On every job, we, camera assistants, are always presented with a new organizational challenge. To keep track of hundreds of items that will leave from the rental house with us, it is important to stay organized and do a thorough prep. That includes a big part of this organizational puzzle: labeling, colour coding and categorizing gear.
If you are a seasoned camera assistant, you may know the general looks of an OConnor 2575 case, or what an FF4 case looks like from the outside, even without labels, but not everyone does, specially if you're working with a camera trainee or someone who is not completely familiar with the gear.
As the goal of the camera department is to be efficient and thrive in the most challenging scenarios, it is very important to eliminate all the variables that might cause a delay in the production. Organization is key to keep the machine running smoothly and shave those precious seconds that will add up at the end of the day. That's why it is important to keep things on track since day one.
The first step to breakdown how your organization is gonna work is to pre-determine colours and systems you will use. There are many industry standards, but if you decide to deviate, you need to make sure that your system is consistent, they need to be as failproof as possible. Standards exists so they can be remembered easily and to avoid confusion. Studies suggests that the use of colour will impact learning, comprehension and memory, so even though we might not actively thing about it, the use of colours is impacting our brain.
It's very common that the red colour will be assigned to A camera and blue to B camera. Everything that comes after C & D camera, that will usually adopt the green or yellow colours, are generally personal preference. That being said, it is a great way to start categorizing cases and pieces of gear.
Create a system that is consistent. You don't wanna be looking at different places every time you want to know what's inside a case, you don't wanna be thinking where to look. You wanna be looking at its lid, or in the front, by the latches. If you have a system, you'll already know where to look and you'll easily spot if something is out of the ordinary. Use red tape to indicate what cases and items belongs to the A camera package and which ones are part of the B camera package. P-Touch or similar labelers always comes handy when it comes to labeling cases. A 2" red or blue cloth tape with a 1" label on top looks nice and tidy. If you wanna take it to the next level and make it last longer, use Clear Gorilla Tape on top of the label to protect it.
After the cases are labeled, it's time to label its contents. Different types of gear requires different types of labeling. There's no one size fits all, that's why we offer vinyl stickers of different sizes and shapes. Tape or vinyl stickers are essential when it comes to colour coding camera gear. Since many accessories are made with very tight tolerances and are meant to be mechanically precise, you have to be careful where you place stickers or tape. Placing a label on the wrong part of a battery may jam it inside its slot, for example, same with filter trays.
It's not just the camera accessories that needs to be labeled. Cameras, camera carts, other equipment you may think are too obvious to be labeled, deserves labels too. Because when everything is going a thousand miles per hour, and it's 3AM, the 15th hour of the day, and someone needs that colour reference or visual queue, the red and blue tape, the A and B camera tags are what are going to save everyone from confusion. When we have more obvious, visual queues, there's less room for confusion and not only it speed things up, it avoid cross contamination and makes it easy to keep track of certain items both cameras may share.
It can also be helpful for filter tags. If you're using more than one or two sets of diffusion filters, maybe it's a good idea to differentiate their tags or the colour of their pouches. You may be using an accordion pouch and using filter tags with different colours might be a faster way of telling "HBM" and "BPM" filters apart. The more immediate and concise the information gets to your brain, the more efficient your work becomes.
Colour can also carry other meanings than which camera certain piece of gear belongs to. A red and a green bin can be used to indicate which batteries are dead or which ones are fully charged. A fluorescent pink tape or red tape wrapped around a battery might mean that this battery may not be working properly.
The possibilities are endless and there's always room for improvement. Film is like clockwork, everyone has to be on the same page. Whatever system you adopt, stick to it and make sure it is reliable and consistent, for you and for your co-workers.