David Gómez Ojeda is a Madrid-based DIT who has experience working on features, TV, and commercials. While he loves the profession, this experienced DIT also knows the toll the DIT life can take. In this article, David evaluates the pros and cons of both feature and commercial work by giving us an in-depth look into his different setups, and sheds some light on his unique ability to create networks on set.
First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview with us! To start, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your professional life?
My pleasure, and thank you for the work you do and the support you provide on set through your software. It’s fair to say that you’ve changed the game on set. I’m David Gomez Ojeda, I’m from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, and I’m based in Madrid, Spain.
After studying Journalism, I spent one year in Bath, UK where I decided to try out something called “Video and TV Competencies,” at Bath College. I learned how to use a Canon XL1 and edit in Premiere. This was a huge discovery for me. I loved it from the very first moment, so when I returned to Spain, I forgot about Journalism and headed straight to cinema school.
After that, I went from cleaning tripods at a camera rental house, to working as a video assist operator in commercials where I got to know some camera crews that connected me to work on three feature films. At that time I started also working for VideoVillage, a video assist rental company that had an American system based on a Windows machine, PCI Capture Cards, and software playback, where I learned a lot about signals, BNC routing, and monitors. I did my last feature with them, The Cold Light of Day, as a video operator.
After some time I also met one of the best DITs here in Spain, Ariana Bonavia, and became her data wrangler. I learned so much from her and still learn today when we get the chance to get together or just talk from time to time. I remember a couple of jobs with her, Robert Richardson and Rodrigo Prieto that were so interesting and enriching in terms of how to approach, prep, and handle such big jobs.
So that’s how I slowly began to grow as a DIT. It was the time of old Codex capture devices for ArriRaw, REDs, Sonys F65s, and Alexa classics. Then, in 2014, I decided that I wanted to design and have my own DIT station, and I began the solo DIT journey all alone with just a Magliner, a 2013 Mac Pro, a Promise Raid, and a Tangent Element Tk panel.
Can you please share some details on your work?
I mostly work on service commercials here in Spain. I always try to be on set, but due to the nature of DIT work in Spain, we are mostly forced to be off-set. I love TV series and feature films, but they support a very unsustainable lifestyle. Commercials allow for a good set-life balance— with a few days of work, then a few days off. I have two small kids, and I want to see them grow!
For international commercials, I meet DPs from all around the world who come to shoot in Spain. I get to know different visual cultures and work styles from all over. Often I see three distinct DP work styles:
- “Old School” — DPs that still use a light meter and a standard 709 LUT for every camera.
- “New School”— DPs who bring a USB filled with lots of LUTs and like to develop something unique for every shoot.
- “Undecided” — DPs who try to shoot standard and want the DIT to make it look good.
I’m happy with every different scenario, as long as the DP has a clear idea of what they want. However, that can be difficult. DPs are quickly jumping from job to job, so it’s hard to have fully baked ideas in such little time, which makes my job more challenging when I have to guess what the image should look like.
When the creative intent is clear from the beginning, I begin working on a look right away, which always has a better outcome.
For commercials, I help the DP check the signal, and then I offload in Silverstack XT and do grading in Davinci. I always have the DP check my grades at my cart, but if we’re short on time, we establish a grade at the beginning and then they’re happy enough getting stills via iCloud or Dropbox throughout the production.
Over time the work has become more sophisticated than ever. The grades are getting more complex— adding grain, removing noise, emulating film, emulating diffusion— when at the beginning, it was more just about trying LUTs and transcoding.
From 2020 to about now there was a dip in commercial work, but there have been many TV and feature film productions happening because of the rise of the platforms in Spain. I typically stay away from TV and features because of the demanding hours (12 hours a day), but lately, it has changed to 8-10 hours a day. And thankfully, the commercial work is almost back to normal now.
