1849 Redhawk Circle
Turlock, CA 95382
We wouldn’t consider a teleprompter to be an essential piece of gear, in the same way we would a tripod or light kit. Still, we’ve found that a teleprompter is one of the easiest pieces of gear for novice actors to use. Truly professional talent may be able to memorize a script and repeat it naturally or improvise what you need, but nearly everyone can read. If you are getting hoarse saying “Cut. Try it again.” a teleprompter may be what you need for one-take shoots.
The JonyPrompter rig consists of an LCD monitor, a piece of glass, some light baffles and a sturdy mounting plate. Setup is uncomplicated, but you will definitely want to read the instructions, since you’ll have quite a lot of expensive gear (including your camcorder) balanced on the top of your tripod. Which brings us to a very important point about the JonyPrompter: you absolutely need a heavy-duty, rock stable tripod for this rig (call Jony for a recommendation). Don’t skimp on the tripod. A good one will last a lifetime, so it is a worth-while investment.
The balance is delicate, but the product is solid. The first time we set it up, it took us an hour, but we were being extra careful. Subsequent setups took less than 15 minutes.
Besides your own camcorder, you will also need a basic computer to run your teleprompter software. You can purchase the JonyPrompter bundled with appropriate teleprompter software, but any teleprompter software will work. We used Inteliprompter ($249) for Windows, a straightforward but competent software title that ran smoothly even on an ancient 450MHz laptop. Sometimes, during a rehearsal, your talent will want to make a minor adjustment to the text: this is possible right in the software. We connected a Professional Handheld Speed Controller ($199) to our laptop. This gave the prompter a completely professional feel. On the other hand, we found that a cheap mouse was more than adequate to control the software smoothly.
Once it is setup, actual use is about as simple as possible. We definitely recommend that you allow your talent to run through the segment before you roll tape, maybe even a couple of rehearsals, but this is the perfect time to make your final lighting adjustments anyhow. If your talent has never used a prompter before (a very common situation), they should be able to get used to the prompter in about five minutes.
Some folks won’t like using the prompter, but we’ve found that many people will be much more comfortable reading their text than just adlibbing or reading off cue cards. The text is very large and readable from almost 20 meters by someone with good vision, although 3-6 meters will be a typical range for talking-head shots. The number of characters in a line is small, so you won’t notice the talent’s eyes scanning back and forth as they read.
Reading lines may seem artificial to some, but the vast majority of your subjects will be more natural and relaxed using a prompter than any other way. No matter how close you get your cue cards to the camera, it is pretty easy to tell that someone is not looking directly at the camera when they are reading the cards (instead of just using them for cues). Even when using the fabulous Visual Communicator Pro software (very favorably reviewed in the August 2003 issue) and a laptop right next to the camera, you can tell that the talent isn’t looking right at the camera. With a little practice, a proper prompter placed in front of the camera does the trick.
We tried the prompter in a number of lighting situations. The light baffles kept light off of the prompter’s glass in nearly every situation. If the high-quality glass degraded the camera’s image in any way, we weren’t able to detect it.
Also, it won’t hurt to disable your camcorder’s tally light. There’s probably a menu option you can activate to turn it off, or you can always stick a small piece of gaffer’s tape to the little red LED.
One final addition to our kit was a $300 Pelican case with custom inserts that even has a spot for your laptop. This will bring the total package price (Jony-Prompter with LCD, software, controller and case) up to $2,248.
If you already have a small LCD panel and teleprompting software, the barebones package is $1,250, so this is a pretty significant investment. We have personally found that a prompter can typically cut production time literally in half and can occasionally reduce the shoot by 75%. How much is that worth to you?
D. Eric Franks is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.
Computer: PC or Mac
Tripod: Heavy Duty
Software: requires teleprompter software
Includes: main support platform & standoffs, camera support platform, mounting bolts, 2 adjustable monitor sling straps, fold-down beamsplitter mirror and hinged frame, black material shroud with elastic lined lens opening, 15″ LCD color VGA flat panel, 6′ VGA cable & AC power supply, beef jerky
For about $1,700, the JonyPrompter is a professional tool that makes a difference in production.