I’ve seen a lot of changes in the teleprompter industry.

Dot matrix LED dispay of the word When I first started, a teleprompter was mostly limited to the studio. I used my client’s crazy proprietary “remote” teleprompter system that would give a composite video out, but only display to the operator 3 tiny lines of text. So, I learned to be veeeeery focused. As a bonus, if you went backwards, it would crash and require a reboot.

CRT teleprompter monitors.When I got fed up using other people’s gear, I bought my own system. It was an Apple Powerbook 180, running Quickprompt by Marietta Designs. Prompting with a laptop computer? That was high tech! I fed it into a MirrorImage TP-140, a tank of a CRT (cathode ray tube… the non- flat panel monitors) teleprompter that was very reliable and very heavy. It required a Magliner dolly to transport the massive Thermodyne cases and counterweights, but wow, no downtime, ever… definitely the early stages of portable teleprompters.

I upgraded to a Powerbook 5300cs, followed by a Powerbook G3 Series, a Lombard, a Pismo (my favorite Apple ever), a couple black Macbooks, G4 12″ (I still have some as backups.) We currently use 11″ Macbook Air units for my team while my personal machine is a 13″ Macbook Retina display.

Teleprompter software went through changes as well.

I ran Quickprompt until OSX came around, and then moved to Magicscroll.  Marietta Designs was working on ScrollTrain, which was their OSX teleprompter software, that would be capable of showing JPEG graphics as well. Sadly, they moved on to other projects, and ScrollTrain never made it to beta… I used Magicscroll until it stopped updating. I finally found a worthy successor: Presentation Prompter. I like it because it’s updated regularly and yes, it uses JPEG graphics. More on why I love that option for teleprompting, in another post.

For prompter hardware, I’ve liked MirrorImage over the years. I currently own two 15″ units, and two 12″ units. One is a highbright unit with monitors by Boland Communications. I modified all of these to balance quicker, extended the mirror angle options, and increased the mirror size for the 12″ units to 15″ hoods. You can see all my current teleprompter gear on my Camera Mount Teleprompter page and look through the various systems.

Building a custom prompter

When I was asked to teleprompt in conjunction with a film camera with massive matte box, I built a custom trapezoid prompter with a soft hood on the back, similar to the old wet plate cameras of the 1800s. I also inherited three QTV prompter hoods from the CRT days and retrofitted them to LCD monitors. Because of the metal hoods and large sheets of glass, these are still heavy units, but I modified the mounting hardware for quick setup and freestanding options.

Our 7 inch prompter in handheld modeI also bought a very well machined QTV master series PSP8 that I fell in love with at NAB. I swapped out the monitor, then added a pair of handgrips and a shoulder mount for handheld shooting. I’ve since been supplied with a several PRomptBox units, both VGA and tablet based. These are great since they fit to the shoe or 1/4″ of a camera.

I built my own presidential or speech prompters system years ago, with clamps and mirrors from MirrorImage. I later purchased a great outdoor presidential system from them, that I’ve modified for quicker and lighter setup, and also some windproof options.

When I saw the need for a robotic rise and fall presidential teleprompter system, I asked my brother, Thom, who is a robotics and mechanical engineer for help. Together we designed and he manufactured our TeleStepper. It’s gone through three versions and been used by Michelle Obama, various Senators, Lucasfilm, Chevron Corp., UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Dr Oz among others. I’m proud to announce it’s now for sale.

When I first did an Interrotron rig for Birkenstock, I immediately recognized the need for an HD option. So, I purchased a 20″ Boland highbright monitor to interface with the QTV hoods and pair with my 12″ HD unit and made my first Interrotron.

I also have a great IDX wireless video system for teleprompting with Steadicam or handheld. Plus I have all sorts of gizmos and other odd size prompters that I’ve custom built or modified for special situations.

The EyeDirect Mark III also own a couple EyeDirect units which make for riveting interviews.

All this equipment is available for rental, and in some cases, like our TeleStepper, for purchase.

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

 

 

 

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 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.