A teleprompter is the modern incarnation of “smoke and mirrors.”

An illustration of Pepper's Ghost: Smoke and Mirrors There was this method called “Pepper’s Ghost” in the 1860’s that used a stretched piece of thin fabric placed between the audience and the stage. It was unnoticeable unless light was reflected off it. The actors on the stage would do their thing until the phantom was needed to appear. Until that time, the actor playing the phantom would be in a darkened orchestra pit, below the main stage.

When light was projected on the phantom actor, their image would be reflected in the fabric above, causing it to be “on stage” with the actors. The two worlds would interact, and at some point, the phantom would be “extinguished” and the day was saved. The same idea is still used in modern stage presentations with Musion and also Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

So, how does a teleprompter work?

I profiled the presidential teleprompter in an earlier post. A traditional camera mounted teleprompter allows the speaker to look at the camera like normal. An evil clown reading from our teleprompterHowever in this case, their script is superimposed over the lens. This way it appears to the audience that the actor is making direct eye contact with them while still speaking from the heart. Teleprompter software takes a normal script file (in a format like .doc, .odt, or .rtf) and converts it into large letters on a contrasting background, typically, white letters on black.

This signal is sent from a laptop, tablet, or even phones, through a cable to the teleprompter monitor. Transmission can be via Bluetooth as well, but for mission critical shoots, I suggest staying with hardwired systems. These monitors normally range from 7″ to 20″ although there are some great exceptions when the distance is exaggerated. The monitors need to reverse the image because when it is reflected through the mirror, it appears as the correct orientation to the speaker. This can be accomplished via either the teleprompter software, or by special monitors that scan reverse the image. Alternatively, Hall Research makes a great box called a SC-VGA-2B that takes VGA signals and flips them.

These words then appear to float in space so that the speaker can look into the camera and read them. A teleprompter operator feathers the speed of the script to match the pace of the speaker. If the speaker slows or stops, then the operator will follow. Some modern, lower grade systems can operate without an operator by using a preset speed on loop, but it can be unnerving to the speaker to follow a machine. For example, the number “$23,577.46” takes up a small amount of space on the screen, and would go by quickly on a preset speed, but to speak out loud “twenty-three thousand five hundred and seventy seven dollars and forty-six cents” takes a LOT longer. Any sync would be destroyed and your speaker would be frustrated.

The prompter operator also interacts with the camera crew and sets up the teleprompter equipment so everything is connected to the tripod and balanced correctly. Plus, an operator edits the script and often wordsmiths the lines. Phrases that look good on paper don’t always sound great when spoken aloud.

Typically, the speaker will rehearse several times on paper, then advance to the teleprompter, make any edits, and only then will they hit the record button.

For more of a teleprompter definition and some other great images, here’s the Wikipedia article.

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The presidential teleprompter demystified: no, they can’t see your words.

Our remote controlled robotic Presidential teleprompter system for UC DavisI created a post about how the camera teleprompter works here.

When I was a kid, and I saw photographs of these glass panels around a lectern, I just thought they were bulletproof glass to protect the speaker. Like, someone knew exactly where an enemy would fire from 🙂 I’ve also had people ask if they were microphones—like those parabolic dish mics seen at football games.

The technology is derived from the Pepper’s Ghost displays made famous in the 1800’s. Disneyland uses this in its famous Haunted Mansion, where phantoms “sit” in the cab with you.

Reversed text on a teleprompter monitorIn the case of a presidential, or speech teleprompter, there’s an LCD monitor flat on the ground, pointed at the ceiling. The words to your speech are large, typically 56 pt to 72 pt.

The speed of the speech is controlled by an operator, who listens to the speaker and follows along. If the speaker pauses, or ad libs, the operator waits before moving on.

Special teleprompter software reverses the words on the LCD monitors, so that when the speaker looks through the one-way mirror, it appears normal again.

