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Poll: Teleprompter tricks?

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Bruce BennettPoll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 4:13:32 pm

I double posted this in “Cinematography” but wanted this forum’s input too…

Wondering what some of you do to “soften” or help minimize eye movement during teleprompter readings. With one of my clients, it seems like no matter what I do, his eyes move too much when he reads the teleprompter directly into the camera. I know that using medium and wide shots help, but some times I need to include “chest up” shots for this particular annual project.

Do you find a particular sized font to work best?
Do you have the talent off-center versus head-on?
Got any other “tricks of the trade?”

Looking forward to replies.


Bruce Bennett
Bennett Marketing & Media Production, LLC

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Bill DewaldRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 4:56:13 pm

I used to run prompter at a local news station, and I found that each anchor had a different way that they liked the prompter run.

Most wanted the current line to hit the top 1/3 of the screen as they were about to say it, scrolling up at a continuous rate. Some liked a page at a time, so it was scroll fast - pause - scroll fast. One guy ran his own prompter - he was never happy with any operator.

The prompter displayed large, allcaps block text. I'd guess there weren't more than 20-40 characters per line.

I think that reading the prompter on-screen is a special skill, and that having talent that's well practiced with the prompter and familiar with the script will lead to the biggest improvements.

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Todd TerryRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 6:18:15 pm

Hi Bruce...

I've been surprised at how well the average Joe off the street can be at prompter reading... not always, but pretty darn often.

I've never had any problem with shifty eyes... and I think size is the key. We use what is I belive must be the smallest prompter around... it only has about a 7" or maybe 8" screen. It's little, but I have not had any talent have trouble reading it... and the smaller it is, the less eye shifty, of course.

I also use the biggest typesize (in Arial Black, bold, always ALL CAPS) that the prompter software will take. That limits the prompter to three, maybe four words per that the talent is basically reading down, not across.

I also try to keep some distance between the talent and the camera, unless specific direction dictates otherwise.

Interestingly enough, I can use my little prompter as-is with my 35mm, 50mm, and 80mm primes... but my 18mm prime has a face that is much much too large to fit inside the prompter hood. When we use that, I have a bracket that just mounts the prompter monitor directly below the lens. Since the lens is pretty darn wide, you can't tell at all that the talent is not looking dead center even though they are reading the monitor a couple of inches below.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 7:08:09 pm

It's all about the eye line and distance. The bigger your prompter screen is, the farther back you can throw from to reduce the eye travel.

While I like Todd, I have a point of disagreement with him regarding fonts. Studies and my field experience confirm that all-caps is an inferior way to present text for prompting. All-Caps is actually a holdover from the bad old days of prompting, where you actually typed onto rolls of paper using a custom typing ball and electric typewriter. Your "cut and paste" word processing in those days actually used scissors, white-out, and tape! The rolls unspooled on a conveyor belt past a black and white camera that generated a luminance key output to the mirror assembly, so the fonts had to be fat and readable to that camera first and an eyeball second. When early, fully-electronic prompting systems came into operation, their font selection was also limited because RAM was expensive, so you still only had one all-caps font after you did away with the conveyor belt-camera-paper roll contraptions. So many folks grew up working with all-caps by default. Not because it was a better way.

We read by decoding word shapes, seeing the word as a whole, not as individual letters. The fastest decoding of that shape relies on it being upper and lower-case letters, with ascenders and descenders, creating that word shape. Ever watch Sesame Street or Electric Company? They teach reading using mixed case for the same reason. Indeed, typically you run several lines of type on a prompter screen at any given moment, because the brain is actually speed-reading ahead of your consciousness, pre-decoding the next row of words using your peripheral vision, before you are actually at that point. It's one of the keys to "speed reading". It is this subconscious background processing you lose if you blow up a font too huge and reduce the number of words per line. When you lose that, you also lose speed and comprehension.

ALL CAPS destroys the learned shapes of words and sends you back to decoding each word a letter at a time. Worse than that: you are first decoding a capital letter, then deciding if it needs to be capital for a specific meaning, like the first letter of a person's name, (Washington, or is it washing a ton of stuff) then if it is not a cap in normal usage, the brain continues to process it into the lower case letter and THEN is lining up the translated lower case letters to make the overall word shape in your brain instead of on the page. This is like when someone writes a page full of bad HTML instead of a single simple tag to get a job done: it's just bad coding!:-)

Your brain can decode all this, of course, but it is going to have to work a little harder and take a fraction of a second longer to do it, and there is some increased chance of an error without the word shape to match against. Try reading an entire page of something in all caps some time and then again in mixed case and see which one "feels" easier to read.

