told me film was telecine'd at 24fps. Plain wrong belief. We never did telecine at 24 fps for a film who's negative had to be cut later. Or even a film where DI had to be done. Never ever.

Never, ever, meaning not even one of the 160+ films I've supervised the DI for, (some I was part of the editing) had telecine at 24 fps. Not even one. And yes, one hundred and sixty plus is the number of films who's DI I have personally supervised.

Because tape runs at 25fps in India so the only way to have a one to one correspondence between film frames, and video frames was to run the film at 25fps in telecine. And you need this one to one correspondence because the telecine records a log file carrying key codes which is the only way to identify any given frame in film.

The editing system - Avid or FCP receives this log and tags the video with it. So that when you are finished editing, a 'cut list' can be put out and a human can read this to cut the negative. Yes, before DI happened to humanity, negative used to be cut. This was till about 2006.

One small other fact. If the telecine runs film which had been shot at 24fps at 25fps instead of 24fps, does that not speed up the film? How does sound sync in that case? It sync because, yes, the film at 25fps is 4% faster, but when the editing system receives this 25fps from tape, it automatically slows it down by exactly 4% to make it run at 24fps and hence sync with sound. 

Avid does it automatically during capture in a film project (not otherwise). While FCP does it after capture. Both editing systems are capable of playing back a 24fps picture with 25fps timecode. Yes, that's exactly how it works. 

And yes, there are still some sound recordists and engineers who have, apparently not grasped this fact. And some of these have won Oscars and some have won the national Film award for their work. So they are very accomplished and produce some amazing work in sound. But this small technical fact still escapes them.

Why am I harping on the award thing? Because every time I alert a young sound recordist about this, he or she points me to that senior award winning guy or gal who still 'does it' at 25fps. 

I believe that this 24fps picture with 24fps timecode, married to sound with 25fps timecode is the single most common reason for 'loose sync' in digital film sound work that many complain about. If you don't believe me, try for once recording sound with 24fps timecode, do your ProTools post on a 24fps session and then check how tight the sync remains when editing in Avid or FCP.

Or listen to that 'award-winning recordist' who doesn't have his fundas straight.

Saturday, 31 August, 2013

Film and Digital - a casual Facebook debate

Some days ago I posted on Facebook...

At approx Rs 13,000 per 400ft roll and exposing about 7 rolls (28 mins) a day for 60 days, feature films used to spend about 55 lakhs on film and processing alone.
Now, shooting digitally, and shooting even 60 mins a day for 60 days costs only Rs 6 lakhs for hard disks even if you make copies to two separate hard disks. 
I meet film producers every day who find that costly.

From the very interesting comments I got, I've made up a debate on film vs digital in the movie business

Film-maker friend Nayan Padrai commented...
"Wait till they convert in dollars" 

What he meant, I guess, is that these figures are different in the US. probably because film costs much less there than it does in India, while manpower costs are higher. Digital probably involves more people hence costs more.
Ashoka Holla, founder of Berserk Media and one who's been at the producer end, commented
"How I wish the difference between film vs Digital was so simple.."
My response to Ashoka...
"digital is only as simple as people make it. Or, it can be complicated if they wish it upon themselves. 
For the past year and a half, I run a company that specializes only in providing an adequate workflow for movies shot digitally. Disks, transfers, conversions, conform for DI, long term backup, archiving, Avid/FCP on hire everything digital. 
For a price, of course.
Have worked on over a dozen movies, more in the pipeline."

Sanjay Sami, arguably one of India's finest grips and one who's in the thick of it, has to 'shoulder the burden' of film or digital cameras more than anyone else…
"The most expensive component of a shooting day is time. When we were shooting Life of Pi, the Producer David Womark told me that the cost per MINUTE of production time was 7,000 US$. So ... does shooting time go faster with a film camera or Digital ? My guess is that film is faster …"
Ashoka responded (referring to my new business Post BlackBox)
"Hey congratulations..that sounds like a good business..My only point here is the difference is not only film vs Disks.. Disks, Transfers, Conversions, Image stability across systems and many many other intangibles( Shooting days, Discipline etc) are additional costs. Plus with digital you tend to shoot so much more that it takes more days in post to sort( & select) plus ofcourse Post Blackbox Costs as well. Yes Digital works out cheaper upfront but in totality with all the hidden costs, the gap is much smaller than what it appears"

