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Working as DIT on 2nd Unit can be different from main unit in many aspects. One key task is to maintain consistency with the work of the main unit – often without anyone from main unit being present on set. DITs Mitch Bax and Ryan McGregor worked on the 2nd Unit of Deadpool 2. In a recent interview they share their experiences and offer some advise for joining a production on 2nd Unit.
Hi Mitch, Hi Ryan, thanks for agreeing to this interview! To start off, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Mitch: Hello Pomfort and nerds around the world! My name is Mitch Bax, and I’m a Vancouver DIT, part time colorist, and full time cinema lover. I’ve been a member of the camera department for about 9 years, and have worked on everything from long form television, commercials, features and everything in-between that requirers a wise-cracking LUT making technician.
Ryan: Hi there! I’m Ryan McGregor. I was driven by a passion for cinematography early on, which originally stemmed from making skateboard videos in my youth. After graduating from Full Sail University, I started my career in my hometown – the prairies of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as a Camera Trainee in the local union. My last job as a Trainee was on the first production using RED cameras in Winnipeg. It was here that I was introduced to the role of Digital Imaging Technician (DIT). My direction completely changed from there – I saw that digital file-based acquisition was the future so I quickly started working as a DIT and never looked back.
You’ve recently worked as Second Unit DITs on Deadpool 2. Can you describe your role in a bit more detail? Have you worked with anyone on the team before?
Mitch: Yeah absolutely. Deadpool 2 was like a reunion in someway because I had worked on the first one, so seeing the characters, the writers, the actors, the sets, the guns and hearing the witty banter was familiar and fun. It was awesome to return to see how this once unknown character had evolved, and returned with bigger stunts, more action and louder guns. Despite all the familiar environments, my immediate crew members were completely different. This would be the second time myself and Main Unit DIT Simon Jori would be working simultaneously on the same project; previously we worked together on the Netflix movie Deathnote. As a DIT, it’s rare to collaborate on the same project with others of your ilk. So it was fantastic to work with Simon. He is a tremendously talented DIT and a wealth of knowledge, so having him as our on set leader of tech certainly helped make everyone’s job a lot easier – myself included.
Ryan: I came onto the 2nd Unit of Deadpool 2 late in the schedule to replace Mitch Bax after production extended and he had to leave to start another show. Being relatively new to Vancouver, I only really knew Mitch and Simon Jori by reputation, so it was a great opportunity to meet, work and learn from both of them. My time on 2nd Unit was mostly spent picking up pieces of scenes that Main Unit didn’t have time for, such as shooting inserts, stunt pieces to complete a scene, or scenes that were entirely singularly stunt-focused and not involving Ryan Reynolds (such as some of the opening montages).
On this shoot you worked with LiveGrade Pro. How was the decision to use LiveGrade Pro made?
Mitch: The decision was simple. LiveGrade Pro is the premier program for color grading a live signal on a professional movie set. Years ago there were more options, and I remember working with versions of Linkcolor and Iridas Speedgrade (which has now been integrated as a part of Adobe Premier and is fantastic, but not an on-set tool anymore), and they broke the game open in terms of creating LUTs on set and manipulating a live signal with software. But then Pomfort stepped in and kept updating their product LiveGrade Pro. I remember early versions, watched the evolution, and have been with this program for years. The team listens to feedback, innovates, and then creates updates that always impress me. They give me tools that I thought I already had figured out, for example V4 has live scopes. Before that, a slimmed down version of my cart would always include a Leader 5330. But with this update I can get a scope reading with a much smaller foot print, using just my laptop and a capture card. The decision is simple: LiveGrade Pro all the way.
Ryan: LiveGrade Pro is my go-to tool for absolutely every production I work on. It’s reliable, accurate, and works with all major hardware. Now that LiveGrade Pro V4 implements a much stronger cataloging and metadata database, my control on set is even greater, and passing that info onto other units has become seamless.
How was collaboration with the DP and the other DITs like? How did you ensure consistency across the shoot, with different people working on different scenes?
Mitch: 2nd Units for any project can be tricky. The role essentially becomes a clean up of missed bits of action, inserts, and plates. Certainly a little less glamorous than the main unit, and the job requires a different approach. The most important part is consistency – you take reference material, a base look, some stills, camera information, and then try to match what was previously shot. My collaboration with the Main Unit DP Jonathan Sela was very limited. However the Main Unit DIT and I are constantly in communication. He’d update his library and send over the latest series of stills he pulled and LUTs he created, and then I’d setup a scene for my DP, Patrick Loungway. I’ll show the reference material, he’d light it, and then I’d tweak the look to further match the reference material. The key is to communicate with your Main Unit. Watch the call sheet and identify the scenes you’ll be picking up, request the right information so you can efficiently provide material to match to, and get to work by disseminating the information to your ACs and DP. The job can sometimes feel like a glorified librarian, a curator of information and all things nerdy! Was that scene 6300K? Step into my tent, kick back, and let’s figure it out!
