Somehow I’ve always taken teleprompters for granted. Never had to deal with them myself ’cause I always worked wild and free in the field and rarely inside the confines of the station. But they are there and used daily, by anchors on news sets and by glassy eyed wanna-bes elsewhere. Heck, even the President uses it daily. And with today’s complex stories and the need to get facts straight, they are becoming part of the VJ’s toolkit.
What exactly IS a teleprompter? Well, first let’s break the word down into its roots. Tele means distant or far. Prompter refers to a person who is offstage reading a play from a book, providing the actors (talent) with their lines. Thus a teleprompter is something that provides lines or information from a distance.
However in these highly technological times we really don’t want someone offstage passing along forgotten lines in a harsh stage whisper. So we resort to a printed script projected where the speaker can see and read it at his or her own pace.
There are usually two parts to this distance prompter. Hardware and software. Below I’ll review some inexpensive or free options for both, as well as link to some pro gear sites.
Now the easiest way to prompt from a distance is with plain old paper and markers. Get a big sheet of paper (or a white board) and write down your script. Then, when ready, hold up the paper out of sight of the audience so the speaker can read along. Problem with that is the speaker must look over towards the script…and if the “teleprompter” is hidden from the audience, then he will be looking away from them. Makes it kinda obvious.
Even if you have the “prompter” placed right next to your camera’s lens, that little eye movement will betray the fact your anchor is looking elsewhere and not at the lens. From the camera’s perspective, she will be looking off screen – and THAT will make the her look shifty-eyed.
Next best is a desktop or laptop with software loaded…either sitting near the camera or even on the desk in front of the talent. A bit better, but there is still the problem of talent not looking directly at the camera lens. Actually the laptop on the desk is workable because an audience watching would realize and accept that the talent is checking either a script or facts.
So the next level is a combination of hardware and software that allows the image to be projected onto a surface that only the speaker can see. I’m going to skip how it is done for public speakers (think Presidential), but the concept is pretty much the same, although without a camera.
So – hardware first. We’ll assume you already have the necessary gear – a camera, mike, lights and talent. Your hardware will cost you anything from a few dollars to as much as you care to spend.
My choice is always to check out low end first.
Here’s an example: PromptDog’s do it yourself teleprompter plan. For this you’ll need a cardboard box, flatscreen monitor (your laptop lcd should do fine), glass or acrylic, black fabric, and a few other items. PromptDog suggests you feed from your computer to a flatscreen in the box so you can control the pacing of the words…but you could also position your laptop in there and use a remote. No estimated cost give, but since the main cost is the glass, maybe under $50.00. For some reason the diagram on the main page shows half-silvered glass but that is not specified in the actual plan. You want one-way glass so the camera can see through it while the talent reads from the other side. Oh – and you also get a discount coupon for PromptDog’s software with the plans.
And <a href="
“>here’s a video for another plan. It’s kind of bulky and only good for in-house use.
For other plans just Google “teleprompter plans.” One of the results that came up was Top Twenty site that gave even more options, one of which is Teleprompter Mirrors. On this site you can get prompters, plans, and even free software.
You can also buy the prompters, again costing from around one hundred dollars and up. One of the low end prompters I’m tempted to try is the QuickPrompt from telepromptermirrors.com. The price is right and it seems simple to set up and use.
And here’s just a list of sites I found that look interesting enough to research:
Once you get past the hardware, you’ll need software. Many of the hardware site have links to free or for-pay software. Below are some that I’ve used.
VideoCue Pro, Prompt 7 Lite, MirrorScript Pro
How to choose? You want a few basics, which include
1. Ability to type lengthy scripts (some of the shareware or freeware may have limited abilities here)
2. Choice of white on black or black on white. Color does NOT matter here. Oh – and with BIG clear font choices. You want your talent to be able to see the type from a distance of anywhere from four or five feet to maybe up to ten or fifteen feet.
3. Ability to control speed of your content. Either you or (preferably) your talent needs to be able to control the speed of the type as it scrolls up the page so that they can read at a natural pace.
And finally…once you have it all together…PRACTICE. That glassy-eyed look you see with some inexperienced on-air folks doesn’t mean they are stoned or their minds are wandering. It means that, despite the hardware and software that are meant to make them look like pros, they HAVE NOT PRACTICED. And they are reading word for word directly off the prompter and not looking beyond the prompter into the lens and at their audience. The teleprompter is exactly that – a distance aid to help on-air, on-camera folks who have already familiarized themselves with the script, present their lines accurately.
BTW: if you have favorites or suggestions, add them to the comments below. I know I’ve just barely skimmed the surface here.