Teleprompter text from the speaker's point of view.However, the audience sees nothing of this. They just see through the glass to the speaker. They think the speaker is just glancing around the audience. This effect is amplified if a video camera is zoomed in, omitting the glass. Often in live presentations, large screens have a projected video signal of the presenter. It’s called IMAG (for “image magnification”), so people rarely look at the physical speaker.  Thus, the audience doesn’t focus on the presidential teleprompter equipment at all.

If someone does notice the glass, they normally quickly forget about it, since the speaker is more dynamic than the mysterious glass on a stick. Although, thanks to Obama’s teleprompter, it’s gotten more attention.

But what if there are multiple speakers using the same presidential teleprompter?

Good question, since multiple speakers typically means a variety of heights. The mirrors are carefully aligned for an individual speaker. And that means that anyone more than a 3″ height difference would have had to adjust THEIR height to see the words. Worse, a stagehand would have to come up mid-show to bring a box for the shorter speaker to elevate themselves… and really call attention to their stature 😉

We saw the need and created our robotic, rise and fall TeleStepper to solve this problem. It has a standard 24″ range but also a extended 40″ option when you really want to hide it after use.

This video below showcases our first version, called an RRT for Remote Robotic Teleprompter. We made a ton of improvements in v2 and re-named it the TeleStepper. New video coming soon! And we’re proud to say it’s now for sale.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.



I’ve wanted to try putting teleprompted script over a person’s face for years.

It made sense: put the words for the talent to read as usual, but also superimpose the friendly face of the director to nod, smile or just be the focus. It’s the combination of an Interrotron, or EyeDirect with a traditional teleprompter. Up until recently, I never felt great about the right mixer between VGA signal and the video feed, so it was a back shelf idea. A demonstration of the ability to superimpose text over the interviewer's face.However, I finally got asked to make it happen. It was for an interview where a number of employees were reading from a script and the Director needed to be in another room.

My client Photon wanted to be able to have eye contact with the talent, rather than only the stark black and white text. We supplied our standard Interrotron system comprising two teleprompters and a camera. We also added a Roland VR-3 AV mixer so that we could combine the video image of the director with the teleprompted script. I like the VR-3 because it was small and powerful. It took the VGA signal and keyed it over the video signal before feeding it to the talent to see. It also had a small built-in monitor to show the source and effect preview.

Before showing up, I did a proof of concept with the Roland VR-3.

Roland VR-3 AV MixerOnce we got to set we determined that some employees liked it, and others felt it was distracting. With the VR-3, we easily tuned the levels from one position to the other depending on each employee’s taste.
The director was able to get better results with individuals, depending on the positions, whether full face, full text or the combo.

The director sat in another room, away from the employees in their recording booth. To the employees, who hadn’t been on camera before, it was normal to look into a teleprompter and see the image morph from director to their script. We did the shift depending on whether it was a word-for-word portion, bullet points or when the director needed to add some direction. The key to all this was being able to rapidly make the shift.

Thanks to Photon for providing the challenge, and much praise to the Roland VR-3 for being an affordable solution. In the interest of having less stuff to lug around, I am kind of curious if there’s some superimpose software or a superimpose app that could do the same in real time… I really liked the option for the director’s face to pop back and forth on the screen. It allowed for reassurance and communication, but it also reduced the “cold machine” feeling that some people have for teleprompters and cameras.

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It’s a travel necklace

While this post has little to do with teleprompting in San Francisco, you might see Neil on set and notice his necklace.

My travel necklace bears a stone or bead from each country I visited. Clerks, CEOs, bicycle messengers, busy librarians and more have remarked “What a great necklace. Where did you get it?”

I smile, and share this story with them: It’s a travel necklace. I collect the stones and beads as I visit other countries and states—mostly via teleprompting work. I gather a pair from each country, then add the stones to the other beads on my neck.

It started with a necklace that my best friend made for me at university. He “blessed” it by wearing it for a week before giving it to me in a simple ceremony of friendship. I never took it off for six years.

Eventually, the natural fibers showed their age. While I was working in Brazil in 2001, it broke as I was lifting a jacket over my head to put in the airport xray machine.

Later, I was walking around the craft stalls of Såo Paulo and found an indescribable stone. Just like those “pound puppy” stories where the one perfect dog stands out for you, so did this stone.

