I’ve seen a lot of changes in the teleprompter industry.
When I first started, a teleprompter was mostly limited to the studio. I used my client’s crazy proprietary “remote” teleprompter system that would give a composite video out, but only display to the operator 3 tiny lines of text. So, I learned to be veeeeery focused. As a bonus, if you went backwards, it would crash and require a reboot.
When I got fed up using other people’s gear, I bought my own system. It was an Apple Powerbook 180, running Quickprompt by Marietta Designs. Prompting with a laptop computer? That was high tech! I fed it into a MirrorImage TP-140, a tank of a CRT (cathode ray tube… the non- flat panel monitors) teleprompter that was very reliable and very heavy. It required a Magliner dolly to transport the massive Thermodyne cases and counterweights, but wow, no downtime, ever… definitely the early stages of portable teleprompters.
I upgraded to a Powerbook 5300cs, followed by a Powerbook G3 Series, a Lombard, a Pismo (my favorite Apple ever), a couple black Macbooks, G4 12″ (I still have some as backups.) We currently use 11″ Macbook Air units for my team while my personal machine is a 13″ Macbook Retina display.
Note, this post was written in 2014, I’ll be writing an updated piece with the gear we use now, soon.
Teleprompter software went through changes as well.
I ran Quickprompt until OSX came around, and then moved to Magicscroll. Marietta Designs was working on ScrollTrain, which was their OSX teleprompter software, that would be capable of showing JPEG graphics as well. Sadly, they moved on to other projects, and ScrollTrain never made it to beta… I used Magicscroll until it stopped updating. I finally found a worthy successor: Presentation Prompter. I like it because it’s updated regularly and yes, it uses JPEG graphics. More on why I love that option for teleprompting, in another post.
For prompter hardware, I’ve liked MirrorImage over the years. I currently own two 15″ units, and two 12″ units. One is a highbright unit with monitors by Boland Communications. I modified all of these to balance quicker, extended the mirror angle options, and increased the mirror size for the 12″ units to 15″ hoods. You can see all my current teleprompter gear on my Camera Mount Teleprompter page and look through the various systems.
Building a custom prompter
When I was asked to teleprompt in conjunction with a film camera with massive matte box, I built a custom trapezoid prompter with a soft hood on the back, similar to the old wet plate cameras of the 1800s. I also inherited three QTV prompter hoods from the CRT days and retrofitted them to LCD monitors. Because of the metal hoods and large sheets of glass, these are still heavy units, but I modified the mounting hardware for quick setup and freestanding options.
I also bought a very well machined QTV master series PSP8 that I fell in love with at NAB. I swapped out the monitor, then added a pair of handgrips and a shoulder mount for handheld shooting. I’ve since been supplied with a several PRomptBox units, both VGA and tablet based. These are great since they fit to the shoe or 1/4″ of a camera.
I built my own presidential or speech prompters system years ago, with clamps and mirrors from MirrorImage. I later purchased a great outdoor presidential system from them, that I’ve modified for quicker and lighter setup, and also some windproof options.
When I saw the need for a robotic rise and fall presidential teleprompter system, I asked my brother, Thom, who is a robotics and mechanical engineer for help. Together we designed and he manufactured our TeleStepper. It’s gone through three versions and been used by Michelle Obama, various Senators, Lucasfilm, Chevron Corp., UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Dr Oz among others. I’m proud to announce it’s now for sale.
When I first did an Interrotron rig for Birkenstock, I immediately recognized the need for an HD option. So, I purchased a 20″ Boland highbright monitor to interface with the QTV hoods and pair with my 12″ HD unit and made my first Interrotron.
I also have a great Teradek video system for teleprompting with Steadicam or handheld. Plus I have all sorts of gizmos and other odd size prompters that I’ve custom built or modified for special situations.
I also own a couple EyeDirect and VoxBox units which make for riveting interviews.
All this equipment is available for rental, and in some cases, like our TeleStepper, for purchase.