It was always going to be one of the most ambitious live TV broadcasts in New Zealand. From the VR graphics to the live statistics, and all live for one hour over five nights. When I was first contacted about providing teleprompters for this production it was looking even more ambitious, with 5 camera-mounted prompters; however this was scaled back during the pre-production to only 2 on-camera and 2 stand-alone monitors once the shoot was moved to a makeshift studio in the middle of a school gymnasium. One on-camera monitor was going to be positioned on a Technocrane and the other on a Jimmy jib. So we did a couple of camera tests to sort out the appropriate rigging, balance and cabling, especially over the distances the Crane would be traveling.
So far, so good. Nothing we haven’t handled before. Then we were asked how easy it was to insert social media comments for the presenters to read that could be inserted in the script within a minute. Again, not really a problem with the Autoscript WinPlus+ software we use- the same system used in the major newsrooms in New Zealand. By having the viewer comments entered into a shared Google Doc open on my laptop it was straightforward to then cut and paste them for immediate automatic update of the script. The only issue looked like being around having the same person editing the script at the same time as scrolling it- not impossible, but not something you want to be doing four times in an hour on live TV.
I’d already decided to have two kits (laptop and scroll box) running at the same time; providing an emergency backup if the main kit went down for any reason. I purchased a $20 composite video switch and fed both systems into this and into the OB van, which in turn fed the cameras and prompters via return CCU. Once I’d established my position in the control station it turned out that the operator who was taking the live viewer comments from Google Drive and feeding them into the on-screen graphics generator was also able to then immediately do the same cut and paste on my B laptop beside her. That meant all I had to do was switch to that laptop during the VT which ran before the presenter’s next sequence, and back to the A system again, at the next break.
Something else I hadn’t tried before was sharing the same script between two systems. Initially I’d planned to use the A system for all editing and then transfer the updated scripts to the B system via thumb drive. But I figured that if both machines were online there was no reason why I couldn’t share a file through Google Drive. That worked fine, but still required downloading the file to the second machine which took time. Then I realised that if I had Google Drive installed on both laptops they could, in fact, both reference the same file which would require no up or downloading at all. I simply reopened the file in WinPlus+ on the B system after any major edit.
I discovered a few issues with Google Drive not updating fast enough- it sometimes required a restart to ‘jog’ the update. I finally established that, as long as I didn’t try and update the file too often- i.e. hit ‘Save’ too quickly after an earlier save, the system worked perfectly.
Another issue we managed to overcome was glare from the brightness of the prompt screen on the glass in front of the camera. Although I usually strip as much non-presenter related information as possible from the prompt, in this case the producers insisted on all no-speaking directions staying in the prompt script as they were using them for graphics cues via the preview multiscreen. Because large areas of the set were dark, any extraneous light, such as these brighter, highlighted areas of scripts, would show up as a glow at the bottom of the camera shot, throwing a bluish cast on the image. Not something the DOP was happy about, as you can imagine. We could lower the brightness and contrast on the prompter monitors but this of course made it harder for the presenters to read their sections- especially over a distance.
When I messaged Autoscript with some questions later in the production they came back with a quite ingenious suggestion for working around the issue- change the colour of the highlighted text areas to a colour that had less luminance. We experimented with text and background colours in these sections and it turned out that a combination of magenta and yellow made the glare almost indistinguishable. It was slightly difficult for a presenter to read on set, but that didn’t matter, their script was still clear – and it was clear enough for the graphics people to see on the preview monitors in front of them. Something for next time.
In the end, my main system only failed once (during the first broadcast) and luckily it was during an ad break. It had happened during rehearsals and turned out to be an issue with Chrome causing Windows to restart- not something you want hanging over you during live shows! Luckily I didn’t need to have it up on that machine once we had Google Drive installed and it never happened again.