I’ve taken a few series and features, which I find to be more creatively interesting since, first, there’s a script with a story and a director with a creative vision. Prep involves testing the different cameras, trying different lens sets, and different lighting setups, adjusting the camera settings for specific scenes, and, of course, creating LUTs. It’s great to be part of the creative decisions with the DP at this early stage.
During the shoot, I use Livegrade Pro, pull iris, and depending on the budget, I would also offload and process the footage or have a data wrangler or an off-set lab.
It becomes challenging to maintain that chosen look because you will find other interesting looks that you would like to explore and maybe move away from the chosen look. This always generates an interesting creative doubt-debate, to stay with the look you decided to or go with the new discoveries.
Recently, I worked on the feature Desert Warrior with DP Guillermo Garza, for which I was the DIT throughout the whole production. It was so interesting to capture the desert in all its variations, shoot the same scene with the sun in every position, and make it look good. Ricky Gausis, the colorist, created some LUTs with some test footage and then we used them all throughout the shoot. Of course, the light conditions were different at some points so we needed to tweak them with Livegrade Pro.
Another recent case would be The Society of the Snow from J.A. Bayona and DP Pedro Luque. The main DIT was Rodrigo Gomez, I only did 2 weeks of reshoots. I mention this one because Livegrade Pro was crucial to recreate the looks they did in the mountains while we shot the reshoots in a backlot with the plane fuselage.
In Spain, there are currently all types of productions including low, medium, and high national budgets, international or local productions, larger streaming services like Netflix, Apple, or Amazon, and standalone features from all over the world. So we manage to work under a lot of different workflows, meaning we (Spanish DITs) are also “all-terrain technicians,” able to adapt to any scenario.
We’re aware that every DIT’s setup varies. Overall, how would you describe yours?
Like most DITs, my cart has several variations. I would describe it as a set of gears that transform to fit the needs of a specific job. However, I do have kind of a general setup that works for almost every commercial. There is my centralized cart with everything I need, including Livegrade Pro, Offload, and Transcoding software, and I usually keep this configuration for all of the commercials and just add different bits when needed.
For features and TV, it’s a different story of course. I start by considering the needs of the project and normally I have 3 scenarios in 3 configurations— one for live grading and exposing, another cart for offloading, and a mobile solution for difficult locations.
Commercial Setup Pt. 2
To learn more, could you please walk us through the bits and pieces of your overall setup?
I like my main setup for commercials not to be dependent on the cart. This way, I can just take the cases out and go work at a table. This is especially helpful when the monitor on set is on the 9th floor and there is no elevator.
Basically, I have 2 x 6U Rack cases, one for offloading and one for live grading. I can either combine or separate the two cases into 2 carts depending on the job. I have an Inovativ Voyager EVO X and a medium Magliner.
My offloading kit:
- Mac Studio M1 ultra with a 56TB Areca 8 Bay Raid 5
- 8TB OWC Nvme Raid
- OWC Thunderbolt Hub
It can also fit whatever reader for any camera and 3 client drives which is the normal thing.
My live grading kit:
- Up to 3 BoxIOs
- Teradek Colr
- Aja Kumo 1616
- Decimator quad
- Ubiquity edgerouter plus ubiquitis AP’s
- Ethernet switcher
- Helios S3 with a DeckLink Card to capture in Livegrade Pro
- Blackmagic Mini Monitor, Calldigit Ts3
- CyberPower 1U UPS
My offloading and live grading cart combined into my main rig:
- Inovativ Voyager EVO 36 with the 2 rack cases.
- Benq UI Monitor
- 24” Trimaster on the Whaley Rail or 2 x 24” Trimaster
- Convergent Design Apollo
- iPad as an extended display
- Blackmagic micro panel
- Stream deck
- Tangent Element Tk panel
Silverstack XT is the one software I always use regardless of the cart. It’s the base for everything. It gives me security in offloads and helps me stay focused on the creative side of the process. There is no other software like this that makes you feel so confident in the backup process.
