Why did I superimpose teleprompter text over the Director’s face?

I’ve wanted to try superimposing teleprompted script over a person’s face for years.

It made sense: put the words for the talent to read as usual, but also to see the friendly face of the director to nod, smile or just be the focus. It’s the combination of an Interrotron, VoxBox or EyeDirect with a traditional teleprompter. I never found the right mixer between VGA signal and the video feed, so it was a back shelf idea. However, I finally got asked to make it happen. It was for an interview where a number of employees were reading from a script and the Director needed to be remote in another room.

My client Photon wanted to be able to have eye contact with the talent, rather than only the stark black and white text. We supplied our standard Interrotron system of two HD teleprompters and an HD camcorder. We also added a Roland VR-3 AV mixer so that we could combine the video image of the director with the teleprompted script. I liked the VR-3 because it was small and powerful. It took the VGA signal and keyed it over the video signal before feeding it to the talent to see. It also had a small built-in monitor to show the source and effect preview. 

Before showing up, I did a proof of concept.

Once we got to set, we determined that some employees liked it, and others felt it was distracting. With the VR-3, we easily tuned the levels from one position to the other depending on each employee’s taste.

The director was able to get better results with individuals, depending on the positions, whether full face, full text or the combo.

The director sat in another room, away from the employees in their recording booth. To the employees, who hadn’t been on camera before, it was normal to look into a teleprompter and see the image morph from director to their script. We did the shift depending on whether it was a word-for-word portion, bullet points or when the director needed to add some direction. The key to all this was being able to rapidly make the shift.

Thanks to Photon for providing the challenge, and much praise to the Roland VR-3 for being an affordable solution. In the interest of having less stuff to lug around, I am kind of curious if there’s some superimpose software or a superimpose app that could do the same in real time… I really liked the option for the director’s face to pop back and forth on the screen. It allowed for reassurance and communication, but it also reduced the “cold machine” feeling that some people have for prompters and cameras.

Update: We since upgraded to a BON BVS-100 and now a BlackMagic Atem Mini although the Roland would still be an adequate solution.