An Unspoken Language

By: Jill Clark


Cassandra hands me her coffee and throws my flannel over Kathie’s head to reduce the glare on the camera screen.

“Let’s go ahead and put the 50 on.”

I gently swing my backpack off my shoulders. The exterior has two bandannas tied onto the handle, Kathie’s water bottle attached to the back pocket, and the sides are filled with granola bars and crackers. I prep the lens to be put on the camera, and Kathie hands me the 85. I place it in its appropriate case, rearrange my backpack, and check oncoming traffic for the shot we are capturing. Once the shot is captured, I hand Kathie her water bottle without her asking. She takes a long drink from it and hands it back to me while I am conversing with a stranger who has stopped to ask us about our project. Without missing a beat, I grab it and clip it back to the carabineer.

We are on hour 9 of our day, on our first full day in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Walking through the streets of Charlotte and trying not to look like tourists, we get curious looks from passersby as Kathie cradles the camera like a newborn child. It’s been two hours since our last cup of coffee, and the talking and joking has died down. Without saying a thing, I pull out four granola bars and distribute them to our group. Almost immediately, we burst back into conversation. We have picked up our second wind, or maybe our fifth by this point.


It’s late March in South Bend, but it has already snowed three inches. That’s Indiana weather for you. Dressed in four different layers, we stake our claim outside the South Shore stop, waiting for the 100-year-old train system to make its way through the street.

“Got it.”

Kathie says, as she takes the camera off the tripod. I break the tripod down in seconds, toss Cassandra the van keys from my vest pocket, and we are already back in the car, all without a word.

We arrive back at the hotel, and our rote memory kicks in. I take the solid state out of the camera, and Kathie retreats to dump the footage. Cassandra pulls up the call sheet to assure we’ve captured all we can, and I confirm that all the equipment is present.

At this point, it would seem that we can read each other’s minds. Kathie comes back into the room, Cassandra shuts her computer, and we all look at each other. We grab our wallets and decide where to eat, as if we were communicating by brain wave.

After spending many long days with each other, we have perfected the art of non-verbal communication. As Kathie’s assistant, I can tell when she’s going to need a lens change or a filter adjustment before she asks. Whatever she needs, I am always ready for it. Cassandra knows exactly when Kathie will need the glare blocked from the camera, and I know to immediately grab Cassandra’s coffee when she throws the flannel over Kathie’s head to block the light.

We have spent countless hours filming, running for shots, and capturing time lapses, most done on little to no sleep.  We have consumed numerous cups of coffee, eaten our weight in granola, and have become the experts of carrying large equipment around congested cities. You develop an unspoken language with your crewmembers that allows you to communicate in a flawless manner. At the end of the day, regardless of the fancy equipment we have access to, and the beautiful shots we’ve taken, it means nothing if you cannot read your crew. Communication is the most important tool you can carry, and we have mastered it.