Old-time newsreaders had no choice in the matter; they only had all-caps and simply re-trained themselves over time to deal with this, then stuck with it. Stingy, slow-to-update newsrooms then perpetuated this "standard" well beyond it's heyday. (It's like the old anecdote about why mom cuts the ends off her beef roasts when she cooks them.)

There has been some experimentation with a completely different prompting scheme, it relies even more on word shape, because instead of lines of words it sequentially projects a SINGLE word at a time, in the same space, with no travel up, down, or side-to-side. Something like the device called a tachistoscope. It takes a little getting used to, but enables a fairly fast reading speed, while being readable from a distance though using the very smallest of screens. In a sense, this is the farthest extension of what Todd was talking about and his method of presentation. One word that fills the screen, replaced with another single word that fills the screen, all centered and never in motion, only scaled based on number of letters it takes to cover the screen left to right. It has been used in some on air spots from time to time as a catchy and edgy way to put up text without loading up the screen. You might try it as an experiment some time, just for kicks.

Unless you're epileptic; then take it slowly, please.

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Todd TerryRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 7:37:20 pm

[Mark Suszko] "Studies and my field experience confirm that all-caps is an inferior way to present text for prompting."

That could be, I won't argue with it.

Old habits die hard... in one of my previous previous lives (before I was a wanna-be movie director and before before I was a wanna-be actor) I was in the news biz.

Back when I was wearing my newscaster hat... all caps were the norm for all scripts and prompter copy (and actually I was just directing promos at a television station this morning, and all their scripts and prompter copy was all caps... I don't know if that is still universal). I simply got used to it fast, and even though I haven't been on the news in 17 years (and refuse to wear suits anymore) now I can still read an all-caps prompter with my eyes closed (quite a feat!).

To me, it's just easier to read... but that's just me, because of what I'm used to. In our particular case it also means fewer words per line at a given font size, so that's an advantage at least at our place.

I'd say try it both ways, you might have much better luck with one than the other.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Ron LindeboomRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 8:53:11 pm

Great points, Todd, except for the ALL CAPS part. :o)

I would disagree with that as studies by typographers have shown that ALL CAPS is harder to read. I can understand the logic of the newsroom thought behind it that you point to, but upper- and lower-case is easier for the eye to move through quickly.

I am not saying that you are wrong or that it doesn't work, I am simply saying that in my experience ALL CAPS is just less practical and harder on the eyes -- especially on 57 year old eyes like mine. :)

Your experience can vary and still be right, it's a matter of taste in all likelihood. Some people like all caps and many others do not.

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Remember: Burt Bacharach lied. What the world really needs now is an undo button.

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Tim WilsonRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 31, 2008 at 4:44:17 am

[Todd Terry] "I've been surprised at how well the average Joe off the street can be at prompter reading... not always, but pretty darn often."

I once told such a Joe to try and stop moving his eyes so much....and he absolutely nailed the next take. Pretty cool.

Tim Wilson
Associate Director,
Associate Publisher, Creative Cow Magazine!

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Jason JenkinsRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 8:06:26 pm

I really dislike reading all-caps myself and would never use them (except maybe on a big sign made for a protest or rally or something). I've noticed that if the talent uses a little head movement while reading, it helps to disguise the eye movement.

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Trey GregoryRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 30, 2008 at 8:14:21 pm

I definitely agree with everyone who mentioned distance.

I've found that putting more distance between the talent and the prompter is the best solution to 'soften' lateral eye movement.

If your situation allows, get the prompter as far away from the talent as you can without causing them to strain to see the screen.

hope it helps!

Trey Gregory
ECG Productions - Atlanta
HD Production and Post

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Steve WargoRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 31, 2008 at 5:33:42 am

When we have to work up close, we use our 6" prompter instead of the larger one.

That being said, we did some tests one day when we were bored silly and had four people read the same prompter feed. One looked like he was reading, the others did not. When we reviewed the test later, the noticable(sp) one was all over the place and simply exaggerated his movements.

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .

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Timothy J. AllenRe: Poll: Teleprompter tricks?
by on Jul 31, 2008 at 6:44:56 pm

... another solution might be to use an ear prompter in place of a teleprompter. While they wouldn't work for real newscast (since you already have the TD screaming in your other ear!), I've some good experiences with them in scripted video production.


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