Ashoka to Sanjay…
"Good point ..I love Digital but I have started loving film more after Digital came through. Content should dictate the choice of origination.. I would be disappointed if film does not exists any more for film makers to make that choice"
"There is no financial reason to shoot digital over film. In many actual comparisons carried out by Fox Searchlight, Digital was found to be more expensive all told, including for some of the reasons mentioned by you. A lot of Producers buy into the hype surrounding the fact that hard drives are cheaper than film stock. If you choose digital over film it should be for other reasons, and there are a few."
My response...
"I've been doing this for a living for the past 18 months. Have done this math over and over again for all sizes of productions - Fukrey to Dhoom 3. And I assure you that if handled correctly, digital movie shooting in India costs a fraction of shooting film. 
As an editor I have exact numbers of cans exposed for the dozen or so films I've edited. Shot film. 
And as a DI supervisor I have the numbers for about 160+ (yes 160+) films whose cans came to me for DI. 
So, trust me, digital costs less to shoot than film even accounting for higher camera rental costs. 
In some movies I've worked on, digital shooting enabled a reduction and sometimes elimination of lights, some or even all of them. 
Since Feb 2012 I've been on digital shoot sets for nearly 300 days in 12 countries and 9 states of India. 

Digital works. But only if you hire the right people."

"With due respect to ur knowledge and experience, I am afraid that is no argument. U can compromise on quality to save costs.Especially ur comment about no lights frightens me becos in the last one year I have seen several films shot digitally which compromised on lights and when u see the result on screen u cringe! Digital works for sure no doubt.But films works too. Both have their place under the sun.."

Sanjay Sami...
"Neil, your calculations are based on material costs. And you are right there. Hard drives are cheaper than film. That was not at all my point. I think there are some good reasons to shoot digital. Cost is not one of them.
"For a movie costing Rs 40-60 crores to the lead actor, film or digital makes little difference. 
For aspiring film makers with Stanley ka Dabba, Ship of Theseus, Fukrey and many such, in their heads, shooting digital is the only possibility. Digital is an enabling medium for many, who, with film would never be able to take the movie out of their head and on to a screen."

My response…
"Editors gave up film over 20 years ago. With Avid and FCP, editing went digital. Sound got recorded and edited digitally too. Then post went digital, then prints gave way to DCPs. Cinematography is the last thing to go digital. 

Let's move on. There's an easier world out there. Let's enjoy film-making. Let's not wish upon our youngsters the drudgery of film. If you were an editor in the 80s film was drudgery.

Like many editors of my age, we have actually held film and lived with it for months on end.  Nothing beats carrying large cans up stairs to a dingy editing room at Dadar. The smell of chemical in your nostrils all day and night like film smells. 
The whirr of the Steenbeck and a small flickering image on a screen. Or standing before a Movieola and watching an even smaller screen. The film was actually in your hand all day. And it was organic. Organic smells, and it's heavy.

White pencil to mark, a splicer to cut, and cello tape to join were editor's tools. Everything was always 'saved', no need to make backups, no worrying about anything getting 'corrupt'.
Then you cut the negative, the exact same film the cinematographer rolled. 
No one called themselves DoP back then. And after pack up they were in your BEST bus to Andheri. Now you're in the same jam outside Oberoi Mall. In separate cars."

Ashoka S Holla…
"how nostalgic? what u call drudgery was actually a lot of fun. Organic negatives were treated with so much care like its ur baby.Yes digital filmmaking presents a whole new opportunity to filmmakers ( see my quote in ET a couple of Weeks back). But filmmakers should be the one making choices and not post houses.

My response...
"about film-makers not post houses deciding, that I will agree with you all the way. About negatives and babies, not sure. I've had both."

Ashoka S Holla linked to an article on new age movie distribution
Content helps small-budget films script big success, 405 such films hit theatres in Jan-Jul

and on new directors working on shoestring budgets possible only because of digital 'filming' 
The YouTube way to fame in filmland

Both are articles on the new wave of film makers and how Digital technology will create the next wave of content creation.However hope you will agree that still film has a huge role to play in storytelling. In some areas like archiving and even data storage Film is making a strong comeback across the globe.

