A Good Image: Matthew Love

Digital imaging technician Matthew Love on how his role lightens the load on sets for commercials, music videos, and movies, by decreasing the wait time between shooting and editing together footage.

Photo provided by Matthew Love

If you want to make it in the movie biz, you need to be dedicated, willing to work hard, and a mastermind at networking. Such is the case for Matthew Love, a digital imaging technician who works on a variety of Hollywood movies, commercials, and music video sets.

Love existed on the fringe of the entertainment industry beginning at an early age. He started out working in tech sales at Best Buy and moved into a more artistic tattooing position at a local parlor, after which he wandered into the thick of things by moving to Hollywood in 2006. That’s when he began networking with film industry executives. Luckily, Love’s uncle pulled some strings to hook him up with his initial production jobs. While on set, he became enraptured with the camera department and set his sights on transitioning into an appropriate position. He was awarded a prestigious internship with Panavision and began shadowing directors of photography on various jobs. Persistence paid off, and Love eventually was given an opportunity to try his hand as a digital imaging technician (DIT), a role that has led to significant success.

With three years in his current profession behind him, Love has put in 22-hour days and worked with an electic range of talents, including divalicious supermodels and notable movie stars. He became a central part of exciting projects, altering everything from Adidas commercials to Britney Spears’ videos. Each day on set brings a different location and crew, and with technology bounding forward in digital imaging, the demands in his field are always changing.

Get in Media: Can you take a second and explain what exactly a digital imaging technician does on set?
Matthew Love: If you’re shooting a movie for a month, you’re going to be creating dailies every day of the scenes that you shoot. What a DIT will do is not only create these dailies but will also color them to give the director and the director of photography a sample of what it will look like, so they can understand what they are going to be working with. You can also give them each a different look– something that maybe the director of photography likes and something that the producers like. Not only will the DIT collect these colors, but they will create these things called LUTs– the “look up table”— and this basically points whoever is doing the final edit back to the initial looks, so they can basically copy them and can mimic them.

The best way to describe it is to say that the DIT lets the director of photography know what is safe as far as the exposure goes and is in charge of creating a look that pleases the director of photography, the client, and the producers. When you get a digital image, if you’re shooting it raw, it could be very flat and milky and washy looking. What the DIT will do is then give it a look that makes the clients happy and lets them understand what it’s going to look like further down the line in post.

So, the role of a digital imaging technician can vary from shoot to shoot. On a single-camera shoot, the DIT will be the one in charge of setting up the digital HD camera to shoot in the correct format for whatever the job may be. They will also be in charge of backing up the digital footage/media to a master and backup drive and, sometimes, their own RAID hard drive setup. It’s very similar to what a film loader for 35mm/16mm film shoots would do, but it doesn’t stop there. Since the age of digital media is upon us, we also are now in charge of color grading the footage to the director of photography’s likings (along with the client’s, director’s, etc). We then bake the coloring into the footage and transcode it out, changing the codec/compression of the video for the editing process.

If there are multiple cameras, then we will have someone doing the digital offloading for us, and we will just be in charge of coloring the footage.

GIM: What types of sets would a DIT be stationed on and what type of equipment do you use on location?
ML: Every movie shot digitally will have a DIT, maybe more than one depending on how many cameras. There were three of them, for example, on the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. These guys are basically there to tell the director of photography and the first assistant camera how it’s going to look and what exposure is safe, by using a thing called the waveform monitor.

The equipment can vary from job to job. If we’re shooting on the DSLRs [ex: Canon 7d/5d, used on some films like Black Swan], we can get away with just a laptop. I currently use a quad-core MacBook Pro. If the job is shooting more professional grade cameras [35mm HD digital, such as the Red One, Epic, Alexa], we’ll use Mac Pro towers, color calibrated monitors, waveform scopes, vector scopes, battery backups, and RAID drives. For certain Red shoots, we use a card that installs in the Mac Pro tower, called a RED Rocket. The entire setup is over $20,000 in just gear!

We also have tools, we call them scopes, that monitor exposure and color on set for what is being shot at that very second. They are called waveforms and vector scopes. These help us measure whether or not a scene is correctly exposed and determine if it will turn out OK. We then relay this information to the first AC (first assistant camera).

GIM: Digital shooting seems to be growing in popularity with filmmakers, do you expect the trend to continue?
ML: Yes. It’s basically revolutionizing the film industry, and 35 mm film is slowly dying. Digital will at some point probably take over. Steven Spielberg says he won’t shoot digital, and Chris Nolan from The Dark Knight says that, too, but at some point, it will all change. They shot Contagion on digital, which was one of the more recent digital films. Movies like The Social Network, Captain America, Drive, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Transformers, Public Enemies, etc., were all shot in digital HD, with no film ever being used.

These are some really big movies, so it shows how they’re all slowly evolving. The big thing here is that colored dailies can be produced almost immediately for viewing by the director. This means that there is no 12- to 24-hour turn-around from a lab to get your film back to watch. It revolutionizes the industry.

Music videos are almost always shot digitally now, because it saves money. Film stocks are really expensive, and when you roll on it, you’re using it with digital, so you can reload and reshoot all that stuff that you already shot if you need to, and you’ll always have a backup. The same goes for commercials. More than half are digital now.

