Studio Manager Meditation: Coiling Cables

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

chris crisman photography studio manager meditation

 Coiling Cables.

I know it’s a strange thing to ponder, but anyone who has spent a day in a photo assistant’s shoes knows exactly what I’m speaking to here. Coiling cables is very important business.

There’s a certain art form to wrapping cables that everyone takes on differently – wide loop, short loop, under/over, over/under – it’s always just a little bit different, unique to an individual like a fingerprint.

Whatever your preferred method, the process of coiling cables is a zen art form of itself. It may only take thirty seconds, but those thirty seconds can give you a moment to stop and look back on the shoot, to think about the process you were just involved with, whether a shooter or an assistant. Did you get the shot you needed? Did you connect with your subject in the right way? Was the light good? What could you have done better?

In a way, it’s therapeutic. You’re wrapping up the shoot by literally wrapping up the equipment – but you’ve got to do it right. A head cable is more than just a fifteen foot piece of fancy wire with two plugs on the end, it represents something. Forget all of the zen for a second – what I’m really getting at here is an attention to detail, a sense of being engaged in what you’re doing.

It’s not just about getting the job done, it’s about getting it done right.

Honestly, any time we’re working with a new assistant for the first time, I’m always curious to see how they coil a cable. It’s not a test, more of an observation – are they cautions, are they thoughtful? Are they paying attention? You can learn a lot about someone’s work ethic from something very small and seemingly trivial.

So what do we do? How do Chris and I sort the cables in our kit? How do all of our top assistants loop them? It’s simple. We do a wide loop, about four times around – 18 inches in diameter, the perfect size to fit in the Tenba cases we pack our lights in or the longer more slender bags that house our stands and modifiers.

Is it crazy that I know that? Probably. Is it even crazier that I’ve tested it out with different loops, different coils? I bet it is – but that’s just how I operate. I know that since we’ve figured it out, I can take my moment of zen at the end of a long day of shooting: one, two, three, four loops. Repeat. One, two, three, four loops.

16 replies to “Studio Manager Meditation: Coiling Cables”

  1. I worked in satellite communications for quite a few years and I coiled and uncoiled lots and lots of cables. Indeed, it does offer a window into one’s attention to detail and thoughtfulness. It’s also the reason that my gear has lasted as long as it has.

  2. Wide loops in my studio-particularly with Profoto stuff as they kink if coiled too tightly.
    It’s definitely a pet peeve and I do judge assistants on how they pack cables and gear at the end of the shoot.
    Do they take care to pack it they way it was?
    Tells me a lot about the person.

  3. I am currently working as a freelance photo assistant and I completely agree. I personally like everything on the set neat, tidy, and available at a moments notice. As for cables, I prefer the over/under, under/over method and wrapping the cable in coils which naturally fit the cable or the space it will be packed in. Never crimped.

    At studios I regularly work in it’s maddening to come back after being unavailable for a shoot and find all the cables in a confusing state. You can’t just pull them out, they may even need to be re-coiled if it’s a complete jumble.

  4. Years ago I worked as an assistant for a guy who used a lot of hot lights and the attendant cables,
    I always pulled them through a damp rag as I coiled them.

  5. I do a lot of film and video PA work and ALWAYS ask the Studio Manager, Key Electrician, whoever is in charge about how they’d like their cables wrapped. You’d be surprised at how many people think their way is the only way and or the right way and grief me for asking. Thanks for talking about this seemingly inconsequential yet totally essential task and process.

  6. Great post. So true, the way someone coils cables tells a lot about that person. Its the sign of a professional; organized appropriately coiled cables.

    As a note, XLR and BNC should be over / under and stingers and header cable just over over.

    I just stubbled across your blog, there appear to be many solid in depth posts- I have some catching up to do

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