Sanjay Sami on ease of use or lack thereof…
"post may be easier in digital, but that is CERTAINLY not true of the shooting process. Film is faster and simpler in almost all cases."

My response...
"Actually, 'real' film is when you shoot film, cut the neg, make a contact print from the original neg. Watch in a film projector. Like we've done from 1920s till 2000. That's film. 
We began to give that up after about 2003. 
In the world of DI (post 2003), film remained film only in the camera. After that it was all digital anyway. 

Shooting digital need not be a compromise in visual quality. And shooting film need not be all lyrical and poetic. Work on a Bhojpuri film shot on 35mm and see.

About movies shot digitally without lights... I have NDAs. 
So all I can say is wait and see. Actually when you watch it, you won't even know which shots were done without lights. It just looks so natural."

And so the debate goes on

Adobe Creative Cloud

Here's the deal.

Before May 2013, if you wanted to use an Adobe product - Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator, Premiere Pro,  whatever - you had to buy it, either each one or as a suite of many applications. Or, like many in India, you 'borrowed' it. But 'borrowing' Adobe software is inconvenient and even dangerous. If you were in an organisation, even a small shop in Adarsh Nagar or MHADA, you faced the prospect of a raid and subsequent purchase. 

Many people pointed to the high price of Adobe products, but that is never a good excuse to steal, which is what 'borrowing' software really is.

Recently Adobe announced that its products will now be available online, as a monthly subscription. It's called Adobe Creative Cloud. You need to get a membership to the Creative Cloud. Once you do that, you can use any Adobe product by downloading it. As part of the membership you also get 20 GB of space on Adobe's servers where you can save your work and access it on any machine connected to the Internet.

So, what does that mean to us creative artists in India?

The basic Creative cloud membership is Rs 2,700 per month. And you have to commit to a year's membership at least. During that year you pay 2,700 x 12 = Rs 32,400. If you have any Adobe software after CS 3, you can upgrade for just Rs 1,600 per month, or Rs. 19,200 per year. Students and teachers get it for Rs 1000 per month only.

Even if you only use Photoshop and/or After Effects, getting the Creative Cloud at Rs 2,700 per month is a no-brainer. Pay once and its debited to your card every month. Like buying software with an EMI. You won't even feel it.

And for that you can download and use any (or even all) of these. And you can install on up to two machines belonging to you.

Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Muse
Other apps like 
Acrobat Pro, Adobe Audition, Bridge CC, Encore, Fireworks, Flash Builder, Flash Professional, Adobe InCopy, Lightroom, Media Encoder, Prelude, SpeedGrade
Edge Apps like
Edge Animate, Edge Inspect, Edge Web Fonts, PhoneGap Build, Edge Code, Edge Reflow, 
Services like
Story, Kuler, Business Catalyst, Typekit, Behance, ProSite
Touch Apps like
Photoshop Touch, Kuler for iPhone, Ideas, Behance for iPhone, Creative Portfolio for iPhone.

For all those who crib about FCP 7 being discontinued, remember, FCP 7 costed no less than Rs 50,000 to buy. If you switch to Avid, you're looking at over Rs 80,000 for a new Avid license. 
But for Rs 32,400, Premiere Pro is yours for a year. With Photoshop and After Effects and many other apps free - all this on two machines.

Friday, 23 August, 2013

A new iPhone - Sept 2013

Disclaimer: This post is pure speculation. I have no knowledge of any of Apple's impending plans for any of their products. I doubt if anyone outside of Apple has any such information. And anyone within Apple too is not permitted to relay any such information. So this post is my own imagination and guess-work.

iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c

There's a lot of speculation on various blogs and web sites on exactly what Apple will announce on Sept 10, 2013.
The current MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Minis too are old enough from previous versions that new models of these could be announced. And, of course, a retina iPad mini is possible too.

But by and large, people agree it will be a new iPhone. And iOS7, maybe.

