A lot of this will be old hat for those of you who are experienced but some of it may be of interest to new comers or occasional operators.

First agree a comfortable font size and style for the presenter. Don’t make the font too big – the presenter may like it but above a certain size there aren’t enough characters per line. The operator has to scroll the text very quickly to keep up with the presenter. This isn’t in itself a problem but it does make it very difficult for the presenter to make sense of each sentence with minimal “read ahead”. Rather than make the font too big it would be better to change the shot so that the camera is closer and use a normal size or, as a last resort, call for larger monitors. By normal size that would be 4 or 5 lines of text 25 characters wide, which would give you 3 to 5 words per line – similar to the example above.

When you start scrolling the text for the presenter use the cue marker on the left of the prompt track screen as your reference point. Try and keep the words that are being spoken hovering around this marker. It doesn’t have to be a rigid, jerky, scroll. Keep it at smooth as you can, and sometimes you won’t even have to make any speed change for complete sentences. However there are many ways of subtly helping the presenter, if there are gaps in the script you can gently accelerate the scroll to the next text. A slight pause at the beginning of a new sentence can help the presenter hold the sense of the sentences. Give a slight hesitation if there is a tricky word, or a place where the presenter had a problem in rehearsal. Watch out that you don’t start reading the text at your speed instead of following the presenter’s pace. You should be just a beat behind so that the presenter never feels that you are pushing up the speed. That is why it is up to the presenter to dictate the pace. The operator cannot force a pace without breaking the bond of trust, and that goes both ways! But if that trust is lost there is no hierarchy which makes it difficult to know who is following whom – and that’s when it becomes dangerous! That dreadful “I’m following them following me” loop – a scroll to disaster!

The prompt operator is there for the presenter and can help in several ways. In rehearsals the script can be personalised, typically I am into I’m or it is into it’s, turning the written word into the spoken word which is far less formal. Underline or embolden for emphasis. Put in studio instructions in the appropriate places – SHOW BOOK – or – PUT DOWN BOOK – these instructions may come from the gallery or the floor manager but they all help, even camera changes – TURN CAM 2 -.

Never fail to point out text that doesn’t make sense or seems to put off the presenter so they keep fluffing. It’s far better to sort all these things out once and for all in rehearsal rather than have the recording grind to a halt for re-takes, or worse, an embarrassing moment on a live transmission. Remember that if a fluff is made on air ninety percent of the time you and/or the prompting equipment will get the blame!

In rehearsals, if you are in studio, even if you are not involved that particular bit of the show that is being rehearsed do not turn off and start reading a book or similar. It will be noticed and brought up later if there is a problem or if they suddenly want to rehearse with you and you are not ready! Besides you never know whether there will be something in the rehearsal sequence that might catch you out later. Take an interest rather than turning off, it makes the day go a lot more quickly!

Before recording or transmission check that all the monitors are fired up and producing well adjusted displays and a quick check of all the cables to make sure nobody’s going to trip over one and rip it out of the wall! If all the work has been done in rehearsal the recording or live transmission should proceed as planned, the operator concentrates on the text scrolling and presenting the correct bit of script at the right time. Otherwise the only disturbance would be a technical problem, computer glitch or on-camera prompter going down. These can only be dealt with on the hoof, hopefully the operator can get the computer up and running again or change a monitor in a bit of VT. Most importantly if a problem is noticed or anticipated the sooner the floor manager/gallery know about it the better. Shots or sequences might be changed to allow the problem to be resolved before it goes critical.

After it’s all over the de-rig is straight forward, remove the cables first because often the first thing the cameramen will do is to disconnect the camera cables and put them into the technical store. Then take all the on-camera stuff off and put safely away and lastly de-rig the base station. And then go to the Green room for hospitality and have a well deserved drink!

Posted in: Operate a prompter