Picking the right Prompter – some “Tips and Tricks”
There is so much choice available today for prompting devices. From phones and tablets to full Broadcast Studios systems and with non-word prompting techniques like Interrotrons becoming popular choosing the best prompting system for your productions needs some serious consideration.
- Getting the right size screen for the studio is one of the first questions we get asked. We use our “Reading Matrix” to determine the maximum distance from presenter to camera lens. This is a suggestion as some presenters prefer larger screens to help with eyesight (without spectacles) issues
2. Having established the correct screen size for the job the next big question is prompt monitor is brightness. For indoor work you should be looking for a prompter with brightness of at least 350 Nits (most tablets are this bright) up to 500 Nits (this is our Premium monitor specifications) and for outdoor applications in bright sunlight you should be using 1200 to 1500 Nits monitors (Quasar range)
3. Picking the best Prompting Software for your job (Tablet or PC?). PC based Prompting Software like our WinDigi Suite will give you multiple options for a full prompting workflow from a one off “on camera” to a full blown multi camera newsroom operation. In some cases a PC systems may be what you want but can’t be cost justified whereas a self-driven tablet can. Tablet based systems have limitations as they work as independent islands, there are limited external script connections, editing script changes is not as quick as on PC and finding a software / control system that will properly scroll rather than run at a fixed speed is paramount (we use Pico Prompt & i-glue / scroll). However they can be excellent for handheld cableless operation and anything that saves production budget by helping reduce the number of takes and makes your presenter look more professional is a must consider!
4. Interrotron is a technique developed in the 80’s by Errol Morris, a US film director. It allows a nervous interviewee to see the interviewer’s face instead of the camera lens whilst they give their answers direct to the camera for a more natural delivery. This is especially useful when the presenter may not do this for a living or does not seem natural when reading. There are two variants a Passive system using reflections by way of a customised prompting hood and reflector and an Active system which takes a video feed from a second camera feeding the prompter display.
5. Direct Read is a technique used with Jibs, Cranes and Drones where you do not want to be flying mirrors and glass over the studio floor (Health and Safety) or where you are using a Green Screen Light Ring. Mounted either above or below the camera lens eye line will be not be visibly lost on a mid-shot or wider
6. Talent Monitors are rigged beneath the main prompting monitor these are popular with presenters who need to understand where they are positioned in a Virtual Studio and are a useful production tool for talent to see the programme output on the studio floor. We can also add count down and timecode clocks if required
7) Lightweight / folding hoods. As the demand from presenters for larger screens increases there is a backlash from Cameras, Engineering and often Prompt Operators that on camera weight is too much and balance and mobility are lost. Most manufactures now offer lightweight folding hoods which keep weight down but allow large screen / monitor sizes like our 24” or 32” Quasar
8. Robotic PTZ Camera operation. One man controlled robotic studios are becoming far more common. Rigging on dome style cameras can be a problem (there is nothing to attach the prompter to) but PTZ style cameras are now easy using specialised mounting plates to maintain camera balance and smooth movements
9. Prompter Control and Signal Routing. Most manufactures offer wired / wireless hand / foot controllers although a PC mouse will often suffice. Be clear how you will work in studio and on location and then what type of control you want and can afford and also what type of prompt signal you will feed around the studio (VGA, HDMI, SDI, Composite Video, IP etc.)
10. The Talent comes first is one of the prime rules of prompting. The Prompt Operator follows (scrolls) the Talent’s speed of delivery, never the other way round Practice makes perfect is an old adage but so true. You want your presenter to sound natural and relaxed. Make sure they are not just “reading” and they vary their pitch and tone, use pauses, don’t move their head from side to side or stare into the lens. Remember they control the speed of the script delivery not the operator. Don’t worry if they ab lib as a good operator will always wait for them to come back to script and don’t be frightened to use bullet points if script reading is not their thing. The way to ensure this all comes together is practice to make sure they are familiar with what they are going to say as they are the experts on the subject matter!
Jon Hilton - Sales and Marketing at Portaprompt - www.portaprompt.co.uk
Jon joined Portaprompt (his families’ business) in January 2014 to help grow their sales and develop their marketing programmes. Prior to this he worked for over 30 years with Sony Broadcast in a variety of sales, marketing and senior management roles initially in the UK and then across Europe