On the new iPhone, speculators and rumorists are rooting for an iPhone 5s. Many new features are being touted for the iPhone 5s which some of which are only an evolution of the current iPhone 5. And there's also very rumoured iPhone 5c. The so called iPhone 5c is speculated to be made of plastic in different colours. I doubt a cheap iPhone, but anything is possible.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007 there was no competition existing for a touch screen phone in which the user could load apps to increase the usefulness of the device. Over the past six years and four models, other manufacturers have caught up with and even surpassed the iPhone's capabilities. So now, Apple needs something revolutionary or there's no point introducing a new iPhone.

iPhone camera improved

I think there is probably at least one revolutionary feature that no one has predicted yet. So here goes my first prediction for the new iPhone. A better camera.

The existing iPhone has a 8 megapixel camera which many believe is one of the best phone cameras. But other phone manufacturers have higher resolution cameras and some have cameras that perform better in low light.

Three factors that can be bettered in the existing iPhone camera. Resolution, stabilization, and low light performance. But, given the thickness of the iPhone, its hard to increase the resolution and light gathering capability of the existing camera. Unless one adds cameras.

So, I predict some kind of a multi lens multi sensor 'super-resolution' camera which combines the output of multiple cameras to increase dynamic range and resolution. And multiple cameras also help in image stabilization and leveling. If not multiple cameras, the new iPhone will probably have vastly improved image processing.

Distributed processing

Improved processing needs a faster processor. And that leads to the next new feature. Some kind of distributed processing with one's other Apple device so that the iPhone gets capabilities of a desktop device by collaborating with, say, a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Collaboration with external devices needs authentication. What better way to authenticate the user but with fingerprints.

Fingerprint authentication

So, like many other speculators, I think there may be a home button which can read finger prints. This is as good as or better than credit card security. Apple recently acquired a company that specializes in finger print authentication. Finger print authentication also ensures theft-proofing of the iPhone. So the one issue with phones in general is losing them and along with that losing one's valuable data.

Finger print authentication, coupled with some kind of worldwide insurance scheme would ensure that no one with the new iPhone can ever lose data on the iPhone. And, more importantly, the actual property that an iPhone represents. So, if you lose your iPhone, its useless to anyone else, and an insurance company instantly replaces or underwrites the replacement of your iPhone. Worldwide. So, if your iPhone is stolen, you still have a phone.

Drop-proof phone

Another way people lose phones is they drop them. Teenagers especially. Shattered screens, mikes or speakers that don't work, and other such issues, that Apple has a hard time supporting. So I think the new iPhone will be drop-proof. Something about the construction will protect the internals and the front glass.

Back to the future

Whatever features we will eventually see, one thing is certain. There simply has to be some new 'killer feature' in the new iPhone which sets it apart in a very crowded market. Steve Jobs said while launching the first iPhone in 2007, that the iPhone was 5 years ahead of its time. True to that, 5 years later, in 2012, other phone makers finally caught up with the iPhone.

But in 2012 Apple didn't release anything very extraordinary. Instead, they released the iPhone 5 which was a little better than the iPhone 4. And simultaneously went back to the drawing board to design something revolutionary in 2013. Thats the new iPhone, which, whenever it releases, will once again wow the market. Let's see where this goes.

Thursday, 18 April, 2013

Editing Arri Alexa files in an Avid Media Composer

I wrote about this a couple of year ago here...

But now, in 2013, a lot has changed. There are plenty of Alexas in India, and many have RAW recorders - Codex and Gemini. Also, scores of films shot on Alexa have been released and a few have also had commercial success. 

Quite a lot of the workflow has been ironed out, but some holes remain. For a movie that will release tomorrow I did a fair bit of fire-fighting since the 'DIT' had somehow lost the source name while transcoding files for Avid. I really don't understand how these things happen.

Avid has a good set of resources on Arri Alexa workflows on the Avid site.

As usual, Oliver Peters blog is linked to.

I've put together a more detailed Avid-specific workflow guide...

For a movie shot on Arri Alex as ProRes4444 2k or ArriRAW.

On set DIT converts Alexa ProRes4444 or ArriRAW media to Avid DNxHD36 .mxf files
On set sound mixer provides .wav files of recorded location sound.

DIT sends DNxHD36 .mxf files and .wav files to editor's assistant

Editor's assistant copies .mxf files to Avid Media files folder. 
Sound .wav files are imported into Avid into Audio bins - day wise
DNxHD36 files get populated into bins by dragging the .mdb file to a bin, or
DNxHD36 files get populated into bins by copying them from the media tool to bin

These are video master clips representing camera clips. These will not be renamed.

