What is the purpose of your production? Are you capturing a moment or capturing the information? This is one of the primary questions to consider when setting out to shoot a production. It’s also a driving force in determining whether or not to use a teleprompter. There are both benefits and compromises to using such a wonderfully frustration-saving device. However, it is not ideal for all situations.
Empathy vs legalese
If you want to capture emotion and inspire empathy from your talent, you can most likely dismiss using a prompter. At best you’re gonna get — remember the soap operas? That. Reading every word off of a screen will rarely result in a genuine performance. On the other hand, if your script is full of essential details where every word must be precise, it’s a device you probably can’t do without. The system excels when your talent’s wording needs to be accurate and straight up. This is especially true if you intend on presenting your information uncut and without camera changes.
Possible teleprompter challenges
There are a ton of practical reasons, as well as pros and cons of using a prompter. If your talent is close to the camera, you’re going to see the eye movement. Likewise, consider that your talent may have vision impairments. They may be too far away to read a teleprompter no matter how big the text. Are you planning an extreme wide shot? Your prompter will turn from help to hindrance the moment you need to place it so close that it’s in the shot.
Another consideration is scheduling and budget. Do you even have the resources to set up and run a teleprompter? Indeed, it can actually be a huge time-eater in a small production when you lack the crew to properly oversee its use.
Do it properly, or properly don’t
There are compromises and helpful cheats of course. Ideally, no one would ever need a prompter. Ideally, you finalized your script far in advance and your talent got plenty of rest the night before. Things are never ideal. The very reason teleprompters exist is that your talent doesn’t always have enough time to memorize all the content.
Proper blocking will prevent most technical issues.
Proper blocking will prevent most technical issues. Place the camera and/or prompter as far away as possible so eye movement is less noticeable. If they must get close, make the text area as small as possible. Place it as close to the center of the lens as you can. Little tips like this are great for recording via webcams and the like.
Suppose though that they may just need a simple nudge in the right direction. Perhaps you can get away with keywords or bullets instead of scrolling every word. Maybe you could save time and money by using cue cards or a PowerPoint deck.
Finally, consider yet again, the opposite approach. Budget allowing, more than one prompter could be employed. If possible, have the talent only read from it when they are not giving their lines. Remember, teleprompters don’t always need to be in front of the camera lens.
The reality of using a teleprompter
A teleprompter is a device that sounds like it should be an essential time-saver for every production everywhere. However, sometimes it just doesn’t fit the job and may even make the situation worse. Like all tools, don’t take it as a given. Think about both content and constraints and choose your approach wisely. After all, that’s what you were hired for.