TV/Feature Setup pt. 2
If I’m on features or TV shows, I use Livegrade Pro and the fantastic cloud sync option— ShotHub. ShotHub makes it fast and easy to transfer looks from Livegrade Pro to Silverstack XT and then to Davinci. When you load the footage in Davinci, you already have everything looking the way you want from Livegrade Pro.
Another thing I love about Livegrade Pro is capturing through the DeckLink Card and being able to regrade at any point. I’m kind of obsessive and I capture every shot and all of the takes. Perhaps this comes from my background as a video operator, but it’s helpful so that later on I can pull up any shot at any moment of the action on the monitors so the DP can check it in comparison to any of the other shots.
It’s the fastest and safest way to ensure that everything works and matches. If starting a new angle on a scene, I would create 4 or 5 empty slots to load all the shots from that scene at the exact point, so with one click, I could quickly see on Monitor B all the previous shots compared to the live feed on Monitor A.
As for the power, I have three different UPSs with different capacities and an EcoFlow battery that gives me about two hours of running time. With that, and a Village Blackout Tent, I can follow the camera’s rhythm, set up as close as I can, and whenever I get the chance, charge the battery in about 50 minutes. However, it usually takes less time because I charge quite frequently.
I’d say that one special feature of my cart that I don’t often see on other carts, is my ability to create networks. I can poe-plug up to 3 Ubiquiti APs into my router and cover a lot of ground by controlling cameras in different places. It’s really great when we start at a location and the DP comes to the monitors and sets the basic FPS-Kº-Tint-ASA-NDs or even LUTs if we’re working with in-camera looks and LUTs.
This is all controlled from my tent, so we can see and test different settings quickly without having someone on camera and making adjustments over the walkie. It’s also super helpful on the set of a commercial when the DP asks for a change, I’m ready with the cursor on the camera browser to change any setting.
If camera A, for example, wants to make changes, I can quickly replicate the settings on the other cameras instantly. The network also allows me to walk on set with an iPad connected to all of the cameras to control, or to the Kumo router control panel, or even just as a remote desktop.
How does your setup vary depending on whether you are doing a commercial or a feature?
As I explained above, commercials have this kind of all-in-one setup.
For features, I would split and keep the Livegrade case at the Voyager cart and mount 2 x 24” Trimasters in the Whaley Rail with the following:
- A MacBook Pro with Livegrade would run the system
- Tangent tk as a panel
- Stream Deck
- Cal digit ts3
- Small SSD Raid
- All the network possibilities
For power, I’d have more running time with the EcoFlow since I’d lose the Raids which consume more Watts.
The offloading case would go to a medium Magliner with my biggest UPS and the Benq UI Monitor. There’s always a possibility of adding an Oled monitor to that cart depending on if I want to grade there as well.
The third scenario, typically used for inaccessible locations, would be covered with a small iris nest, in which I would use the Apollo, the iris hand units, an iPad for camera control, a Teradek receiver or 2, and sometimes a 13” SmallHd. This would be only exclusively for getting exposure. A really mobile survival setup with Livegrade Pro is next on my list to build.
This is an ever-changing situation since every feature has special needs, so the gear adheres to those needs. Special mention here to prep, this is the base for a successful shoot. Preparation, including testing any and all scenarios, to preview possible needs allows for confidence in my cart, and on set.
What has been the latest addition to your setup?
EcoFlow. Now sometimes I completely forget I’m running on battery or I don’t find the cable power drum because I forgot it in the truck.
Personally, what is your favorite component of your setup and why?
That is a difficult one. It’s hard to pick only one because there are a lot of components and each one of them is very important in its own right. So maybe it’s about the whole set of tools you choose working together. Mixing good software like Pomfort’s with the best and most compatible hardware gives you the possibility to be a better tech since you’re then able to do more things, faster, and with higher-quality output.
