JAMES METCALFE DIT
Selected Codex Filmography: Pan, In the Heart of the Sea, Bridget Jones’s Baby, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
With James working on projects with the likes of top cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle ASC BSC and Seamus McGarvey ASC BSC, we managed to grab some time with him to talk about his career and his experience with Codex.
How did you get to where you are today? Did you go to film school?
I didn’t go to film school, when I left school I worked in the events industry. From there I got into camera, and then worked as a camera trainee and 2nd AC before moving onto DIT. I have always been good with technology and problem solving and being a DIT seemed a natural outlet for those things. No two jobs are ever the same and every job I do throws up new challenges. With the constantly evolving technology you never stop learning.
When did you first come across Codex?
I guess my first proper experience of Codex was back when I was assisting Dan Carling on One Chance. We were shooting on the classic ALEXA and Codex provided the recording solution through the external onboard recorder. Although it worked great and allowed Florian Ballhaus ASC to utilize the full quality of the ARRIRAW from the camera, it was never a particularly refined solution so when the XR module came along it revolutionized things overnight. This was a game changer, especially for the camera guys. I first used an ALEXA XT on In the Heart of the Sea, and have used it on every major project since.
How’s your experience with Codex’s support team been?
When I started on Pan is when my relationship with the Codex support team really came alive. When I came onboard Francesco Giardiello, the digital workflow supervisor, had already done a lot of work with all the vendors to establish an ACES workflow. Pan was to be one of the first ever sets to use ACES. Codex were vital to this, allowing us to properly implement an ACES pipeline within Codex Vault. Having the color and metadata information entered on-set streamlined the entire post process, ensuring the on-set grade would be faithfully reproduced in the dailies, editorial and all throughout the post chain. Vault was used on-set to provide a quick backup solution, QC and metadata entry point. Codex was involved with the whole process - many of the requirements needed to bring the workflow together hadn’t yet been developed and the Codex support team were fantastic in listening to what we needed and coming up with solutions. They were issuing new beta builds on practically a daily basis at the beginning of the show. By the time we had the workflow locked down we had a pretty stable beta build running and it’s been great to see that many of the features we tested were later released on public builds. Having this open dialogue with Codex was fantastic and we would have never been able to achieve what we did without their support.
“I HAD BEEN TESTING CODEX PRODUCTION SUITE FOR MAC OS X ON OUR SPLINTER UNITS ON KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE: KING ARTHUR AND DECIDED THIS WOULD BE PERFECT FOR BRIDGET”
Do you have any mentors in the industry?
Yes. You learn a lot from everybody you work with and I’ve learned a fantastic amount from all the great cinematographers I’ve had the privilege of working with. Looking at the DIT role specifically, Francesco Giardiello has really helped me a lot in getting to where I am now. I honestly can’t think of anybody who knows more about digital cinema workflows - if there is ever anything I need help with he’s always the first person I call.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Enjoying early retirement on a beach somewhere? Seriously, I’m not sure. For the moment I’m very much enjoying being on-set as a DIT. The job will continue to evolve and as more and more people adopt the on-set grading approach I think the role will become a little more standardized. For me, I love a problem to solve so if that happens I may look to move more into workflow management and set to post integration but we’ll have to wait and see.
Tell us about a particular movie (with Codex!) that was challenging but enjoyable (if that’s the case!)
Every movie I do seems to throw up more challenges than the last but so far most have been pretty enjoyable. I’ve just finished shooting Bridget Jones’s Baby with Andrew Dunn BSC. After testing both film and digital for Bridget, Andrew decided to go with digital and the natural choice was ARRIRAW captured on Codex. For glass, Andrew looked to Panavision and choose the C and E-Series Primes and the 37-85 and 70-200 Anamorphic Zooms.
Andrew has fantastic vision and knew what he wanted to achieve with the “look” of the film from the beginning. We did some early testing and a show LUT was created by Paul Ensby from Company 3. For each scene I would then work with Andrew to create a grade which sat under the show LUT and was outputted live for monitoring via LUT boxes to video village etc. The CDL data was then applied via Vault directly into the ARRIRAW file headers for post processing.
As the majority of the film was to be location-based, sometimes with three or more location moves in a day, I had to be as mobile as possible whilst providing Andrew with the on-set support required. I didn’t want to lose the functionality of Vault but it just wasn’t going to be practical to carry it around on top of my two 24” grade 1 monitors, UPS, matrix, LUT boxes, iris controls waveforms and so on... I had been testing Codex Production Suite for Mac OS X on our splinter units on Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur and decided this would be perfect for Bridget. The software allows me to have quick access for instant QC, metadata and CDL entry direct onto the Capture Drives whilst maintaining a small profile on my cart, utilizing just a Codex Capture Drive Dock (TB) and my Mac. I ran through our proposed workflow with the Codex team and they managed to quickly get me back a beta build that we could use for the show. I have to say it worked great and on a fast paced show like Bridget, knowing that all the CDLs and metadata have been correctly applied on-set gave us the peace of mind that dailies would be correctly graded and match identically what was being viewed on set.
Images courtesy James Metcalfe