Picking the right prompter

Jon Hilton#

Author: Jon Hilton#

Published: 01 September 2015

by Jon Hilton Issue 104 - August 2015

There is so much choice available today for prompting devices. From phones and tablets to full Broadcast Studios systems and with non-word prompting techniques like Interrotrons becoming popular choosing the best prompting system for your productions needs some serious consideration.
1. The Talent comes first is one of the prime rules of prompting. The Operator follows the Talents speed of delivery, never the other way round.
2. Getting the right size screen and minimum reading distance is one of the first questions we get asked. We use our Reading Matrix to determine the maximum distance from presenter to camera lens. This is a suggestion as some presenters prefer larger screens to help with eyesight (without spectacles) issues!
3. Tablet or PC tends to be a cost driven decision. PC systems may be what you want but cant be cost justified whereas a self-driven tablet or Personal Prompter to buy or hire can. Sure tablet based systems have limitations. Be aware they work in standalone operation as there is no external script connections (which can also be a benefit for handheld operation), editing script changes is not as quick as on PC and finding a software / control system that will properly scroll rather than run at a fixed speed is paramount (we use Pico Prompt & i-glue / scroll). However anything that saves production budget by helping reduce the number of takes and makes your presenter look more professional is a must consider!

4. Interrotron is a technique developed in the 80s by Errol Morris, a US film director. It allows a nervous interviewee to see the interviewers face instead of the camera lens whilst they give their answers direct to the camera for a more natural delivery. This is especially useful when the presenter may not do this for a living or does not seem natural when reading. There are two variants a Passive system using reflections by way of a customised prompting hood and reflector and an Active system which takes a video feed from a second camera feeding the prompter display.
5. Direct Read is a technique used with Jibs, Cranes (and DronesJ) where you do not want to be flying mirrors and glass over the studio floor (Health and Safety) or where you are using a Green Screen Light Ring. Mounted either above or below the camera lens eye line will be not be visibly lost on a mid-shot or wider.
6. Talent Monitors are rigged beneath the main prompting monitor these are popular with presenters who need to understand where they are positioned in a Virtual Studio and are a useful production tool for talent to see the programme output on the studio floor.

7. Robotic Camera operation. One man controlled robotic studios are becoming far more common. Rigging on CCTV dome style cameras can be a problem (there is nothing to attach the prompter to) but PTZ style cameras are now easy using specialised mounting plates to maintain camera balance and smooth movements.
8. Lightweight / folding hoods. As the demand from presenters for larger screens increases there is a backlash from Cameras, Engineering and often Prompt Operators that on camera weight is too much and balance and mobility are lost. Most manufactures now offer lightweight folding hoods which keep weight down but allow large screen sizes.
9. Prompter Control. Most manufactures offer wired / wireless hand / foot controllers although a PC mouse will often suffice. Be clear how you will work in studio and on location and then what type of control you want and can afford.
10. Practice makes perfect is an old adage but so true. You want your presenter to sound natural and relaxed. Make sure they are not just reading and they vary their pitch and tone, use pauses, dont move their head from side to side or stare into the lens. Remember they control the speed of the script delivery not the operator. Dont worry if they ab lib as a good operator will always wait for them to come back to script and dont be frightened to use bullet points if script reading is not their thing. The way to ensure this all comes together is practice to make sure they are familiar with what they are going to say as they are the experts on the subject matter!

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