by Monica Thies
I never truly realized the importance of coiling cable and how vital of a skill it is in the video production world…until I was stuck being the sole person coiling a 400 foot cable on a baking hot football field wearing a sweatshirt. The reason for coiling the cable isn’t to clean up, it’s because the person who last coiled the cable did not coil the cable properly, and therefore the coil has to be completely redone in order to have the production go smoothly.
I consider myself lucky to a degree, because this is a skill my dad has drilled into my head since I was about eight years old helping him on the boat, and I tried doing the “wrap around the elbow” technique with a boat rope….didn’t fly with dad. Ended up learning how to coil rope, which then translated into coiling cable. This skill may seem so minor when you learn it in highs school production class or your first cable experience in Production 101 in college, where 30 ft XLR cables seem annoying to coil that way, and wrapping around the elbow when the teacher isn’t looking just gets it done faster. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way everywhere in life.
I had the privilege this summer to be able to help out on the broadcasts by Seattle Seahawks Sounders FC and the men (and a few women) who freelance and come in as day crews to make the show happen. It requires about a 12 hour day, mostly on foot and about 6 hours of that alone is setting up and “faxing” (testing) the equipment and the connections between an 18 wheeler mobile broadcasting unit and the rest of the stadium (around 15 different cameras…depending on soccer or football). Football is a lot crazier to broadcast than Soccer, but both require a large amount of set up and work. The question that has stuck in my head through all of these, and the question I was asked the most frequently of any other question was “Do you know how to coil cable properly?”. If you answer this question with a no…the person who asked is going to either raise an eyebrow at you in a “what are you doing on a production team” way, or they may be nice enough to show you how to do it quickly.
Not coiling a cable properly can affect not just the production that you’re working on but the production after that, and the one after that. When that 400 foot cable is hooked up to a parabolic mic dish that is running up and down the sideline half the game, and it gets tangled, or that 400 ft cable is attached to the camera on a fast moving dolly on the sideline of a football game on national television and it can’t uncoil properly, it could cause an issue for the dolly or easily cause the cable to yank out of the camera, and there goes the entire production because that one camera is the backbone of the broadcast.
So learn to coil cable, and always practice doing it correctly, because anywhere that an entry level position is in production, expect to be coiling cable, lots of it, and if its done incorrectly, it is something that seems so minor, but is major enough to damage a reputation. Over, under, over under, straighten the loops sometimes to make sure they’re all organized, take the time to make sure there are no kinks. Like just about anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you will be at it.