What does an Autocue operator do?
The performance of presenters and newsreaders is down, in no small part, to the skills of an Autocue operator.
Autocue operators control the teleprompter on studio shows and some location shoots. Autocue is a tradename for a teleprompter, which is why operators are more commonly known as Autocue operators, or simply Autocue. A teleprompter is a device that attaches to a video camera and displays the script on a screen for someone looking at the camera to read. The Autocue operator controls the speed at which the words scroll down the screen so that the person reading it can speak continuously while still looking into the camera. This makes it appear as though the presenters are speaking without a script, or from memory, which is more engaging than looking down at a piece of paper.
Before a show, Autocue operators format the computer files of scripts to be displayed correctly on the prompter and operate a computer that’s linked to the prompter during a recording. They check with the presenter what font size they would prefer and, during rehearsals, assess the speed of their delivery so they can move the script down at the right speed.
During recording or live broadcasts, the order of a show will often change at the last minute; if a guest is late, for example, or there is breaking news. In many cases, they may have to transcribe things to the prompter script or make last-minute adjustments. They work while listening to ‘talkback’, which is the conversations between the director, producer, script supervisor and presenters during a show, and also relay messages themselves in this way. They also need to keep an eye on email for any written changes from the producer. Depending on the production, they may need to print off changed scripts for the rest of the crew. They are expected to notice if something’s been misread during production and let the director know as soon as possible.
After a show, they often draft a final copy of the script for production to keep on file. Sometimes they work in a gallery, other times on a studio floor out of sight of cameras. They are employed by production companies or studios and can be staff or freelance.
What’s an Autocue operator good at?
- Language: write spoken English in the style delivered by different presenters on different programmes, recognise and amend mistakes in the script or in the presenter’s delivery
- Timing: type quickly and clearly, make live or last-minute script changes, operate the teleprompter at the right speed for the presenter
- Listening: be aware of what is happening during a production and respond, make changes quickly and efficiently.
- Being calm: do your job in a high-pressure, sometimes live, fast-paced and changing TV environment
- Teleprompter technologies: have a full understanding of the prompting hardware and software