It’s actually still a bit of a mystery. People from all over the world have told me with authority it was green jade, or maybe agatized jasper, or even petrified moss. Whatever it is, it attracts comments like no other.

And so, my idea of a travel necklace was born. Every stone has a memory attached, whether it’s to the person who sold it, the friend who gifted it, or the journey behind it.

Having that quest is something I look forward to in each country. I’ll usually read a guidebook or ask at the hotel desk to find craft fairs and night markets. Getting to the destination is always fun. I often ask a concierge, a barman, or policewoman what route they recommend. And it’s great—I’ll find myself navigating streets or canals that aren’t typically on the tourist path.

Once I find the shop or market booth, I’ll look at my options. Then I’ll catch the eye of the shop worker, and depending on the country, speak in English, my basic Spanish or fractured French to explain my quest. If that fails, pantomime and smiles work just as well and make for a fun challenge. I’ve even been lucky to befriend locals who come with me and assist with the navigation and negotiation too.

There’s often some stone or material that is representative of that country, like Chile’s lapis azul, or New Zealand’s cowrie shells. Mercifully, no merchant tried to convince me their national stone was gold.

The selection can be a process. Sometimes it’s just a simple choice, like in Brazil or Australia where the stone calls to me. Other times, like in Malaysia, I end up emptying a jar of tiger eyes on the table and scouring though them for 30 minutes to find the pair that belongs with the others.

The pieces are always common grade and never flashy, even though they may share the name of more expensive brethren.

It’s rare to find stones that are loose and pre-drilled for threading onto a necklace. So, I often buy earrings, and disassemble them to get the individual stones. Specialized bead shops are becoming common and make the process simpler. After working in Sydney, I drove up to Airlie Beach and was able to find two black opals for a good price. Then in a nearby beadshop, elbow to elbow with some local mothers and children, I strung them onto the necklace.

I normally restring the necklace when I return home. There’s often some maintenance involved as well. Some stones need to be repositioned based on the color of the new arrival or if a softer stone rubs against a harder stone.

And not all representatives stay on the necklace. Venezuela’s “stone” turned out to be plastic and wore too easily. Sweden’s was too rocky and flaked apart. Argentina’s rose quartz was too close to the color of chewed bubblegum. And while the jade pieces from Taipei and Beijing have weathered well, softer stones from Peru and Chile have worn out too fast. Of course, rather than being sad, I see that as my excuse to return to that country and find a hardier replacement.

As the list of countries I’ve visited has grown to 46, I’ve had to stop the practice of stringing two stones per country. I still buy a pair, but only one makes it on the necklace, taking the space vacated by the twin of another country. This twin then joins the others in my collection of spares. And just like in my teleprompter business, it’s good to have a spare.

I highly recommend you take my idea and run with it. Finding stones for your own necklace pushes you to taking quests in foreign lands, talking to locals, and navigating unfamiliar streets. You create something of your own that looks great, attracts positive comments, and is a physical reminder of your travels. And perhaps most importantly, this is a great way to start conversations and in turn learn something about that other person.

Like I said, not much to do with teleprompting in San Francisco, but now you know!


I have a long history with graduation ceremonies.

Our remote controlled robotic Presidential teleprompter system for UC Davis This is because I used to play saxophone in the marching bands for both my high school and university. At least once a year, we’d perform ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ over and over while the seniors walked to receive their diplomas in the graduation ceremony. So I got a great feeling when UC Davis asked me if we would be interested in teleprompting their speakers at commencement. One thing to understand is that they have a lot of schools within their University… so the Schools of Business, Law, Agriculture and so on, each had their individual commencement exercises.

The people involved with the ceremony are all great—very focused and dedicated to making the event memorable for the students, their families, and the faculty. We talked over the phone initially, outlining their needs and discussing dates.

Months later I drove up to work on the first rehearsal, just a day before the commencement. We set up in their massive gymnasium. I ran cables from my workstation up to the lectern. It’s about a hundred foot run of three cables: power, signal and also a control cable for the robotic TeleStepper.

