Module 21


Updated: 02/04/2017

module 21   





Camera Prompters

People who work in front of the camera use various prompting methods to aid in their on-camera delivery.

Most prompters (often referred to as TelePrompTers or Teleprompters after the original manufacturer) rely on a reflected image of a script that's visible in a half-silvered or two-way mirror in front of the camera lens. teleprompter

The side view of a camera prompter illustrates how this works.

The image from the video monitor (displaying the text to be read) is reflected into a half-silvered mirror mounted at a 45-degree angle to the lens.

The image of the text as seen by the prompter camera is electronically reversed left-to-right so that the mirror image will appear correct.

~~Because the mirror is only half-silvered, it ends up being a "two-way teleprompter mirror."  

First, it reflects the image from the video monitor screen, allowing the talent to read the text. Note the photo on the right.

Second, being semitransparent, the mirror allows much of the light from the scene being photographed to pass through its surface and go into the camera lens.

When the talent looks at the prompter mirror to read the text, it appears as if they are looking right at the camera lens, and, therefore, at the audience.

~~In order not to give the appearance of constantly staring into the camera lens, most on-camera studio camerapeople using these prompters periodically glance down or at their scripts, sometimes as a way of emphasizing facts and figures. (Plus, having a paper script handy is always a good idea in case something goes wrong with the prompter.)

Some on-camera people prefer large poster board cue cards with the script written out with a bold black marker. This approach has definite limitations.

Not only does the use of cue cards require the aid of an extra person (a card puller), but also the talent must constantly look slightly off to the side of the camera to see the cards. Plus, since the cards can't be reused, the approach ends up being rather expensive.

~~Many news reporters working in the field simply rely on handheld note cards or a small notebook containing names, figures and basic facts. on-air reporter

They typically memorize their opening and closing on-camera comments.  Then they speak from notes or even read a fully written script, while continuing with off-camera narration.

A few field reporters have mastered the technique of fully writing out the script, recording it, and then playing it back in a small earphone while simultaneously repeating their own words on camera. Although this technique demands practice, concentration, and reliable audio playback procedures, once mastered, it can result in highly effective on-camera delivery.

These options aside, a camera prompter (Teleprompter) is the most relied upon form of prompting, especially for long on-camera segments.

There are two types of camera prompters: hard copy and soft copy.   

Hard Copy Prompters

The first type of on-camera prompter to be used, what became known as a hard copy prompter, used long rolls of paper (see photo below) or clear plastic.

When paper is used, the on-camera script is first typed in large letters in short (typically, two to four-word) lines.

The paper is attached to two motor driven rollers and the image hard copy prompteris picked up by a video camera (at the top of the photo) and displayed on a video  monitor, as previously illustrated.

The script has to be scrolled at a carefully controlled speed while the talent reads the text.

 By means of a handheld control either the prompter operators or the talent, themselves, regulate the speed of the prompter.

Hard copy prompters have now largely been replaced by  --

Soft Copy Prompters

Soft copy prompters display the output of a computer, much the same as the computer monitor displays the text you are reading here. This approach has several advantages.

First, because the text is a direct, electronically generated image, it's sharp and easy to read. Revisions are easy to make without the legibility problems associated with crossing out words or phrases on paper and penciling in last-minute corrections.

Once the script is entered into the computer it can be electronically reformatted and displayed in a standard prompter format -- narrow lines with large bold letters as shown below.

If a color video prompter monitor is used, the text can be color-keyed to set off the words of different speakers, or special instructions to the talent that are not meant to be read aloud.

 The following are some possible formats.

-- (JOHN  OC) --


--(MARY VO)--


OC means on camera; VO means voice over associated video.

   ---------  (JOHN OC) --------  


      ----------  (VO) -----------      


Issues in Using Prompters

When using cue cards or any type of on-camera prompting device there is always the issue of the compromise involved in the camera-to-subject distance.

If the camera is placed close to the talent (making it easy for them to read a prompter), the constant left-to-right reading movement of their eyes as they read can be distracting to an audience.

Moving the camera back and zooming in reduces this problem by narrowing the left-to-right motion of the eyes; but the extra distance makes the prompter harder to read. 

The solution is to work with the talent to arrive at an acceptable compromise and then hold to the agreed upon camera distances throughout productions.

Recent Innovations

 To get away from the computer and cables that are normally a part of a teleprompter system a recent approach is to transfer the script from a word processor to a USB flash (thumb) drive for uploading into a self-contained prompter. In the uploading process the text is automatically reformatted to the needs of the prompter display.

While on camera the movement of the speed prompter text can be regulated by the talent with a hand-held control.

The next innovation is voice controlled prompting. The unit recognizes speech and moves the text accordingly. 

There are now high-intensity prompter displays that can be used outside in direct sunlight.  Previously, under bright light displays were often hard to read or would wash out.

Teleprompter problems are common, so whatever system is used it's a good idea, especially in live TV, to have a copy of the script within reach.

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