Since all monitors by different manufacturers are unique in design make sure you know how to control brightness and contrast and how to switch to/out of mirror image. These functions are not always obvious and rather than simply flicking a switch are often controlled by menu options. It is not a good feeling to be standing by the camera ringing the office on a mobile to find out how to make it brighter – the attendant camera operator would not be impressed…..and it gets the day off to a bad start!

It is very important to make sure the glass of the on-camera prompters is spotlessly clean. Most prompter hoods are relatively open faced which allows a presenter to read it off centre if required, sides to the hood mask the text. Because of the open face the glass is prone to flares which are caused by light hitting smudges on the glass. The prompter glass is literally a two way mirror with, usually, though there are different combinations, 70% transmission and 30% reflection. This combination should not affect the colourimetry of the camera and would lose about half a stop of exposure, well within limits of modern cameras. Generally the surface of the glass that faces the presenter is vacuum coated with a titanium compound. This is a very hard coating and while no abrasives or solvents should ever be used to clean it lens cloths and cleaning fluid are acceptable. However to cut down the risk of light reflecting from the back of the glass back into the camera lens, and reduce the inevitable secondary reflection, the reverse of the mirror is sprayed with a special air drying coating. This is very vulnerable and should be cleaned very carefully with nothing more than a soft cloth and huff and puff. A solvent on this and you end up with a coating of toffee and the glass is ruined. A good way to clean the glass in a maintenance schedule is to use hot water and washing up liquid. This cleans the glass without risk and also as a by product acts as an anti-static agent and reduces static caused when cleaning the glass which attracts dust.

Make sure you know how to change a monitor in case ones goes faulty. One thing all monitors have in common is weight. Some of the larger LCD monitors dressed up with preview monitors, clocks and all sorts of presenter aids are really heavy. Remember that the camera/prompter assembly has been carefully balanced otherwise the fluid pan and tilt head elements won’t work and the cameraman, or robotic head drives, cannot control the camera. If you take a monitor off the front of the camera it will immediately go out of balance and tilt backwards. So before you remove a monitor make sure you lock the tilt. Similarly if the monitor is mounted on a gassed studio ped, this will have been balanced, but vertically this time. If you take off the monitor and you haven’t locked the column, the camera will shoot up to its maximum height! A recipe for disaster.

Most studio cameras nowadays supply power and video to the prompter via the camera cable. Short low voltage and video cables run from the sockets on the camera to the prompter. If the camera is providing a mains supply a transformer will be used to supply 12v dc to the prompter. This can be mounted on the panning handle of the pedestal head to aid balance. Always make sure that the cables are neatly taped down and that there are no loops to get caught.

Sometimes power and/or video are not available from the camera and you will have to run power and video cables from the base station, or directly from a convenient wall box, to the prompter. The same applies whether you are just installing a mains cable or a video cable or both. The quickest way to do this is to uncoil the cables and lay them beside the camera cable, follow it faithfully, under or over any other cables it might cross, then before taping test them! Once you are happy they are working go to the camera end to start taping. Leave enough at the camera to reach the prompt input and the transformer and securely tape the cable at the point where the camera cable enters the camera, just make sure you are not interfering with the release ring. Then put the ped at it’s highest and tape down to the cable clamp, this is to make sure you don’t cable too short and limit the vertical travel of the ped. To tape the cable just start twisting it round the camera cable, just keep wrapping it round until it gets tight and tape here. You will find that if you started wrapping clockwise you will have several anti clockwise turns after the taping point. After taping tighten and proceed wrapping anti-clockwise turns until it gets tight, tape, and tighten and proceed with the next clockwise turns…..and so on until the cable is taped well into the loops of spare cable, just in case the camera suddenly flies off somewhere. You will find the advantage of wrapping the cables like this make for a very easy de-rig – just break the tape points and the cables fall off the camera cable. Once or twice through the day check that the taping is secure.

Posted in: Operate a prompter