Introduction To Teleprompters
By Hal Landen
When filming anyone – actor or “real person” – who must deliver a long passage of script straight to camera, it’s hard to beat a teleprompter. The on-camera talent can read even a lengthy monologue from the teleprompter and it appears they aren’t reading at all.
On larger productions freelance teleprompter operators with their own equipment are the norm. They will generally want the copy to be delivered by email or on a disk several days in advance of the shoot. Changes to the teleprompter script can usually be made during rehearsals, but ask the operator.
The freelance operators with equipment may cost as much as $500 a day depending on their experience and the local market. So if the need for a teleprompter arises more than occasionally, it may be time to consider buying your own teleprompter.
As you watch Lester Holt do the NBC Nightly News, watch his eyes carefully. Sometimes you can see them moving left and right as he reads from the teleprompter. Most everyone who delivers this much copy, uses a teleprompter and this slight eye movement is rarely objectionable. It could be minimized by moving the camera and teleprompter farther away from the person reading, but this would change the composition of the shot. And the person reading would need to have very good eyesight to read from that distance.
Some teleprompter tips:
Rehearsals save time and money!
Before the shoot give the actor or on-camera speaker a printed version of the script. It’s best to rehearse the script out-loud because the printed word and spoken word can be two very different things. If there are any names or terms that could have more than one pronunciation, you’ll have time to decide which pronunciation is correct or most appropriate.
While lighting and other preliminaries are underway, let the actor and teleprompter operator rehearse from the actual teleprompter. An experienced operator knows to vary the speed of the scrolling text to keep up with, but never rush, the actor. A smart operator can even deal with a bit of improvisation from the actor.
The first time I was to appear on camera and read from a teleprompter, I rehearsed for hours with our own teleprompter. Even though I had directed actors who read from teleprompters, it was a very different experience to be the person actually reading the copy to camera!
Some things which read just fine on paper, needed to be rewritten so they sounded right. As I rehearsed and polished the script, I finally became so comfortable using the computer mouse and reading from the teleprompter I was tempted to shoot this part of the video myself. All I’d have to do was frame the shot, use the teleprompter’s mouse and read my copy. Fortunately I resisted the temptation and went with the original plan to work with a teleprompter operator and cameraman.