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Northern Focus: Greg Holt on QTAKE

Greg Holt is one of TCC’s Video Playback Operators based in Manchester. He studied Media Technology at the University of Central Lancashire and has been in the industry since graduating in 2005. Greg has been doing playback on commercials and dramas for about 7 or 8 years but in the last 3 years he has been using the QTAKE system.

As the VT Op (or Video Playback Operator), I essentially make sure everyone on set can see a picture coming from the camera(s).
The QTAKE system is brilliant  – it does everything – and now that I have my own system, I’m more invested in it. I can spend more time with it, build it up to a good spec, and buy more kit. The aim is to essentially be recognised as one of the only Playback Operators in the UK to have their own equipment.
qtaketextI started out on the old Panavision playback boxes years ago but every piece of equipment has its limitations. DV clamshells did the job but were very basic, Odyssey 7Q had no bottom centre mounting thread, Atomos Shoguns were limited in functionality and FFV OmegaHD was a complicated system to setup. Now I have the QTAKE system, it does literally everything I need it to. Its versatility is a real credit to the developers but on the SmartAssist version of QTAKE there is a 1-2 second frame delay which I’m currently working on a fix for. Oh, and it cannot buy me a beer which should be considered for the upgrade…!

The lack of decent equipment used to dampen my spirits but since QTAKE came along and I invested in my own kit, I’ve been able to master everything quickly. This makes a project run much smoother when things go wrong or don’t work as they should on set. I’ve already managed to get myself a battered Senior Magliner which I have tidied up and bought some extras for – it’s my early Christmas present from me, to me! I’m looking at monitors and power next. I am particularly interested in the SmallHD 1703 for the brightness and colour depth. I’m also looking at Anton Bauer V-Lok’s as a backup battery solution along with BNC cables, Teradeks, distribution boxes and talkback.

Operators can get a lot of stick on set if a picture is not available constantly, even when it’s out of your hands. You are the one person who acts as a bridge between the client, directors and production, so it can be a very unforgiving position if things aren’t working properly. Playback is seen almost as a cursed job for camera crew. It used to be that if a runner or camera trainee had nothing to do, or a Playback Op wasn’t available on the day, then they would be roped into doing playback; a highly technical job for someone under qualified. Because of that, there’s been a stigma ever since that whoever is operating playback on the day may not be as technically adept as they should be. However that’s not always the case, and depending on the job and crew there are some very understanding DOPs, ADs and directors who will help you as much as possible, and I like to think it’s improving.

I often get asked to perform advanced technical tasks when doing Playback. The most technical thing we get asked to do on a regular basis, is mix & overlay, along with live grading and quick edits. With the QTAKE system, it’s a doddle (if you know which buttons to press). On other, more outdated systems, it’s a bit more tedious.

Most of the time though, it’s just knowing what to fix when things go wrong, such as checking for dodgy cables, low battery or faulty equipment – it’s a process of elimination and it’s just a matter of how quickly you can find the solution.

It’s pretty common for most operators to colour label A+B cameras and cables so we know what’s what. Sticking your name on one of the monitors and microphones can be handy so that the director and client knows who you are. If you’ve got the time to set them up, senior crew can like having iPads so they can also see the frames and make notes and mark clips. I just like to keep everything as tidy and efficient as possible. I’m a pragmatist!

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