With such a variety of heights for the speakers, our TeleStepper was mandatory. It was very important to the client that the event be smooth for all parties, so it meant no stopping to adjust the height of the glass each between commencement speeches, as this would interfere with the overall flow. Our TeleStepper travels a 24″ range with presets, so that I can learn, and then match the speakers’ heights quietly and discreetly.

For the rehearsal, I met with the Chancellor, Provost, the speaking Deans, students and the Special Events staff. The culmination of working together over the past years with this group was apparent. We worked one on one for a good part of the afternoon, training each person and editing their speeches.

What happened during graduation was unexpected.

Expectant crowd at commencement waiting for Provost of UC Davis to read our teleprompters It started off as you might imagine… parents, guardians and families had been filling the cavernous gym over the past hour, murmuring loudly over the band who was performing the graduation classics. But when the students finally entered the building, it was like a wave of energy swept through the place. Parents were calling out to their kids, shouting, even dialing their cell phones, in order to get their attention for a wave, a smile and a photo. It was a little like those documentary films of penguin families finding each other across amid thousands of similar looking penguins. 😀

People were justifiably emotional since this was such a big deal for them. I saw families of all backgrounds and ethnicities. Many clearly came from out of the country, adding to the pride and excitement. Families with younger siblings had a taste of what could be in their future as well. To be very honest, I got misty eyed too.

And that was before the commencement speeches! There’s such a difference in rehearsing a speech in an empty room, and then the power of giving that same speech to a packed hall, with people giving back reactions, laughs, thoughtful silence and thunderous applause. Mercifully, no one read the 500 names off the teleprompter so I had some down-time to soak in the overall emotions.

Again, I can’t explain just how powerful the pride and link was between the families and their graduating seniors. Three hours of this left me very hopeful and very drained. It was a quiet drive back home to San Francisco. Happily, they have repeatedly asked us back, and I’ve since teleprompted other Universities’ ceremonies. This is now one of my favorite clients. Please give us a call to assist your next live event.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.



Tonight was a blast—teleprompting for a local community hospital, in Chinese!

Teleprompting in Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese

It was an example of working together as a team to help the client with something that was quite unique. The client had requested Mandarin, Cantonese, and the ability to handle traditional Chinese characters. I realized that while three of my team had worked in Pinyin and Mandarin in the past, this was beyond us: following along was one thing,  but editing was another. I found a friend of mine, Tiffine, who spoke Mandarin passably while her mother spoke Cantonese and Mandarin languages fluently. Neither had ever teleprompted before, but Tiffine was computer savvy and willing to learn something new with her mom:)

Because of a time overlap, my teammate Ralph Kelliher set up the gear, then I showed up shortly after and relieved him. I trained Tiffine, introduced the native spokeswoman to teleprompting, and then let them take over. The key was to make sure someone was listening for the best take. Once we empowered the client to be the judge, the process was smooth and everyone left happy.

Thanks again to Ralph, Tiffine, and her mom for the assistance in the Chinese language, and my client for being so flexible and giving us a creative challenge.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.


Teleprompting outside at Slide Ranch for Disney's Pass the Plate

Teleprompting outside can be fun and challenging.

You’re at the mercy of the weather and geography, and often time hours from any support. Today we shot at Slide Ranch just North of the Golden Gate Bridge for two days, to support a cool Disney endeavor, “Pass the Plate.” Two awesome, professional child actors read from our outdoor teleprompter to share tips on organic, locally grown veggies, honey, and gluten free pizza crust while farmhands tended the bees and local kids milked the goats. To do this properly, we needed to be mobile and have an outdoor teleprompter that was 6 times as bright as standard units. These are expensive and rare in the teleprompter industry but we’ve found it useful to own several. If you’re teleprompting outside without a special highbright (aka daybright) monitor, it’s impossible to read.

