Here are a few tips for teleprompter operators. You might think me picky in writing these out, but they are time savers on shoots and for anyone who has ever had the privilege (or pain) of producing, you know time=money in film, television, and video production as much, if not more, than in any other field. Every minute counts. Every second counts. In hundreds and often thousands of dollars.
Tip #1: Talent dictates speed. Basically, all you are doing when prompting is following along with them — when they speed up, you speed up. When they slow down, you slow down. And keep their words right by the cursor. It’s not rocket science and after prompting for an hour or two, this dawns on any operator. You are not governing the pace, they are. But often talent doesn’t understand this. And often directors don’t understand this. They often think that you are somehow dictating the speed. But don’t explain it to people or argue with them if they imply otherwise (see tip #3), just know that they dictate speed, you just follow.
Tip #2: When prompting, keep the text just above the mid-point of the screen. Sometimes talent has their eyes right where they’re reading, often somewhat ahead of where they’re reading. But never will they be looking at what they have just read. So keep that part of the screen (the area they’ve already read) relatively limited on the screen.
Here’s an example of a well-positioned cursor:
Tip #3: I learned this through trial and error and quite a few tricky situations. Often talent is nervous on the first take or two and they’ll often bark out a command such as, ‘Can you slow it down?’ or ‘It’s going too slow’ or whatever to us prompters. When I was greener, I used respond by saying ‘I’m following your speed’ or something like that. I would try and explain that I am not dictating their speed, they are dictating the speed and I am following. But without fail, trying to explain is a mistake. Even though you are scrolling consistently, following their pace, the best response is simply, ‘Absolutely’ (with a smile). Do not argue with them, just smile and agree and do the same good job next time around. Without fail, on the next take you will have happy talent who will sing your praises — ‘Oh, that was great. Just how I wanted it.’
Taking care of talent is of the utmost importance. They should feel cared for and kept in a good mood. They have a hard job and under stress, their job is harder than any of ours because they then have the added burden of acting through that stress. As teleprompters, or DPs, or grips, we can be under stress, but our subtle emotions are not being recorded. So take care of the talent!
Tip #4: Be pleasant and courteous, and economical with your words. Television and Video sets often look casual — Producers, talent, and directors chat and laugh. But don’t be fooled — this is serious business and there is often lots of money on the line. This chatty, joking stuff is greasing the wheels of their communication. It’s work, and very serious work even though it might appear to be casual. Your job as prompter is to be friendly, but don’t jump into the conversation. Let them be the stars of the set.
Needless to say, American Movie Company has the best equipment and best operators in the business. Give them a call for all your teleprompting and green screen needs!