Teleprompter (Autocue) Basics - Basic Filmmaker Ep 160

     Most people think that the teleprompter is for television prompter, as in scrolling text on a television screen. Teleprompter actually comes from TELE-vision actor PROMPTER.


     Jump to the year 1950. Television was live, meaning everything was telecast live as it happened. So, you mess up, the world gets to see it. Well, maybe not the world, but anyone watching the TV program.

     TV actors were quite the professionals, many having moved over from radio. They had to memorize huge scripts and pull them off in front of the live audience. This was especially difficult when the programs aired every week, or worse, every day. Remember, there's no "cut", no recording, no nothing other than "oops" and trying to recover. Forgetting your lines frequently could be a death sentence for you as an actor.

     In 1951 an actor by the name of Fred Barton Jr. suggested the "idea" of a teleprompter to an engineer by the name of Hubert Schlafly. Hubert got to work and built the first teleprompter which was simply a roll of paper with large printed text that was rolled with a crank. Even the typewriter was special - it had to type one-inch high letters on these large rolls of paper.

     So actor Fred, engineer Hubert, and a company guy named Irving Berlin Khan started a company called the TelePrompTer Corporation. In Europe, the AutoCue corporation was started making similar devices.

     These worked so well, even the mechanical devices were still used up to 1992 on certain TV shows, despite them now being recorded.

     Even today, these devices, mechanical or electronic, are called teleprompters or autocues.


Some refer to them as "idiot boxes." Apparently these people never had to stand in front of a camera, having just been handed a script the night before, and expected to perform it the next day.

     Or maybe they're just that good.


     Some brilliant person discovered taking a piece of glass (called a beam splitter), and mounting it at a 45 degree angle over the lens. The scrolling text is mounted below the glass. The glass reflects the scrolling text to the person in front of the camera. The lens doesn't see the scrolling text or the glass at 45 degrees. The performer can read the text and look directly into the lens.

     Here's a diagram that sums up how this works.

"Teleprompter schematic". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

     The cover, or shroud, keeps light from creating unwanted reflections on the glass which the camera would see.


     The idea is to make it look like the person talking has memorized what they are going to say or is just doing it off the cuff. Someone reading off cue cards, or using a teleprompter off to the side, leaves the viewer with this feeling that the person isn't quite talking to them.


     These telepromters have gone through a lot of iterations. TV screens, mounted monitors, computer programs, and many more. There's even teleprompters that "listen" to the person talking and scroll accordingly. These are NOT cheap.

     For the Basic Filmmakers out there, the solution is cheap and simple, with the introduction of smart phones and devices, and software manufacturers creating apps for these that work pretty well.


     I said it in the video, and I'll say it again.

     Unless you practice with a teleprompter, it just won't look good. You'll have the "deer in the headlights" thing going on.

     Obviously, people like news reporters and others have done this so much that no matter what you throw up on the screen, they can do it pretty naturally all the time.

     Well, that's your clue. Just keep doing it until you can do it naturally.

     Practice doesn't necessarily means you are wasting a lot of time not making videos. Just the opposite. Go make A LOT of videos. That IS your practice.

     Sure, like me, you'll look back at your videos from years ago and go "eeeecccchhh!" That's unbelievably terrible.

     AND THAT'S GOOD, because you're getting better.

                         My Best,

                         The Basic Filmmaker


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