Zen Teleprompting

Teleprompting is a dance.

People often assume that the teleprompter operator drives the speed of the speech. They think that we just set the pace and the speaker has to follow us. It’s not uncommon for people to think they’d just get an iPad to loop the script. There’s even those that believe teleprompting is really just setting up the gear and that anyone can do it..

Whether it’s a live event or a video, we actually follow the speaker as they move through the speech. Ultimately, that’s the biggest factor of our success: our focus on the presenter. We feather the control to perfectly match their speed.

I can be working backstage for a live event, with the whole crew on headset, and even though they’re all chattering away about work or sharing humor, I need to tune all that out and focus on the presenter. If I allow my focus to drift, even for a second, the speed and the words I control can affect the speaker.

I’ve seen it happen on video shoots too. If I get distracted by even the slightest bit, I can feel the speaker drift, or start adding extra words or making mistakes.

One of the greatest, but most subtle compliments I ever got was from the assistant to the First Lady. She told me that when Mrs. Obama, who has used teleprompter operators all over the world, was having a bad teleprompter experience, she would add lot’s of umms in her speech. In working with me, the assistant pointed out that the First Lady didn’t “umm” once. Again, it’s a subtle scale, but one that counts:) It made my week!

Teleprompting is finessing the script as well.

Words that seem fine on paper may just trip the tongue when spoken aloud. So, as operators, we wordsmith the document. Often we’ll be given the speech just an hour before the presentation, and we’ll run through it, sorting things out. For example, we’ll make screen directions—like “Turn and leave the stage” or the name of different speakers— in a different color than the main body of text. This alerts them that something other than black and white is not to be spoken.

When we’re practicing with the the speaker, we’ll notice how some words are trouble, and we’ll either suggest substitutes, or ask the speaker what they’d say in their own words… since often the speech was written by someone else. A finer point of teleprompting is when we notice that their eyes might jump down to the next sentence line early, so we’ll purposely add some returns to make the words flow.

Again, these are just some of the subtle things that we as teleprompter operators do to make your experience the best possible.

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.

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.