I must mention that sometimes, you must use a bit of imagination when it comes to altering your setup for specific shoots. Recently, I worked on Desert Warrior, and I was supposed to work in a 4×4 van for 4 months while driving through the desert. I was really worried about the gear getting damaged since we were constantly driving on uneven roads, mountains, and sand.
I had to pull off the wheels of the cart so I was able to fit it in the van height-wise, and then I fixed it to the interior with straps. The problem then was that without the wheels, you remove a lot of the shock absorption. The solution was to buy a child’s mattress and put it between the cart floor and the van floor. Then we stuck yoga mats under the rack case. It worked like a charm and we didn’t experience any problems in all four months of shooting.
Challenges and Memories of Set
David: DITs here in Spain are still fighting a bit with production to fully understand our role. Sometimes production will see me pushing my cart to set and they would feel confused and ask me why I don’t stay at the truck, like a mile away from the set. It frustrates me since they don’t understand we need to be on set to do a part of our job.
Live grading/exposing is growing since more DPs are asking for it as they realize how much we can help them. But, even if I’m not live grading, I fight to be on set because everything is easier— assisting with exposure, checking focus, taking care of the camera, grabbing the DP to do some grades, and even the director would come to my tent and show the gradings to clients.
There are still some differences between the Spanish film industry and the international film industry, which creates some challenges for us Spanish DITs. DITs in Spain still have to explain to some of the production teams that we need to be on set. This also applies to how much we charge for the gear. There’s a big difference between the two markets and the gear I carry is almost the same. However, there are other production teams that have worked internationally and understand this already.
Are there any notable stories that have happened with or to your setup that you’d like to share with us?
In 2014 Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup, because of that we got involved in a commercial about it in Doha, Madrid, and Almería. One day, we were shooting all over Doha’s airport and the location manager found a spot for me in a security-restricted area where I could leave the machine safely plugged in and process the data, while I went back and forth to set. There was a lot of light in that area so I worked with the cart covered by a black cloth since we couldn’t set up the tent.
So I was sitting there, working, focused on the monitors. Suddenly, I heard men screaming loudly in Arabic, a language I don’t speak, and I saw military boots and uniforms approaching the cart. I came out from underneath, and I was surrounded by Qatari soldiers. I didn’t understand anything they were saying, but I could sense that they were very angry with me.
Finally, another soldier who did speak English arrived and asked me who I was, what I was doing in a forbidden area, and what was all of the electrical equipment with all of the cables.
They all looked very serious and I was alone with no one around from the local production team, so I probably looked a bit suspicious. I explained to the soldier that my equipment was just a computer, some hard drives, and a monitor and that we were shooting something for the upcoming Qatar World Cup. I showed them some footage of what we were shooting, and that finally calmed them down.
I would also mention some unforgettable and beautiful moments like in Neom Desert riding our camera 4x4s at dawn to set from basecamp with the sun coming up on the horizon. We are lucky to be able to go to many different places people don’t usually have the opportunity to go to, either natural places or not.
Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to add? there any notable stories that have happened with or to your setup that you’d like to share with us?
Well, just thank you again for your products. In the DIT world, there’s a before Silverstack XT, and there’s an after Silverstack XT.
Lastly, I want to mention the love I have for this job, for the tech, for the innovations, and for the people with whom you spend long days in the hot sun or the rain or any tough condition. The teamwork and the artistic creation are what it’s all about because in the end, despite all of the tech that we carry, artistic creation is what we’re all looking for. These feelings are shared throughout the artistic community I believe. With everyone pushing in the same direction, there are some really special moments of magic. I’m not trying to be idealistic here, there are some jobs where nothing works out and you just want to go home because it’s a complete disaster!
In line with this thought, I have to mention the price of working in this industry. There are so many things we have to leave behind because of long shooting days, transport times, and office hours. We all know older techs or colleagues that regret the amount of time they’ve dedicated to this life. This is something we need to fix. This job has to be sustainable and compatible with people’s lives.