Teleprompters and laptops in the rain. Expensive electronics and water. What could be better?

Still, when I’m asked to come up with a solution, I’m happy for the challenge.

I’d like to share some solutions and best practices for teleprompting in the rain or other wet conditions, like boats.

One event was for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 inauguration as California Governor in Sacramento. We were told the weather forecast and that I would need to place my camera teleprompter on a jib.

Giant 55 gallon contractor garbage bags are your friend. I wrapped the camera as well as the jib motors in such a way that any rain wouldn’t pool (affecting the weight and balance.) I also had to prevent any water that might drip down cables to the monitor. I bought clear plastic bags to cover the monitor screen.

Everything worked perfectly. Luckily, it stopped raining after the event, so tear-down was easy. I still had to let the cases and other exposed gear dry out for a few days… so, perhaps I’d suggest hazard pay or an extra gear charge if I did this again.

An associate of mine, Aaron Ralph Thomas, sent me these lower images of his experience, teleprompting in Delaware. He asked me about solutions for operating a presidential teleprompter in the rain. I repeated the clear plastic bag suggestion and a few other tips including having cables drape lower so that any rain wouldn’t enter that way. He used the tips, made a few modifications to his system, and everyone was happy. Good job Aaron!

For boats, I’d do the same: wrapping everything a little tighter since the spray would come from more directions, and be extra careful with the sealing, and rinsing because of the salt content in the water… depending on where your boat is.

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It’s all fun and teleprompter games…

I recently worked for a PC company that refuses to see Apple products in their facility.

So, much like the days when we’d read comics hidden in our science textbooks—I present my solution:

I simply placed my Macbook Pro behind an open PC laptop in their studio. So there!

To the client, their authority is complete while they get the awesome teleprompting experience they expect.

Yay, everyone is happy.

We play games even in adulthood 🙂

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I never want teleprompters to be a problem.

As a teleprompter operator, I regularly get behind the scenes  access with presenters with their speech writers or admins. This is where I learn that they’ve privately struggled reading with teleprompters because of the way letters appear to them. As someone who wants to make things go smoothly for the presenter AND crew, I’m always looking for solutions.

I worked an event earlier this year where one admin mentioned a cool solution— a special font that subtly differentiates the letters… and adds more space around the words with other tweaks.

You’ll notice the letters are fatter at the bottom, and the “m” for example, is leaning against the grain.

My choice was a font called “Open Dyslexic 3.”  It’s shareware, and worth a lot to the right people.

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I’ve been teleprompting professionally for at least 22 years now. I got to thinking how cool life is. I just felt it needed to be put out there, as a simple act of thanks to many of the people who have given me some nice opportunities and who have been fun to be around in this cool industry.

The following is kinda long. Read it if you feel like getting to know me better. Skip if you know I’m pretty happy in life and that’s enough:)

Big thanks to my film teacher at Chico state, George Rogers who got me my first internship at Murphy Film Group near Sacramento. Bob Murphy and Carolyn Belz were excellent and kind as they allowed me to learn on the job as they made commercials and political spots.

They introduced me to Cal Image who put the first teleprompter in my hands. I ended up working for both Murphy Film Group and Cal Image freelance after my internship ended. Because I was using temperamental “well-used” gear and expected to provide professional service, I chose to purchase my own prompting system to augment what Cal Image provided.

They quickly let me know since I now owned equipment, they saw me as a competitor and stopped hiring me… which forced me to be self reliant and by default, ta-daa: a competitor:) I sincerely thank them for letting me go, and forcing me to start my own company.

When New View Films came to shoot several spots in Sacramento for the Money Store, Murphy Film Group gave them my name as a good Production Assistant.

Danny and Barney Colangelo introduced me to a higher level of commercial filmmaking, plus many crew members whose skill and humor amaze me to this day. Dave Lezynski, Lambo, Garrett Freberg, Carolyn Tyler and Mary Sue Thomsen. Eventually, I moved up from PA, to art department, to teleprompter operator. Working with the Colangelo brothers was my entry to the Bay Area filmmaking. Much gratitude guys!

