The old days of teleprompting

A history lesson on teleprompters from the early 90’s…

Instead of today’s bright, lightweight LCD monitors that you can use outside in the sun, running off your iPad or laptop… I learned how to do this on paper scrolls and heavy CRT monitors.

Actually, that’s not entirely true… here’s the story. The place where I was interning circa 1991, loaned me out to neighboring production house. They put me in the role that no one wanted to do: the dreaded, boring role of a teleprompter operator.

So, they showed me their old paper-scroll dinosaur. Someone would type or hand write the script on a very long seamless roll of paper. This paper would be scrolled by hand or motor in front of a macro lens video camera. This image would get fed to the flickery CRT monitors for the talent to read. Editing was simple: cross out the words with a Sharpie, use Whiteout or tape a new scrap of paper on top of the existing scroll paper.

Instead of that dinosaur, the production house was proud of their new purchase, a field teleprompter computer!! It was heavy, awkward and definitely not mass produced. This was built like a tank and used proprietary software. It connected to a keyboard and had outputs for connecting to the same blinky CRT monitors… but this was computerized!!! You could edit it!!! Sorta. And since it was not a sexy but rather time consuming job with little prestige… it fell to the intern to operate it. :/

Welcome to the future of teleprompting, my young friend!

Here’s an old card I found of my cheat sheet for running the software. You had to type the script into the keyboard. Technically, you could load in an ASCII file from a disc that you wrote on another computer, but that was torture and often times useless. The screen that you could see, both for editing and scrolling live, was three lines by about 20 characters in a dull, glowy LED characters. The bug was if you scrolled backwards in edit mode more than three lines, it would crash the whole system and need rebooting. Basically, as the young college kid, I had defacto become the on-set computer geek that beat the cutting edge high tech into submission, or vice versa…

LED Matrix Neil

There was no battery powered version, and no monitors that were readable outside anyway… but we could now take this out of the studio! Which was revolutionary. And throwing the intern at it, allowed me to get my foot in the door and choose a career that I now love.

Thanks Murphy Film Group and Cal Image Associates for taking me on and placing me where no one else wanted to go. That sort of logic has persisted in my life: do the thing no one else wants to do, and become the expert at it.