GIM: Can you walk us through a typical day on the job for you?
ML: A typical day on the job will actually start off a bit slow, as there’s not much to do when nothing is being shot. If it’s a camera crew you’ve yet to work with, typically there’s a lot of “feeling each other out.” If it’s a crew you have background with, you’ll jump right into it. Typically, when I arrive on set, I will set up my gear: Mac Pro tower, MacBook Pro laptop, dual monitors, battery backups and hard drives. I will then go to the client monitor, what the director and producers watch, and calibrate the color there as well, to make sure it’s a “look” they like. I can also create my own color looks and send that to the monitor for them to look at. It helps give them an idea of what the final product will look like. Once we start shooting, that’s when things will get busier for me. I will be relaying exposure settings to the first AC via radio and start safety offloading footage and begin creating LUTs, for post to understand what approach I am taking to color the footage. 

GIM: What is your background in the industry? Did you attend a special school or program to get into this?
ML: I didn’t go to school directly for this. I got interested in the camera department, and I reached out to a few directors of photography that I was working with on set when I was working in production and eventually one of them took me under their wing and brought me on a few commercials— I did a few commercials, a BOSE commercial, a Nike commercial, and a few music videos as a second assistant camera. We starting shooting digital, and a need for a DIT came in. I then did an internship with a camera house, Panavision, to learn about all the gear. I would shadow DITs that I knew on set for big movies and commercials, and they were my mentors.

GIM: What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
ML: A lot of my work is with commercials or music videos— Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and believe it or not … Limp Bizkit’s making a comeback.

I just worked on a short feature, a 30-minute film called Dog Eat Dog. It was really fun and was with the guy from Star Trek, Zachary Quinto, and actor Dan Fogler, where we shot digital HD on the RED camera, and I was doing DIT and acting as on-site color corrector. It was a really cool project because it was very small and close to their hearts. It was cool because they didn’t know how fast it could turn around on my end, so I was able to show these people what they were getting and how it was going to look quickly; I was able to give that to them in real time on set, as opposed to them thinking they’d have to wait days in order to see footage.

I’ve worked with Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. I’ve done Revlon commercials, which were really interesting because we had to deal with the dynamics with how diva-ish people can be. I did a job at a Call of Duty event, and we had to create color looks for a supermodel to make her look younger and prettier as we were putting the footage together. 

GIM: And what are you working on now? Anything exciting?
ML: I’m currently finishing up an Adidas commercial right now with Snoop Dogg.

GIM: Do you prefer working on movies or music videos or are commercials better work?
ML: Commercials, by far. They have the best rates, and every one is a little different. Music videos are usually the longest hours.

GIM: What do you enjoy most about your job as a DIT?
ML: I like having a job that takes me to new places. I love having the ability to be on a new location on almost every job and having a new crew and meeting new people. You’re always learning, because there are always very different things that are desired of you– the directors of photography will always want different things. The learning curve is awesome. You’re always kind of adapting and learning what they like. I get to work with awesome crews and am meeting new people every day.

There’s no “punching in” at a time clock and sitting in a cubicle for eight hours.  Some people have that ability to do that, I don’t. I also enjoy testing my own abilities and coming up with a new way of doing things day to day. I love the creative minds that I work with.

GIM: And what about the most challenging aspect of the job?
ML: Keeping up with the ever-evolving technology in this industry. Every week, it seems like there’s an update in cameras, something new coming out to help with the workflow, or bigger and better sensors offering more and more resolution.  We’re currently able to shoot up to 5k digitally, which refers to vertical lines of resolution. What you see in HD is only 1920, believe it or not.

The only bummer is that the hours are always long. Also, the food on set makes you fat. You have to tiptoe around certain people sometimes because everybody feels like they are incredibly creative while some people may not be.

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GIM: If you had to describe your absolutely most chaotic experience on the job, what would that be?
ML: I shot a music video, which consisted of four cameras, and I was the only DIT on set. The workday was 22 hours for me, and I never stopped moving. Keeping track of that much footage is mentally exhausting! 

GIM: Even with all the chaos, did everything work out OK?
ML: Yeah. Everything worked out fine. I was the only one basically wrangling all this data and video for four cameras. It was total chaos and one of the longest days of my life.

GIM: With digital continuing to trend in filmmaking, that must mean a lot of job security for you, right?
ML: Oh, absolutely! DITs are just so crucial on sets that are filming digitally. It’s kind of evolving now to where a DIT can work on, let’s say, The Hobbit, and be creating 3-D dailies for Peter Jackson to look at. A DIT is basically a necessity on set when shooting digitally, because it’s just different in film now. You used to have your old film stocks, which gave you certain looks, but now all of this can be mimicked with one person with the knowledge of doing so on set. 

Let’s say we were shooting a film in Ohio, and the director was like, “OK, I want to have dailies for executive producers to watch.” Before, they would have to wait 24 to 48 hours, because they would have to ship the exposed negatives off to a lab, and the lab has to basically correct the exposed dailies, then they have to put them on a disc and send them to the producer by making it a DVD or a Blu-ray disc. Then two or three days later, the producers can be watching the dailies. But now with me on set, I can take one shot, color it, give it a look, adjusting to what they are happy with, and then upload it to a cloud or a server or make a Blu-ray disc, all while we are on set that day. It’s gotten to the point where you can actually start editing stuff together immediately and giving the higher-ups more of an idea earlier on, as opposed to having to wait.

GIM: How can your career evolve once you’ve established yourself as a DIT?
ML: Some DITs will go into operating cameras or even becoming directors of photography. A DIT is rather high on the camera hierarchy already. My personal plan is to stick with this now and evolve into creating 3-D dailies for people, once 3-D takes full effect. I’d be interested in bringing 3-D to set to the point where it can be watched immediately, almost in real time, to see what’s working and what isn’t. I guess something else that I’d like to go into would be becoming a director of photography myself, which is basically the top of the hierarchy in the camera division. Get In Media

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