It was my awesome roommate Pat Sielski who gave my name to Total Media and Magnetic Image that started my audio career…

The wonderful people at Mag Image in turn gave my name to Susan Reimenschnieder who brought me aboard the Cisco/ Howard Charney/ Mary Barnsdale/ Jeff Eby/ Arnel Torres “world traveling teleprompter” train for about ten incredible years. Whew… I still miss that stuffed passport.

When Total hosted a shoot for Oracle, I met Bruce Hamady who facilitated many fun shoots with me now billing myself as a corporate art director and set builder.

Emery Clay is like a brother to me, working together on HGTV shows, and even convincing them they should do a “House Detective” show on my “should have never been built” house in Point Richmond.

I’m super grateful for my incredible, fantastic team of prompter operators: Ralph Kelliher, Jim Thylin, Martin Hyland, Charlie Kuttner, Jason LaBatt, Crystal Nickerson, my brother Thom, Marcos Johnson, and my new scheduler, Dawn Scribner. Zak Eby and Chris Thylin are just starting with my company:)

There’s been so many other cool people and companies, too, and in no particular order: Chater Camera, Rebel Sun, Alan Steinheimer, Jon Francis Films, Lucasfilm, Little Giant, Greg Freeman, Hub Strategy, Mac House, Ken Butler, PacSat, Acme Spots, Macy’s Satellite Network, Mark Herzig, Craig Patterson, Luke Seerveld, Robert Strong, Chris Coughlin, Doug Freeman, Paul Tisa, Japji, Conchita, and JP Morgan, too.

I’ve not listed everyone cool in my career here, sorry. Know that I appreciate you anyway. A lot.

Even Mr. “Got to Go!” Bennett.

I’d list the entire past & present Reel Directory if I could (Thanks Lynetta Freeman)
This is such a great career—where I can honestly say I love coming to work—serving clients, learning a ton, and making the talent be comfortable and authentic.

I’m just in a special place: Thanks y’all! Here’s to another 20 years of fun, camaraderie, and magic.

In humble amazement… Neil Tanner

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“Couldn’t I just rent your teleprompter and do this myself?”

People watch us operate our gear and see that the show is smooth with great results. They then wonder if they could do the same thing without having to spend money on an operator— just do it themselves.

I admit I’m biased with my response. My team and I have countless years doing teleprompting and training of speakers. We know all sorts of tricks to make the speaker appear more natural on camera.

Learning new software is doable but not when a camera crew and your CEO is waiting:)  More than once a client handed me a new script right before walking on stage. I had three minutes to get it right. Do you want that pressure?

We definitely offer rentals.

If you have a casual job and aren’t rushed, then renting from us is a good, inexpensive solution. Producers know the difference between a high stakes job and one that is “Good enough.” Not everything has to be perfect.

All of our equipment is available for rental including  iPad prompting systems. We’ll happily train you or someone on your team. And we’re available by phone when you have questions on set.

Your choice.

By doing it yourself, you save money up front. Plus, teleprompting can be fun. You will need to split your attention between your current role and running a teleprompter, so the shoot may go longer or be stressful.

By hiring a professional teleprompter operator, you get years of dedicated experience and service. You can focus entirely on the presentation and your speaker’s needs. Yes, it’s costlier to have a dedicated teleprompter operator, but compared to what?

Ultimately, no one wants to waste time or money. Whatever you choose, we’re here to help with useful teleprompting advice, rentals, and experienced operators.

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You don’t need to hire a teleprompting professional.

But I really recommend not using a teleprompter app on autoscroll by yourself. Just get your spouse, friend, or admin to run the app and match your speed.  For example, the number “$23,577” takes up a small amount of space on the screen, and would go by quickly on a preset speed. However, to speak aloud “twenty-three thousand five hundred and seventy seven dollars” takes a lot longer. Suddenly you’d be behind and quite likely hating prompters:)

Your assistant can match your pace with a handheld speed controller, or even another iPhone or tablet.

Phrases that look good on paper don’t always sound great when spoken.

Your friend can listen and give feedback too. Speakers get passionate may not notice they missed words or made no sense. A friend will catch it immediately. This saves you from only noticing it when you’re editing the video, long after you’ve put away the camera and lights.

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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.

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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!