Tips for Digital Loaders, Data Wranglers and DITs

I’m not here to argue what a digital loader, data wrangler, DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) or a post-production data manager does. In fact, there is often ambiguity between these positions, especially when shooting on a remote location or within a studio environment that’s trying to save money.

When recorded media (audio and video) leaves set, it often goes through someone like me. I prepare footage for post, whether that means transcoding dailies, creating verified backups of camera cards, logging media and reports, assistant editing, pushing data to post houses or managing media for formatting and reuse.

So, as someone who makes a living generally working in-between set and post, here are some helpful tips to alleviate stress when managing data and help gel relations with oddballs in post.

Please recite this mantra when going to set: “Ohm, redundancy, redundancy.”

Always make sure your media is labeled! And not just for camera.

You need to be able to reference a sound roll beyond, “Hey man, do you have a compact flash card with the audio on it?”

Include the production name (abbreviation), date and sound roll number on the outside of the media if possible. This helps everyone easily identify and inventory the media. If offloaded to a folder, read on.

If you’re sending more than one drop a day to post, provide a second copy of the earlier sound rolls at the end of the day. You don’t want a late night call if something is missing; we hate waking people up.

File sizes are measured differently depending on what operating system you are using. For instance, Mac uses the GB measurement and PC uses GiB. It’s a good idea to clarify what OS you use when sizing files outside checksum programs.

Always be polite to post because you don’t know what their workload is like or how many hours they have been working. Twenty-hour days in a dark room are a thing, and they are on your team after all.

Be very specific when creating folders or sending emails involving media. Make sure to include the date, project name, episode, production day, first break, wrap, etc. Don’t leave any room for confusion.

Don’t name stuff dumb: folder structures that look like G:\g\o\.\f\u\c\k\.\y\o\u\r\s\e\l\f\A_CAM. I worked with an angry camera loader who thought it was funny to create so many levels of empty folders that he almost corrupted all of the camera media on a hard drive.

Never place spaces in file names; use an underscore between words. This makes text clearer and helps server based file checksums, online use, robots and other things. Spaces are a mark of amateurs.

Verified offload software like Shot Put Pro are not flawless (sorry). You should always make sure the media that ‘offloaded’ is there. Visually check the media and compare file sizes. If media is missing, it’s not the software’s fault, it’s yours.

Maybe basic, but do spot checks on video clips: Scrub the video files and look for errors. Some cameras have the ability to repair corrupt files, so catch them early and fix them on set when possible.

Back up camera media to no less than two raids or hard drives. Don’t let production short change you on this.

Put sound and camera reports in numerical order so that missing reports are obvious and you don’t annoy anyone with your jumbled paperwork.

Don’t soak media or paperwork in coffee and then wonder why it doesn’t work or post can’t read it.

Compare camera and sound reports to your media before it leaves set. This is basic, but you would be surprised how often people don’t double check and end up missing a camera roll or report.

Use a user-error-free method when checking or comparing clip counts; your eyes get tired. On PC: Select all clips, right click and hit properties for a count. Mac: Select all clips, hit apple key and right click and you will see the total listed in the popup tab. Compare totals to the clips that are most often in numerical order.

Name sound and camera rolls in triple digits (Example: A018). Larger productions will reach three-digit rolls quickly and they are easier to read and standard for some databases. It’s a good habit to have.

Never write near the edge of a camera or sound report because they often become illegible. Also, most of the time reports are punched and placed in a binder for archiving, which can obscure information.

If a report is covered in tears, coffee, blood, torn, beat up or hard to read, please rewrite it. I have seen some ridiculously abused reports come across my desk and there is no reason for it.

Discrepancy reports are important. They list problems that post needs to know about. Create one and put it with the offloaded media. I also paste the same info into an email and send it so that people see it twice.

Sound is not audio and vice versa. They are not the same. Sound is what you physically hear; audio is digital — ones and zeros — that stuff you recorded. Don’t sound silly.

Again, common sense, yet… never have open containers of liquid near equipment. Use something with a sealable lid for the love of what you hold dearly. Don’t soak media or paperwork in coffee and then wonder why it doesn’t work or post can’t read it.

Always properly eject media from your computer. Not only because of a risk of damaging a storage device, but because the computer will warn you if something is still offloading, uploading, copying, etc.

Use more than one method to show that media is safe to format. Standard: Put colored Velcro or tape on the media. Green tape means safe to format; red tape means that it’s not safe. Additionally, send an email when possible that lists off what had been released/formatted so that there is no second guessing.

Please recite this mantra when going to set: “Ohm, redundancy, redundancy.” The most important wisdom when managing media is redundancy. Be specific and redundant in everything you do so that misunderstandings are highly unlikely.

Never be afraid to create an extra backup, ask questions or recheck media if something feels wrong. It’s infinitely better to feel safe than spend a sleepless night worrying about expensive data.

I hope these tips help you in the field and push you to develop better ones of your own. Good wrangling and loading to you all!

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Jeremy Shattuck is a screenwriter, post-production ninja and award-winning writer. His current mission is to help incubate culturally relevant films in New Mexico through screenwriting workshops.
About Jeremy Shattuck 46 Articles
Jeremy Shattuck is a screenwriter, post-production ninja and award-winning writer. His current mission is to help incubate culturally relevant films in New Mexico through screenwriting workshops.