A long-standing supplier partnership based on trust
A few days ago I was at PORTAPROMPT, our prompter manufacturer located in London. I love to take a tour of their workshops, it is here where our headliner equipment is made piece by piece.
Quasar monitors, Obama fixed prompters and MCGs (the motorised presidential prompter) are all born at Portaprompt, our hardware partner supplier for the past 15 years.
Arriving at their headquarters, you immediately get an all too known sense of familiarity. The Portaprompt team knows one another extremely well and has worked together for over 30 years.
Helen and Miles are the children of Portaprompt founder Mr Kingsbury, which he established back in September 1976.
A prompter company that is approaching half a century in business and has been an Emmy Awards (National Academy of Television arts & sciences – USA) recipient in January 2010 for its “Pioneering Development in Electronic Prompting”.
CLINTON vs OBAMA
The prompter, as I knew it 30 years ago, has changed a lot.
On the one hand, by the advances in technology, and on the other hand with the introduction of computers in the workplace and in prompting.
We attribute the name “Clinton’ to the presidential prompter system with mirrors, as it was the former American president Bill Clinton who first used it and made it so popular.
New president, new name for the same device, the “Obama”.
Barack Obama was very proud to show that he was using motorised prompter stands and this was THE point he appreciated the most; the mirrors rising automatically as he walked to his lectern to speak.
Prehistory was yesterdayhier
The teleprompter has come a long way over the last 30 years, going back that far when a prompter resembled more like a roll of white paper, stuck together with adhesive tape, and of course a rather poor ally for correcting the texts: Tipp Ex.
I like to say that this transformation was one of the highlights at the turn of the century: the passage from using a “paper prompter” to a “computerised prompter” version with the added possibility of being able to use a USB key to transfer documents.
Admittingly, it may not make me feel any younger to have told you about my encounter with this first prompter technology! And yet, I already had to be very quick with the scissors and the tape to be able to adapt as quickly as possible to the unavoidable “text changes”.
THE PROMPTER: a profession based on trust
Our profession, like so many others, is based on trust. Trust in the person who is scrolling the text, the talent of the person that scrolls the text, as it passes first into the hands of an operator who will adjust the speed second by second to adapt it to the speaker’s rate of speech and inspiration.
I have seen hands shake and grip the scroller ever so tightly. It takes a certain amount of composure and experience to stay focused on a scrolling text, a text which can be altered by the speaker with the slightest demand and without warning.
Only those who have held and used the scroll wheel in their hands at least once in their lives can understand what I mean.
Only those who have held and used (?) the wheel in their hands at least once in their lives can understand the feeling of time stopping when the LIVE show starts and the prompter guides the show.
But the human being who bears this responsibility without the right to make mistakes is not just anyone. This person is a prompter operator, and he or she has been trained for this.
Training, as you can imagine, prepares them for much more than just “turning a dial”!
In the same way that the proper performance of the prompter depends on a person who is trained and prepared to take on this kind of responsibility with zero margin for error, the technical part is just as important.
The prompter operator must be able to rely on an indispensable ally in order to carry out his task properly: his prompter hardware.
From the PC to the software, from the scroll wheel to the prompter monitor, from the SDI cable to the remote control that assures the motorised Obamas, everything, absolutely everything, must work perfectly.
A flaw in one of the links in the chain and the operator’s work, however good it may be, can go down the drain, just as much as for the speaker taking the floor .
This is the complexity of the task and the importance of this strategic and crucial choice, in other words deciding WHAT MATERIAL TO USE ?
In the more than 20 years that I have been working in the field I have come across, have experienced and have learned in depth about all the different types of prompter equipment.
From price-attractive equipment coming from far away countries to tailor-made equipment manufactured piece by piece in a neighbouring country.
I remember when I went to Portaprompt for the first time I came back with my first ever Obama’s FIXED teleprompter kit complete with 2 monitors from the Quasar range. (As a client had strongly advised me to equip myself with this system, knowing full well my “perfectionist” tendencies!).
Although the equipment technology has changed over time, the way things are done remains the same: that is to say monitors are still connected to our master pc to transmit the prompter signal and adjust the scrolling speed according to the speaker’s rate of speech.
You won’t believe me if I tell you that I still have this kit and these 2 monitors, although they are a bit tired now they work perfectly. Grateful for their wonderful track record and performance, I decided they could retire at our head office, where these pieces of equipment enjoy a leisurely pace and are only setup when we have visitors around and want to demonstrate how an “Obama” teleprompter really works.
Being able to rely on professionals who understand our business
Our business is constantly changing. Every day there is a new service and new challenges, even if the devices used are always or almost the same.
Every day the reputation of a prompter operator is at stake. So for me the luxury is to be able to rely on solid equipment made by professionals who know my job inside and out: that is to say a job that comes with no margin for error.
The operator has to be as invisible as possible, it is rarely a good sign if the audience sees the operator as it generally means that there must have been a problem somewhere!
I know the reliability of PORTAPROMPT equipment better than anyone else in France because I was the first to use it in this country. We have been working together for more than 15 years and this has given rise to our solid relationship.
First of all, a relationship of trust, because Portaprompt provides me with what I expect from equipment and matches my performance.
Then, as the years went by and the number of services I carried out required me to equip myself with more devices, my formidable UK supplier became my true partner. So this partnership came about quite naturally: Solutions Prompteur became the official Portaprompt dealer for all of France.
A professional relationship spanning 15 years, yes such is the trust I have in them for their reliable hardware needed to carry out our services.
It is this proven and unfailing quality, i.e. more than 3,500 successful prompter jobs done, which also contribute to the quality of our services.
Life can be as stressful as it is magical. I would like to thank Helen, Jon, Jim, Steve, Dave, Miles and the entire Portaprompt team for their mutual trust and for their great contribution to the world of prompters.
And I whole-heartingly cherish this genuine encounter.
Today I salute the values of our profession and thank those relationships that have contributed to each of us becoming better in our field and profession.
All of this is to the great benefit of our clients and users, but also of our surroundings in general.
Although neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama are ambassadors of the presidential teleprompter today, you can still see the Obama teleprompter at the lectern on stages all around the world. Lucia Arribas – Founder of Solutions Prompteur