Editor's assistant then drags all these video master clips to a sequence.
Then he/she syncs each video file to the corresponding audio files. 
Syncing by eye-matching with the clap on screen, or by matching timecode if sound mixer has managed to match picture timecode and audio timecode.

From this sync sequence sub-clips are made to a new bin, one sub-clip per video clip.
These are auto synced to get new autosync sub-clips.
Autosync sub clips are renamed as per shots they represent.
Editor's assistant then makes scene wise bins and populates them with auto-sync sub-clips.

Editor's assistant then puts a watermark on a new layer in the sync sequence and exports this timeline for the director's viewing for dailies. Sometimes, the director visits the edit facility from time to time and views rushes with the Director so he can pass on notes and ideas.

On another system, the editor reviews the assistant editor's bins, builds a cut, and refines it.

Some editors I've met insist that the DIT does all the syncing, naming of clips, making bins and creating dailies - all this on set. Because that's how 'it's done in Hollywood'. No truth in that. Even in Hollywood, a DIT will only sync if TC is matched. And a DIT never names clips, makes bins etc. That's always a competent and non-lazy assistant editor's job. 

The DIT will move on to some other job, after a movie has been shot, but the editor and his/her assistant have to intimately know all the footage, camera files, master clips,  subclips etc since they have to hand over it all to the sound facility and later the DI facility. The DIT doesn't remain on the project till that time. The editor and his/her assistant do.

And by the way, for an Alexa shoot destined for theatrical release. Alexa shoots at 24fps. That is 24.000 fps not 23.976 fps. The Avid project is 1080p24 not 1080p23.976. 
There are a few countries who see TV at 29.97 fps, where 30 means 29.97, 50 means 59.94 and 24 means 23.976.
But In the hundred year history of cinema, 24 fps means 24.000 fps. So unless your film will only be seen on TV and in the US and nowhere else in the world, please do everything at 24fps for release in cinemas anywhere in the world, for prints on film or DCP - 24fps only.

Saturday, 23 March, 2013

Final Cut Pro X - FCP X - on a full feature film

There is considerable interest in editing new, digitally originated feature film projects with Final Cut Pro X or FCP X. And, according to many this is possible and done. So, if you're still sitting on the fence, check out these articles...

If you need to self-learn FCP X, Richard Taylor's Final Cut Pro X Master List is an excellent resource…

But if you need a structured learning course, then head over to Ripple Training's courses…

Its only $50 (about Rs 2,700 at today's $ rates) for the iPad edition, and is a step by step training course with demo material so you can do it yourself along with the training.

If, after all these, you still find yourself a bit at sea, and would like to have some actual face to face guidance, write to me and we could work out some tutoring arrangement.

Saturday, 23 February, 2013

The new Arri Alexa XT

The new Arri Alexa XT introduces built-in ArriRAW recording and an upgrade for existing Alexa owners.

On Arri's web site, there is a link on the new Alexa XT cameras.

The AlexaXT showing the XR module in-camera
and a XR 'magazine'

AlexaXT is a new range of cameras that provide ArriRAW recording within the camera itself. Using new magazines co-developed with Codex. 512 GB in one magazine, which can record about 55 mins ArriRAW. Download is with a new reader which has USB3 and one still will need to use the VFS software to get data off these magazines.

Existing Alexa owners can have their cameras upgraded to the AlexaXT with this XR module which replaces the ProRes card module. So if the camera could record ProRes, it will now be able to record ArriRAW. If you still wish to record ProRes, you need an adapter that permits using SxS cards.

The XR module with the XR adapter for SxS (top right)
and the XR module for ArriRAW (bottom right)

Existing Alexa owners who have invested in Codex ArriRAW recorders, will have a dilemma. Continuing with the Codex recorder, will not fetch any additional rent once the XT Alexas become common. And definitely after existing Alexas without Codex recorders upgrade to the Alexa XT.

Existing Alexa owners who have Gemini444 recorders are in a safer position. Their Alexa can do ProRes or Gemini ArriRAW depending on the production's budget. And they've had a lower expenditure to buy the Gemini which costed nearly half or less compared to the Codex Recorder.

