If you want to truly learn how to use a teleprompter you can get no better than Darlene Bejnar. She gives you all the intricacies that are involved when using a teleprompter from what to do with your eyes, how to connect with the viewer, the use of gestures and so much more.
Darlene’s been teaching teleprompter and industrial scripts at SAG-AFTRA’s Conservatory for over 20 years – beginning as an assistant to Larry Gorodkin, who donated the first teleprompter equipment for the Studio.
If you are a member of SAG-AFTRA (or hope to be one day) and are not familiar with the conservatory then you are going to want to take advantage of this membership opportunity. For just $35 a year you can take one class a week from one of the 15-20 teachers who donate their time teaching everything from Cold Readings to Monologues, Auditions for Commercials, Acting Techniques, Teleprompter and even Voice-over and Writing classes. Darlene is the one who teaches Teleprompter Technique.
Her background began in musical theatre, but eventually she worked in industrials, commercials, film and television projects. She’s been involved on many levels in various aspects of acting and production, including several years working her way up from production assistant to a vice president for an industrial and audio/visual production company (before she started teaching at SAG and now SAG-AFTRA) and as a producer for a top ten Fringe Festival play just a few short years ago. Darlene also does private coaching.
In the classroom
In her classes, Darlene is soft spoken yet direct with the knowledge she shares. Her suggestions are very specific and she deals with every aspect and type from commercials to industrials. When you leave that class you will feel like you have learned a lot and her words will continue to repeat themselves in your brain.
For those who don’t understand what an over-the-camera teleprompter is, it is a specially treated glass that reflects the script from a monitor in front of the camera that is synced to a computer operated by a teleprompter professional. The teleprompter operator follows the talent, very much like an accompanist with a singer. Stage teleprompters are a piece of the specially treated glass attached to a thin rod connected to a monitor on the floor which is synced to the operator’s computer and is used by speakers for conferences and other events (usually used in pairs so the speaker can look left and right).
While this may be the teleprompter of today Darlene’s memories go back to a time when they were quite different.
“My first teleprompter experience was when I did my first SAG contract for an industrial film. The script was typed on a paper roll with a special typewriter, and if any corrections needed to be made they were written on masking tape put over the paper roll,” she remarked.
“When I started teaching and coaching I began on DOS software based systems, working with both the on-camera teleprompter (as used in the conservatory class) and the stage system (like the President uses).
“Now the conservatory has a Windows based teleprompter software that has adjustable font sizes and colors, which is particularly useful for the more advanced scripts that need specific cues in the script for gestures used for website programs and other specific industrial uses,” Darlene commented.
Learning from Darlene
For those who feel they can rely on the teleprompter for cold reading, they would be wrong because preparation and an understanding of the copy is key.
“You don’t have to memorize the script but you do have to learn it,” Darlene emphasized during one of her sessions. “You still need to do all the other acting preparation.”
Darlene explained the importance of pace and not to get into the habit of reading too fast for fear of losing your words. “Know that you are in control,” she emphasized. “Many times when you first start you are not used to reading words that are moving. You can stop, you can slow down, you are in control,” she emphasized.
And have you ever noticed that people using a teleprompter blink a lot. That’s so you don’t look like a deer in headlights. However, Darlene did note that when you are first starting to learn to read from a teleprompter, just take one or two steps at a time until you are comfortable with them.
“It’s a lot to coordinate when you first start out -- a bit like patting your head, rubbing your belly, dancing a jig and singing all at the same time.”
As Darlene explained, “If you are blinking it is going to look a lot more natural and not like you are reading.” And with that remark she encouraged us to now “observe television, don’t just watch television.”
What works for someone else may not work for you. “See what works, see what doesn't work, observe. See how you can apply it to the work you are doing. One thing you won’t have to worry about is where to look. If you are reading the script you will already be looking into the camera lens,” she continued.
A few more pointers and the art of being natural
As in every acting class there is a consistency in the questions you must always ask yourself and the same goes for working with a teleprompter. They include:
• Who are you talking to?