Ryan: I joined the show late in the game, but Main Unit DIT Simon Jori’s work made this fact a total breeze. As Mitch mentioned, he supplied us with super thorough stills and a CDL database which made it extremely easy to pull up any look and reference still for any given scene we were matching. His CDL database was created in an Excel file containing color temperature, tint, ISO, frame rate and shutter metadata for each set-up [editor’s note: At the time of the shoot LiveGrade Pro’s extended metadata functionality was not available yet]. All that was left for me to do was to load his corresponding CDL. If we needed any extra help to match the shot/scene, I would manipulate the CDL to match the reference stills of the scene using the still as a cross-reference with the live image right out of LiveGrade Pro. The well-organized and easy-to-read system from Simon, along with the consistency with LiveGrade Pro made for a smooth transition onto the show, and paved the way for a great collaboration with the 2nd Unit DP Patrick Loungeway.
While working on the show, were there any particularly challenging setups for LiveGrade Pro?
Mitch: There weren’t any particularly difficult setups concerning color. Everything lined up and graded easily. I’d say the trickiest setups involving LiveGrade Pro would be when we had massive green screen surrounding a piece of action, such as the convoy semi truck fight scene. The amount of green could throw off your judgment on what would be a correct skin tone match. Setups like that I recommend consulting spot functions on waveforms, and zoom functions so you can focus on specific targets to judge exposure before you dig into building a LUT.
What was your overall experience using LiveGrade Pro on this project? Were there any specific features that stood out, or that you used very frequently?
Mitch: As usual, my experience with LiveGrade Pro was pleasant. I was just starting to use V4 and explore the new available options such as scopes, improved still capture and management, and the slick new interface. Because I always take a few projects to fully integrate new technologies or major software updates into my workflow, I hadn’t committed to using V4 just yet because I wanted to run more test. I was using V3 primarily, however Deadpool 2 was the perfect place to test out the improved LiveGrade Pro, send in my suggestions, and get a sense of how I could expect to utilize the new features moving forward. I can see integrating the stills capture through LiveGrade Pro into my system very soon! Bringing me one step closer to having complete access to all my necessary DIT tools in a single program.
Ryan: LiveGrade Pro was reliable and consistent, as always. The ability to input reference stills and split-screen them over the live image was super helpful in matching Main Unit’s work.
Mitch, we heard you’ve been involved in quite a few of the big action scenes. Thinking back now, what would be your most memorable experience?
Mitch: The “one thing” I will never forget about this project, was the incredible city lock up that took place for our biggest stunt, the flipping of the semi-truck during the convoy chase scene. Over 50 police officers and close to 125 PAs were required to close the downtown city block of Georgia and Burrard. 8 cameras on various rigs that ranged between hard mounts on the stunt vehicles, a couple Ultimate Arms, a motorcycle nose mount, stationary cameras, Techno Cranes and drones. The challenge was coordinating so many different sources to match exposure and correct settings, while strapped in the back of a van. I’m sure many other DITs can relate to lug- ging your gear into a tight vehicle, and then setting up shop as you normally do but with half the space and twice the heat. Things tend to get a little sweaty, especially when everyone is racing to finish in such a high pressure situation…there’s only time for one flip, so no take two.
But amidst the madness and scrambling to connect cameras, check T-Stops, and ensure my team was properly caffeinated, I never doubted my LiveGrade system. It was rock solid, I was always assured that if things changed downstream I knew that I could easily correct for them on my end, or make adjustments because I knew exactly what I was looking at.
Thanks Pomfort for all the thorough research and development, you continue to make my job a breeze in the most hectic movie conditions.
Ryan, do you also have a ‘favorite’ scene that you shot, or a specific memory of this production?
Ryan: I’d have to say that my favorite was shooting one of the opening montage scenes in which a drug dealer was being chased through a meth lab by Deadpool. All the while, he was shooting up the place behind him, taking out multiple thugs, lighting a guy on fire, and running around in the background for the entire shot… It was a stunt choreography masterpiece! Take 1 was amazing, and every take after that just got better and better. Working on something so creative, well thought-out, and executed perfectly is the reason I got into this business. It’s definitely one of the major highlights of my career!
Many thanks to Mitch and Simon for giving us these very interesting insights into their 2nd Unit work on Deadpool 2!
Also check out our interview with DIT Simon Jori, who talked about his work on the main unit of this production.