The new Alexa XT or existing Alexas with the XT upgrade also provide high fps shooting as standard and not a priced option as earlier. 

These upgrades coming so soon after the release of the Alexa Studio will mean that anyone investing in any high-end digital movie camera will need to recover their investment in as short a period as possible since manufacturers will introduce newer cameras and recorders in as less as one to two years.

But for users it is a boon as they get access to better means of creating moving images at shorter intervals. Just like the F5 and F55 are an upgrade to the F65 at a lower price… but that's another story.

The complete description of features from Arri's web site...
  • Refresh of ALEXA camera family
  • XR Module for faster, more affordable ARRIRAW
    • In-camera ARRIRAW up to 120 fps
    • In-camera ProRes or DNxHD up to 120 fps*
    • Fast 512 GB XR Capture Drives
    • Proven, efficient Codex on-set or near-set workflows
  • Less weight and easier working with internal NDs
    • In-camera Filter Module IFM-1
    • Internal filtration reduces reflections, weight and hassle
    • New high-tech filters based on white-water optical glass
    • Neutral color balance at all densities through absorptive IRND coating
    • Accurate infrared cut off
    • High image sharpness through precision polishing
    • High contrast through anti-reflective multi-coating
    • Available in 8 densities from ND 0.3 to ND 2.4
  • True anamorphic with a 4:3 sensor
    • 4:3 sensor on all XT models
    • Anamorphic de-squeeze license included
  • High speed license included
  • Lens metadata for efficient VFX
    • LDS PL Mount on all XT models
  • Comfortable, flexible new viewfinder mounting
    • Viewfinder Mounting Bracket VMB-3
    • Strong and rigid construction
    • 15 mm lightweight rods hold viewfinder mount
    • Rods can take lens motors, matte boxes, follow focus etc.
    • Special hard, low friction anodizing on all moving parts
    • Built-in bubble level
    • New Viewfinder Extension Bracket VEB-3 (separate accessory)
    • New, sturdy VEB-3 design
    • Viewfinder rests on camera through VEB-3 fold out arm
  • Super silent XT Fan
  • XT-spec upgrades for existing ALEXAs
    • Separately available upgrades include: the XR Module, In-camera Filter Module IFM-1, Viewfinder Mounting Bracket VMB-3, Viewfinder Extension Bracket VEB-3, XT Fan and the anamorphic de-squeeze and high speed licenses.
Some more links...

Tuesday, 29 January, 2013

DIT in India

For a while now I've heard from DoPs and cinematographers in India shooting movies on digital cameras - Alexa, Red, Sony Canon etc - requesting the services of a DIT "just like in Hollywood". Which basically means what they read about on the net, in forums, and in American Cinematographer.

I run a small company that provides data management and workflow guidance services for feature films in India - called Post BlackBox. And we are often asked to provide DIT services in addition to data wrangling and conversion that we do. We would love to.

I've worked on one movie with a 'real DIT' and have shot in the US and conversed with DITs there, so I've examined this in relation to how we make movies and the kind of post services available here for digital workflows.

Incidentally, for an explanation on dailies, video assist, and the 'look' in digital movie-making, check out an earlier post I wrote on this.

What's a DIT

For a definition of a DIT, check wikipedia

and many debates like these

What a DIT does

So let me first set up what a DIT typically does. And how that fits in the general post-production workflow.

On a movie set where a feature (or TV show, docu, ad film etc) is being shot on a digital camera, a DIT…
  1. Copies camera footage from camera cards/disks to multiple disks before the card/disk is erased and reused.
  2. Verifies that these copies are fine compared to the original which will be erased.
  3. Shows the DoP what his material will look like in post. So the DIT carries a good calibrated monitor or can calibrate the monitor that came with the camera.
  4. Makes color adjustments to the camera picture either off a live video feed, or on shot material. This is 'setting a look' similar to doing one-light rushes in the film days.
  5. Has access to and is knowledgeable about LUTs and conversion of a variety of log an other color spaces to 'normal' color.
  6. Has instruments (waveform/vectro/histogram) that can analyze the camera image and hence advice on aperture and exposure setting. The Cinematographer takes this advice seriously.
  7. Sets up timecode and sync between camera and sound. 
  8. Is knowledgable on menu settings and controls of most digital cameras. Or at least has access to camera manuals and can refer and find a fix if needed. Good DITs do refer to manuals, even in the field.
  9. Can do conversions of camera raw formats to editable formats for FCP, Avid, or any other editing platform.
So a DIT is knowledgeable is on digital formats, and also has some sense of how film used to behave in different lighting situations. A DIT also has a good sense of post-production and editing and is often from an editing or post background. 

