The TelePrompTer’s Oath
The camera rolls, and now my work begins
It shall not end until “that’s a wrap” is called
I shall stand steadfast at my post
I am the sword that makes memorization unnecessary
I am the shield that guards against the stumbled word
My name is Bryton
And I am a Teleprompter Operator.
Teleprompter? What is THAT? Imagine a sort of “digital cue card,” helping performers and presenters deliver their lines to the camera without having to memorize massive blocks of speech. How many times have you seen a newsman, pitchman, salesman, or politician look you right in the eye (well, through your television) and give you the straight story, delivered with sincerity and gravitas? You can likely thank a teleprompter for that.
Let’s take a look at your evening news. The anchors, meteorologists, and sports jocks have to read approximately thirty minutes of speech per broadcast, maybe three or four different times a day, all while maintaining perfect hair. Memorizing this would be impossible, especially considering that stories develop and expand throughout the day, sometimes changing even during the broadcast. Reading from sheets of paper on their desk would look unprofessional and get in the way of the important eye-contact with the viewer at home, and simply making up the stories is frowned upon in most media markets.
Basically, they need to be able to read the speech as they see it, and the words need to be near the camera so their eyes never falter. Cue cards have served this purpose well over the years, but come with several disadvantages. Cue cards are written by hand, which makes it more difficult to make changes on the fly. Cue cards need to be set to the side of the camera, which can throw off the presenter’s sight line, and it’s possible that you could see the presenter’s eyes moving as they read along.
In the 1950s an actor named Fred Barton Jr. stood up and bravely said “No more!” and with several others developed the basic concept of the teleprompter. This idea was further perfected by a fellow named Jess Oppenheimer, the creator and head-writer of I Love Lucy. He created the “in-the-lens” teleprompter which allowed America’s favorite couple Lucy and Desi read commercials directly to the camera.
BUT HOW DOES IT WORK?
I apologize if this is too technical: but it works with wires and computers and a magic mirror.
A teleprompter device is mounted over the lens of the camera. Words are reflected from a horizontal computer monitor onto a slanted two-way mirror (two-way mirrors: not just for police interrogations!) The camera is able to film through the mirror, and the words are reflected out to the presenter. This is where the real star of the show comes in. The hero of the entire production. Me. The teleprompter operator. The presenter needs to be comfortable reading those words, and the teleprompter operator needs to make sure the words scroll by at a pace that works for the presenter, using one of mankind’s oldest tools: a knob. Picture a shiny silver knob like the kind on your dad’s fancy stereo that he didn’t want you messing with when you were three years old. Spin that knob too fast and the presenter gets lost and possibly angry. Too slow and the whole production fails. This is precisely why I, Bryton, Teleprompter Operator, consider teleprompter operating the single most important job on the set.
Although the director, the sound-person, the DP, the talent, or any of the other hard working folks that run a film shoot might disagree with me.
But the next time you’re watching your evening news and the anchor with the perfect hair is informing you of an everyday household item that could kill you and your pets, know that sitting in the dark, spinning a knob, delivering those words to that anchor, is a lonely, unsung Teleprompter Operator.