Teleprompter tips for video production

Who knows your business better than you? No one, of course! But knowing your business and putting it into words, along with a sales pitch, expert tip, or a lesson on how to use your merchandise, can be two different things. You may have perfected an elevator pitch  to use at conferences or when you just happen to make an impromptu business connection. Great. But your pitch is ten seconds long, and your video is a minute and a half.

Perhaps your penchant for making balloon animals will help you fill the rest of the time? Probably not. That’s why the scriptwriting process is such an integral part of pre-production. You can get your thoughts out, down on paper, clarify and refine them, and play with them until the final message is spot-on.

Then what? A minute and a half of material is a lot to memorize. A whole lot. Maybe Richard Burton could recite Shakespeare in his sleep, but you are not Richard Burton (Which is a good thing. The nighttime recitations might explain why he went through four wives).

Can I just do the narrative in bits and pieces, so I only have to remember a tiny bit at a time?

We advise against it. We recently did a shoot with industry experts in a particular field, and the majority of them, even though they were only asked to speak for 15-20 seconds about an area where they had extensive expertise, ended up doing take after take as we coached them through the paces in five-second increments. One or two became so wound up that we found ourselves reaching for our wallets, ready to spring forward and place them in the interviewees’ mouths to keep them from biting off their tongues, should they fall into a fit of apoplexy. That’s a word you don’t hear much these days, but trust us, it’s still around. We’ve got the outtakes to prove it.

The solution to getting through a lengthy script is simple, but not everyone wants to hear it. You probably would be best off using a teleprompter to help you read the script as smoothly as possible.

The Solution: A Teleprompter

Hannibal Prompter? C'mon, it's not really that scary!

Hannibal Prompter? C’mon, it’s not really that scary!

Some people think this is an insult, as if the mere presence of a teleprompter is an outward, visible sign of an inward, invincible disgrace: not being able to get through a simple script without a crutch. Others take one look at the thing and recoil as if it’s a portal to the fiery bowels of Erebus.

This might be primitive instinct because, admittedly, a lot of teleprompter setups do call to mind a great white shark opening its gaping jaws. But once you get used to it—and it doesn’t take long for most people—you’ll find it’s an absolute pussycat.

Teleprompters typically are attached to the camera, so that you will have direct eye contact as you read, as if you’re speaking directly with the viewer. There are a variety of options for making the print as easy as possible to read. The font size can be changed, and so can the speed at which it scrolls up the teleprompter screen. It most cases, it’s best to have someone operate it for you. It’s possible to run a prompter for yourself, and in some smaller markets local news anchors do it every day. They use a foot pedal to keep their hands free while they’re on camera. This, as you might expect, takes more than a little practice. The time to do it is NOT when the clock is ticking away during your video production. Better to have an experienced technician run the thing for you.

Don’t forget the teleprompter operator!

Depending on the type of teleprompter you’re using, changing the script may or may not be an easy process. The more complicated prompters allow the operator to exit the prompting mode fairly quickly, go into the script, and make last-minute tweaks. This is handy if you suddenly find that a portion of the script is just too wordy or unclear, and want to spiff it up a bit. Prompters that are more basic require a bit more handling, especially since they may be operated using a tablet or smart phone rather than a laptop. That can make it a bit more difficult to make major changes to the script.

Is it possible to just put one sentence at a time on the teleprompter, so that you don’t have to worry about trying to read a script that’s scrolling up the screen like the opening to the original Star Wars movie? Yes, but again, we advise against it. First, in order to keep the script readable, the font must be a certain size, and you may be surprised to see just how little which actually fit on a prompter screen. You might be able to get a whole sentence on. Then again, you might not, and the prompter will have to roll up to catch the end of the sentence.

You have to envision how it would sound to read something sentence by sentence, rather than as part of a coherent whole. While it’s possible for an editor to put it together smoothly, the inflections could still be off if you’ve done several takes of each sentence. Not to mention, unless the majority of the video is covered with video or graphics with your narration underneath, it simply isn’t possible to edit those bits and pieces together. You’ll be looking at a slew of jump-cuts (think Max Headroom). Talk about apoplexy.

Practice makes perfect

We suggest asking your production company to give you a dress rehearsal, either an hour or so ahead of the shoot or even on a prior day, to allow you to get used to reading from a teleprompter. This will allow both you and the crew to get comfortable with your pacing, and let you get accustomed to reading moving text. Most people, with just a little practice, quickly gain the confidence and comfort they need to make it through the entire script fairly quickly. If you make stumble a bit, don’t worry. You can ask to do a pickup (just re-doing the last couple of lines you’ve read before the stumble, rather than going all the way back to the beginning of the script). Your producer and/or director should be familiar enough with your script to pinpoint a natural place to start the re-track.

In little time, you’ll be reading the teleprompter like a pro. We offer this service, along with all the coaching you need, at Hencar. Make sure to check with any production company you hire to see if they do the same. You’ll be pleased at how polished the finished video looks when you’ve got this little helper on your side.