Be prepared when using an outdoor teleprompter

Today was an example of why it’s always worth it to have a spare and a backup plan. We had one awesome day of using my 20″ outdoor teleprompter for the kids to read in direct sun. On day two, the backlight bulb on the monitor failed. You can tell, because the LCD text is still faintly visible but without the bulb, it’s unusable. This is rare: in my 20 years of teleprompting, it’s only happened once before. Thanks to the first experience, we were prepared.

I alerted the Assistant Director to the situation, and headed to my car for our smaller backup teleprompter. After 15 minutes, including my running up and down a gravel trail, we rigged the replacement to the lens, balanced the camera, and were back in business.

Outdoor teleprompter for Disney
So that’s the spare part of our system. The back-up plan was to have an assistant bring in another of our large daybright monitors while I continued to prompt. We swapped out the rigs while the camera shot some handheld B-roll, so no time was wasted.

I hope this never happens to you, but again, this is why we invest in spares and have backup plans on top of that. And it wasn’t just one situation where a backup was needed. We were assured power on site, but when we needed to do a company move to the base of the cliffs and film on the beach, I’m glad I brought our battery pack!

I think you get the overall lesson from this post 🙂

After the technical details were addressed, it was a fun shoot, with hugs all around as we departed the beautiful farm on the sea cliffs.

Many thanks to the Producer, AD, camera operator, AC, PA, and to Slide Ranch for hosting us on that shoot.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.



When the CEO walks and talks on Steadicam, you need a wireless teleprompter!

Teleprompting wirelessly with a Steadicam This was a fun shoot. The director and agency were from England and kept using the British term for the teleprompter, which is “Autocue.” This was a challenge, not because of the accents 🙂  but because the shoot called for the CEO of Bebo to read the script while walking around their offices and the streets of San Francisco.

However, most teleprompters attach to tripods and aren’t meant for a camera stabilizer like the Steadicam or GlideCam. I was up to the challenge, since I had used Steadicam rigs from operator Ben Casias, before. I brought in our specialized seven inch teleprompter, the PRomptBox, to make rigging easy and the changing of lenses simplified. PRomptBox makes two models: one with a VGA monitor and another that’s for tablets. While we own both, I used the VGA model here. That’s because I feel editing and controlling the tablet’s speed via Bluetooth just isn’t robust enough for high stress, mobile shooting.

Going wireless

Getting the signal to the camera was another issue since Steadicam operators rightfully hate being tethered with cables. The solution was a recent addition to our fleet, a very powerful yet tiny CanaTrans wireless video transmitter and receiver. Most transmitters sit on the camera and feed to the receiver on the monitors that the director or clients see. In this case, I transmitted from my laptop, going through a scan converter in to the CanaTrans. The small wireless receiver was velcroed to the Steadicam Teleprompter.

The final key to working with mobile cameras like the Steadicam, is power management. Both the receiver and teleprompter needed power. Rather than stringing an electrical cable off Ben’s back, I used adapters to take 12V power from the Steadicam chassis. Here I was grateful for CanaTrans’ multiple power options and Ben’s Anton Bauer multiport.

The system was complex but worked perfectly the first time we switched it on, making for a fun and quick shoot. Ultimately, however, the Steadicam spot was too polished for the image Bebo wanted and they chose to go with a more handmade re-shoot the next day with almost no crew. Still, making the original was fun and I loved meeting and working with their entire team.

Update: While we loved the CanaTrans, we recently upgraded our transmitter/ receiver to an HDMI version by IDX that’s powered by USB.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.


Why would you put multiple cameras into one teleprompter?

Often times as video crews, we get just one or two takes with a politician or executive because their time is very limited. We’re familiar with the line “Okay that was a great take, now we need to roll back the teleprompter script to the top and do another take in a tight shot. I promise, this is the last one.” If your CEO has a plane to catch, or another business meeting to attend, you can get a pretty bad stare, or a flat out refusal.

Use a big teleprompter to house multiple cameras for both medium and tight shots.

Two cameras side by side in a large teleprompter hood.

Neil Tanner Inc provides large hoods for multiple cameras to record simultaneous medium and tight shots.