So, the DIT is also a first step to post-production. So, in that sense he (or she) takes up some of the jobs that the post house would do. This is an area of debate with post houses trying to reclaim some of the tasks.

Cost of DIT services

In Hollywood, a good DIT cart with equipment for all of the above DIT functions, rents out for about $ 1000 per day (equal to about Rs 56,000 per day). And a good DIT charges between $ 500 to $1000 per day (equal to about Rs 28,000 to Rs 56,000 per day) excluding gear.
So, we are looking at about Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh per day for DIT services by Hollywood standards. On a 50 day shoot, this amounts to probably more than what some of the senior members of the crew make in the average budget Hindi movie. 

Clearly this is not affordable in India.

Check out what fully equipped DIT carts look like…

This one is from Maxx Digital. A complete mobile Scratch solution
Cost, about Rs 27 lakhs. 

The cost of the equipment that goes into a DIT cart if obtained in India, would be in the range of anything between Rs 15-30 lakhs. Which makes it cost about as much as a good digital camera like the Alexa or Red Epic. So, even if one makes up a homegrown DIT system one would have to charge a rental of at least Rs 20,000 per day. 

A trained DIT, of a cinematography or post background, would charge at least Rs 10,000 per day. So that makes the total, DIT services and gear, to at least Rs 30,000 per day. Or, Rs 15 lakhs for a 50 day shoot. Plus assistants, flights, hotel, local travel, hard disks.

So, is even this affordable?

DIT vs post house

In Hollywood and even Europe/UK, post houses charge for post services before edit. Data conversions, file management, backup etc - all before the edit starts. And this charge is pretty hefty. So the cost of a DIT in Hollywood is in comparison to these costs.

In India, the cost of DI is so small in comparison, and competition so fierce between DI studios, that some of the services offered in Hollywood are often thrown for free if the DI is done with them. So, Rs 30,000 ($ 500) per day for a DIT is also probably unaffordable. When the entire DI process costs as less as Rs 5 lakhs ($ 8000) to 'as much' as Rs 15 lakhs ($ 25,000). 
Just $8,000- $25,000 for Spirit 4k scanning, conform, Baselight8 grading, Arrilaser film out, SD and HD-SR tape deliverables... everything, taking up to 3 months of post work. If you push it, then the data conversions are thrown in for free too.

Storage costs

In addition to DIT services, disk storage is borne by the production in Hollywood. This cost is about the same in India. Working out to anything between Rs 5 to 20 lakhs for good quality hard disks, and RAID drives which the production has to bear anyway. 
In India, productions then bring down the services of the data management team. So, for basic data management services, I've found even Rs 8,000 ($ 130) per day is often not accepted. DIT services are nowhere near affordable for these kind of rates.


The ideal DIT workflow requires time to set up the cameras, monitors, scopes and timecode. Directors often get impatient as now, apart from lighting and actor delays there are these 'set the look' delays. So they prefer to postpone this to the DI stage. 

DIT in India

But there's still hope for DIT services. Particularly for smaller budget movies where getting the look right in the shoot stage is more crucial as they don't have the time for reshoots, or for an extended DI. Nor do they have time and budget for elaborate lighting setups. So in these situations having some rudimentary DIT services can affect (positively) how the movie turns out.

So, while a full blown DIT cart and fully trained DIT is not affordable (someone please prove me wrong), a more basic setup with capabilities nearly as in a 'proper DIT' can be made possible. If the budget can go up to at least Rs 15,000 per day, a DIT can make a difference. 

He or she can work closely with the editor and colorist so this can be a end-to-end service which integrates DIT, editing, and color grading - the entire post cycle. Then it could make sense, economically and aesthetically. If that makes it look interesting, then one could take a closer look at providing these services.