Tips for Digital Loaders, Data Wranglers and DITs

Photo by Jeremy Shattuck.

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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  1. If spaces are for amateurs then why do the NLE application generate file and folder names with spaces???

  2. Thanks for the article. Any recommendations for software? I’m currently checking Red Giant’s Offload, Silverstack and Shotput Pro.

    1. Offload is basically abandonware, and lacking in some basic niceties that a working loader or assistant needs. Trust me, don’t try to save a few bucks by buying Offload. You’ll kick yourself later when it’s a pain in the butt to do things like manage destinations for more than one camera, or save logs for each transfer.

      ShotPut is okay and is fairly common in the industry. It’s kind of like a step up from Offload in functionality, and a step down in user interface design. You have to learn its quirks, unfortunately, but for the most part it works. If you’re using Windows, be careful with the newly-released version 6. It’s buggy AF. Mostly in non-critical ways, but still stressful to deal with on a job. I can’t speak for the Mac version, which has been out longer.

      Also, for both of the above, support sucks. Both companies will respond in some fashion, but I have reported a slew of bugs for both, and virtually none of them have been fixed yet. I will say that one request I made recently for ShotPut was implemented quickly, but weirdly a couple critical bugs still haven’t been fixed. For Offload, as far as I know, not a single issue I’ve reported in the past two years has been fixed.

      And if you’re using Windows, that’s it. Those are all your options. And they both kind of suck. You lucky Mac folks have a couple better options:

      Silverstack is the gold standard here, I think, and it is priced accordingly. It initially appears more complicated than the other two, but the UI is pretty well designed and there is good help documentation, so you can get going with basic offloads pretty quickly. It has awesome, obvious features that an offload app made in this century should have, like folder naming based on camera metadata, in-app playback of media, and the ability to generate a summary report for the day. And then it has functionality beyond offloading built in, like coloring and transcoding. Now if only I was willing to shell out a gajillion dollars for a Mac.

      And finally, I’ll add one to your list: Hedge for Mac. It’s relatively new, and I haven’t used it myself, but I’ve heard good things. It appears to be in the vein of ShotPut (but better looking), and is said to be fast. May be worth a look, depending upon your needs.

      If it makes sense for you, though, and you’re on Mac, my strong recommendation is for Silverstack. It has a free trial, so you can check it out and try it on a short job. They should give me a commission.

      Hope that helps, best of luck!

      1. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain all of this to me!! The shoot was the past two days so I ended downloading a free trial of Offload and Hedge. I used Offload and found a few quirks that I’m not a huge fan:
        – When a backup fails (for any reason) or if let’s say you need to stop the transfer because you need to leave the studio, it won’t let you pause the transfer. Which is a shame because then you have to start over.
        – Transfer is pretty slow.
        – All the things you mentioned (like managing more than one camera and two drives)

        I will definitely try Silverstack in the future. Regarding Hedge, I haven’t tried it but the one feature that I found “fun” was that you can connect your phone with the Hedge app and it’ll send you a notification when the transfer is done. Just an extra gadget.

        Thanks again for taking the time to explain all of this. Have a good weekend

        1. I personally have not found it worth it to upgrade to Silverstack for 400 a year versus Shotput for 100 to own outright. The only times I don’t use Shotput Pro (on my Mac) is when I am using dailies software that has offload verification already onboard. I am going to look into bugs on the PC version. But like Michael said, might as well give it a look to Silverstack so you can see the differences. I wrote above as well, there is also Adobe Prelude, but last I gave it a shot it was pretty mediocre. Cheers.

      2. Nice, thanks Michael. Not a fan of offload or the Adobe Premiere Yeah, I can’t comment much on using version 6 of Shotput on Windows, but I haven’t had any issues using 5.3.4 or newer on Mac. I will have to check with the other media manager I work with about this. I am probably going to write a article on dailies generation soon, so I will have to look into that. Also, I wouldn’t recommend Adobe Prelude unless there is a major update.

    1. If spaces are for amateurs then why do the NLE application generate file and folder names with spaces??? Explain please?

      I do remember in school using underscores and dashes to give it a break like Name_of_the_project-version_01 back in pre Mac days

      1. @David. Sorry, I thought I answered last time. An NLE will let you name it whatever you want of course. However, there are a few reasons for using the underscore. Some of them much less important these days, but the origin comes from restrictions on ‘foreign characters’ in file names, how spaces complicate things when writing code/command line — there’s lots of it in post engineering and animation — keeping ‘legal’ filename conventions, and for Web use. The most important uses still being for code and the web. For instance, if you upload a media file to my server and someone accesses it and it does not have spaces, it might say final%20draft%20file which obviously isn’t very clear. That being said, the reason the underscore is still so prevalent professionally is because it makes it easy and clear to read something when you have to look at file names all day/night… final_draft_file. And clarity and organization in post production are some of the most important skills. Hope this helps.

  3. Wow! Jeremey! what a great and thorough read. The replies are golden too! I’ve worked on set as a Loader and Assistant, but it wasn’t until I started to learn about being a DIT did I realize the importance of file structure and naming conventions. I always used shot-put pro because I was a bit poor and it was the industry standard for so long. I recently got to use Silverstack and that’s definitely the gold standard and my next migration up. Thanks again. Best to you!

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