Dual camera teleprompting. Simultaneous wide and tight shots for easy editing with less takes

Editors are happy since the two views match action perfectly. To the performer, there is still just the one place to look and they appreciate the effort you’ve made to save their time. You can still do as many takes you like to get the best performance on teleprompter, but with the multiple cameras, it makes editing so much easier. And you typically don’t need any extra gear, just some prep for the configuration.

Here’s the process

First, start with a large teleprompter hood. At Neil Tanner Inc, we carry two different 19 inch systems. One is a QTV hood that is rigid but has a flexible neck fabric that needs to be cinched around the lenses. The other hood is one Neil made custom for using giant matte boxes. The glass is larger than the QTV hood, but the hood here is simply a piece of black fabric, sort of like the old school photographers with their wet plate camera underneath a big black blanket.

You can place the cameras side by side, with the tripod legs interlaced, or get a special plate that holds two cameras on a single tripod. One crew took their DSLRs and stacked them on top of each other. Jim Thylin, one of our ace operators, somehow managed to get three cameras in a single teleprompter hood. Nicely done!

One caveat is that the teleprompter  fabric and lenses must be relatively light tight. If you a have a strong light behind the camera, make sure to close any gap. This will prevent light from hitting the inner glass and bouncing back into the lens, possibly fogging your shot.

Try this alternative shooting style for your next shoot.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.


Musicians using a concert teleprompter is more common than you would think.

Taeyang performing with a concert teleprompter in San Francisco.
Musicians have a lot of lyrics and songs to memorize. Naturally, when they’re on stage they can’t mess up. However, they merely use the concert teleprompter to jog their memory—they’re not staring at it the entire performance:) The prompter also can act as a set list. We’ve supplied concert teleprompters for Sting, Liza Minnelli, Metallica, Snoop Dogg, Rufus Wainwright, and T-Bone Burnett. A concert teleprompter is also known as a “word wedge”, or sometimes called a “stage teleprompter”.

Kpop superstar Taeyang (from Big Bang) came to San Francisco for an MTV concert right before Thanksgiving. We were hired to provide a concert teleprompter and operator for his event.

This was a particular challenge since the lyrics were mostly in Korean. We’ve prompted in many other languages, but Korean is new to our team. I searched Craigslist and found local Korean translator, Yano Rhee. Luckily, he had a degree in film and had worked in AV companies before transitioning to the medical field. Yano recently worked with the survivors of the Asiana SFO crash. When I interviewed him, I learned he had a musical background—the electric bass—and was excited by the challenge. We met the day before the concert to go over the teleprompter software, and then rehearse with the band.

Moving the Concert Teleprompter

Right before we left for the night, I was requested to move the teleprompter equipment from it’s initial location. Normally, the prompter sits low on the stage between the musicians and the fans. However, since this was being recorded and broadcast by MTV, cameras positioned behind Taeyang would see the concert teleprompter too. Since I have a background in grip and rigging, a quick trip to the local expendables store, JCX, was all that was needed.

The next morning I hung the monitor from the stage speakers near the ceiling. Taeyang agreed with the exact placement, since it was a balance of seeing his lyrics, and appeasing the MTV cameras. Running cables through the curtain was done well before the other stage crew got in, so there was no work interference.Taeyang from the K-pop supergroup Big Bang perfomed in San Francisco for MTV using our concert teleprompter.

There’s a reason behind the particular joy I have in using a concert teleprompter: I used to perform in bands on saxophone, so I miss the synergy that comes from working together on something live that causes my feet to tap along to the music. The first concert that I ever did teleprompting for was Liza Minnelli. What a rush to be part of that ensemble! Even though I was not playing an instrument, I was keeping time and being in sync with the musicians, so the familiar thrill came back.

It was no different with Taeyang, even though I was not personally teleprompting his lyrics for the concert. Yano had that honor. I loved the crowd and performance and learned quite a bit about the K-pop fanbase and industry.

It was an honor to work with Taeyang, his fans, his team from YG, the great crew from Oceanwatch, Yano, MTV, the staff at Bimbo’s 365, and the local stage technicians.

Learn how our friendly team of skilled teleprompter operators can save you time and money.