• Why are you talking to them?
• What is happening the moment before you start the conversation?
• What is your moment after?
Many often forget that last one, that moment after. Instead their script is finished and so are they. However, what you need to do is take an extra few seconds to acknowledge what your next thought would be after you say your last word.
Darlene further explained, “You don’t speak it out loud but you should be thinking it. You want to be present. Until they say cut, thank you or you know that the recording has stopped; stay present.”
Darlene then started to give us some pointers (literally) such as to be judicious about pointing with one finger. “If you must, only point when you really need to, and only once per script. People don’t like to be pointed at. Use two fingers, a knuckle, a thumb, or a whole hand,” she explained.
Also, be aware of how you are being framed on camera. “If you are doing an extreme close-up the person is very close to you but as the frame gets larger the person moves further away. The further away they are the larger you can be with the gestures. If you are full frame that person is on the other side of the classroom,” she explained.
The topic then turned to the audition and making yourself stand out. “Everybody can do a good read and all “good reads” sound alike, but if you can make the script your own that will distinguish you from the other people who are auditioning for the role,” Darlene commented. “Find ways to make it personal and conversational so you can “own” each and every script.”
To do that Darlene suggested that we imagine casting one of our friends in the role of the person we are speaking to. In rehearsal, imagine different people to see which one works best for you.
Industrial film scripts are the most difficult to do because basically you are given nothing but the words and so you have to create the life of that person and who you are (especially in the audition).
Darlene continued to emphasize the fact that it’s always a dialogue – you need to see how the person you are talking to is reacting to you so you can do the next line.
That little bag of tricks
Darlene has a bag of tricks to help you along the way. "Fred" is a little beanbag with a face that she tosses to you and you have to toss back while reading the script. That helps different people in different ways, but generally you will be more natural as you read the copy.
"Crazy Eddie" is all about warming up to get the script into your body. I watched as Darlene went crazy racing and shouting through the script while crazily moving her body in all different ways.
“This exercise opens your voice. It opens your body. It helps get the kinks out,” she explained. After doing this exercise you can then be a normal person without all that extra nervous stuff that holds us back – you’re more grounded and relaxed,” she continued.
“If you have been sitting a while a lot of times your energy drains through your butt. The exercise gets the energy flowing again and gets you in touch with your whole body.”
For those who start off like a runaway train sparking on the tracks, Crazy Eddie has the opposite effect in that it helps siphon off the excess energy so you can get to a more normal pace. It helps you be in the moment.”
Watching Darlene in action for the three and one-half hours that the class lasted was a real eye opener. Here she was giving of her time and offering so much. It was clear that as each one of us performed we were the focus of her attention and guiding us to be better teleprompter actors was what it was all about.
Some final thoughts
As the session neared the end Darlene reminded us of some of the key points we need to remember when working with a teleprompter.
-Speak to just one person because then each of the thousands of people watching will feel like you are talking to them and it keeps them involved.
-For commercials you usually don’t use a lot of gestures, however, for industrials you gesture more. And in order to give yourself a variety of gestures, observe talk shows. Try out some of the various gestures you can use. After you introduce the new physical vocabulary into your body it will pick what it wants to use based on your personality, but variety is the key.
-As actors you need to find a comfortable way to stand – weight on the balls of your feet, knees flexed, then for some people it is keeping your feet shoulder width apart or for others one foot in front of the other. Find out what works for you.
-Don’t wear white clothing or hold a script on white paper for the audition. Bring something like a gray cardboard to put behind the script because white reflects light and it will upstage you (your skin cannot compete with a white paper). You want the auditors’ eyes to be on you. Also be careful with patterns.
And there you have it, an incredible fun-filled class guiding you on how to work with teleprompters.
If you are SAG-AFTRA and want to experience her classes in person at the time of this article she teaches on Fridays (except the third Friday of the month) from 1:00 until 4:30 PM.
For more information visit the SAG-AFTRA web site at SAG-AFTRA.org/NYConservatory and to know more about Darlene go to Darlene Bejnar at LinkedIn.