Working as a freelance Data Wrangler

Two cameras and crew filming outside Bloomsbury Ballroom as a Range Rover arrives
Arri Alexa and Red Epic Dragon mounted on a MOVI filming outside Bloomsbury Ballroom

Managing digital camera file-based media

Managing, spot-checking and backing-up the large quantities of digital media files on a film set or shoot is generally now the responsibility of either a Data Wrangler or a Digital Image Technician – DIT for short.
With many years experience of accurately managing and manipulating large quantities of broadcast standard digital media both an editor and a cameraman, I realise my skills are ideally suited for these roles.  I know the DIT can be required to add colour correction (using a calibrated monitor) to filmed footage even adding LUT’s as required. I recently spent the day as a DIT on a drama shoot at Bloomsbury Ballroom in London for Tunic Media.

Pre-shoot checks

Ahead of the shoot I spoke with the director Nicholas Cohen and found out more about the shoot and what cameras were going to being used. This enabled me to check my software, data-transfer rates and workflow compatibility. I also took the opportunity to update my Avid Media Composer codecs that might be required for any possible editing either on set or afterwards. I learnt that the film was going to be shot on two different cameras. One camera was an Arri Alexa which was filming 1920 x 1080 on SxS cards. These SxS cards could be read and copied via a SxS card reader.
The second camera being used was a Red Epic Dragon which can shoot up to 6K onto Redmag (SSD) modules. I checked and saw that the Redstation Redmag Mini offloads media via either a FireWire 800 or USB 3 connection so I knew I was going to be able to transfer the media on the day.
Before the shoot, I downloaded and installed the software application recommended to me called ‘Double Data’. This software supports a wide range of professional cameras and media whilst allowing for two copies to be backed up simultaneously. The software accurately checks each file transfer with a checksum and notifies you should any problems arise. I also installed Redcine-X Professional which is a software application that allows you to open up the Red digital media to spot check it and also to apply any colour correction or LUT’s if required.

Filming day

For the shoot, I packed my MacPro along with my NEC 24 inch monitor and a 1Tb G-Raid USB 3 drive. After arriving at the location I set my workstation up in a secure room away from the film set.  I decided not to take my Thunderbolt RAID 5 drive as it was only a one-day shoot and I knew I would be able to manage the data with the USB 3 data transfer speed.

It was great to be on set and watch the days directing, filming and acting unfold. A highlight was seeing how the Red Epic Dragon was being used in conjunction with a MOVI handheld stabiliser. The 1st AD’s each passed me their camera media cards once they were full. I then took the camera cards to my workstation and backed up the media onto the 1TB drive. I placed the camera card to be copied on the left side of the workstation and moved the copied cards onto the far right side of the workstation. This ensured that all the numbered cards would be copied and prevented any potential problems. During the day I spot checked some of the camera files to make sure that the recording looked good and that no obvious camera faults were apparent.

As the day progressed it became apparent that the camera cards were going to need to be used again for more filming.  I needed to ensure we had two separate hard drive copies of all the media at all times so I purchased another 1TB hard drive to manage the media. Once the new drive was connected I first cloned the existing media drive that I had already copied the camera files onto. Once every camera file was backed up twice I was able to release the used camera cards for further filming.
After filming had finished I also created a back up of the sound recordists data card onto each of the two drives. The end result of the day was two 1TB hard drive copies of all the filmed media and sound files ready for the post-production edit.
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Julian Langham

Julian started his career in media in 1994; shortly after Julian was invited to join the BBC where he was quickly promoted to Editor. Julian left the BBC to develop his freelance career in 2009. Highly-practised and skilled in constructing engaging narratives, Julian’s key strength is his ability to produce strong visually-led stories. In his work, Julian shares his passion for creating powerful synergies between story content, visual rhythm and music.