Chief Nerd in Montana’s Film Industry

The Outlaws media management team in our improvised “data center”

My path as a journalist and cameraman has taken a few unexpected turns over the years, with my recent foray into the Montana film world representing a happy detour.

Interestingly, my move to Bozeman coincided with the opening of the Yellowstone Film Ranch, a small western film set constructed in the nearby Paradise Valley, about an hour’s drive from my house.

The phone rang in April of 2021, and it was the Montana Film Commission. They’d heard I could work a very technical job needed by the very first movie to film at the ranch. The position is called the digital information technician (DIT), and I’ll explain it as follows:

Every aspiring crew member dreams of being the director, the executive producer, or perhaps even the stunt coordinator, key grip, or best boy.

Very few dream of being the chief nerd in the computer department, or as the position is formally known – the digital information technician.

Our DIT setup included Mac Books and RAID arrays, plus a little DIY.

Working as a DIT is not a glamorous job. You keep strange hours, often arriving early to pre-load media into cameras, and leaving as the electrical department unplugs the lights.

Not many people know exactly what we do, especially some producers and management who often treat the job as an afterthought.

But the truth is the DIT is a hugely important position, linking the camera team to the post production house. Essentially, the DIT is in charge of delivering the footage and keeping it safe. We carry the football across the goal line, if you will.

On my last DIT job, the challenge was to ingest and keep track of several terabytes of raw footage produced by four Arri Alexa Mini cameras each day. That included labeling what camera produced the media, tracking how much was shot, and transcoding the footage into online daily rushes that could be uploaded to Vimeo and viewed by various producers and directors to quality check the work being done on set.

I also needed to constantly update the film’s editor and assistant editor, and figure out a proxy making process to assist with off-line editing of the project. The shot footage often exceeded three to four hours per day, and it had to be backed up to hard drives and shipped to a post production facility for safekeeping.

Working on the set of “Murder at Yellowstone City,” the first production to film at Livingston’s western town set

Filming conditions in Montana are quite unpredictable, so I needed to create a weatherproof shelter on set to store our computers, power supplies, and the most precious commodity of all – the media for the film!

To be successful, I had to gain the trust of both the camera and post teams, anticipate their needs, and work to provide everyone with the media resources they needed to get the job done. It was a hard fight, but our 21-day shoot wrapped last September and is currently in post production.

The forthcoming project is titled “Outlaw Posse” and is the latest film by Director Mario Van Peebles, which is slated for release sometime in late 2023.

My previous DIT job was for a film titled “Murder at Yellowstone City,” which was released in June of 2022.