*UPDATE: Honing my skills with this prompter that I built actually helped me land a TV hosting gig – as crazy as that sounds…
So following my very rough-around-the-edges-but-extremely-functional DIY iPhone 4 tripod mount prototype, I thought it would be cool to build a small teleprompter to use on my funny news show Things I Learned This Week. Turns out it was much, much easier than I thought it would be. In fact, it was downright simple. All it took was a cheap sample piece of beam-splitting glass, a couple of DVD cases, some duct tape, masking tape and a large square of black cloth cut from the back of an old T-shirt.
And yes, it cost me a total of just under $12.
The 2-way beam splitter glass I got from SeeThroughMirrors. This was the only out-of-pocket expense. I ordered a 4″x4″ sample piece of 70% transparency glass for $6 (plus $5.55 FedEx Ground shipping). I could probably have found a local place to cut me a piece and saved shipping but decided the time and gas saved was worth it. It took about 5 days to get to my door.
In the meantime, I was trying to figure out how to angle-mount the glass. Originally I had drawn up a small sketch of a cube frame I’d make out of 1/2″ PVC but decided to wait. I’m glad I did. I also had an idea of mounting it inside a CD case cover but once I received my sample, I realized that wouldn’t work either. The sample they sent me was actually 6″ x 6″.
Immediately I figured out a way it would work. I duct taped the edges of two DVD cases together to form a square when opened. The glass (I put masking tape on the sharp edges so I wouldn’t slice my fingers handling it) ended up fitting perfectly inside the dimensions of the cube and the small spirals (nipples?) that hold the DVD in place worked perfectly to hold the glass in place at a (near) perfect 45 degree angle. Originally, I was going to affix the glass into place but realized it was being held firmly enough inside the cube that it wouldn’t fall out on its own. Also, this way I could more easily take the glass out for cleaning and storage. What’s actually nice is that when the glass is out, you can actually fold the cube flat for storage/transport as well.
Next, I cut a nice size square off the back of an old black T-shirt in order to drape over the rear of the prompter box (to make the projected text easier to read). Using duct tape, I affixed that over the back in a way that is obviously reminiscent of one of those old daguerreotype box cameras. I also made sure to cut the black cloth long and wide enough to be able to drape over the back of the camera as well.
For the actual prompter, I’m using i-Prompt a FREE teleprompter app for iPhone. What’s cool is that you can email yourself the script and cut and paste it into iPrompt and be up and prompting in minutes flat.
What I noticed when I first tested shooting through my crude teleprompter is that the cube was too long. The sides of the box were getting into the frame so I decided to cut it down. Measuring 2 and 3/8 inches from the edge of the cube to where the furthest forward edge of the glass, I used a ruler and X-acto knife and cut the cube down (first taking the glass out and folding the cube flat). Voila! My next through-lens test showed that I had fixed the problem.
Next step is creating a tripod mount that will hold both the teleprompter and the camera together in a fixed position which means another trip to Loews but I have an idea how that will work and when I have another prototype for that, I’ll post a couple of photos as well.
Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff is the bestselling author of several books including: “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden” and “Where’s My F*cking Latte? (and Other Stories About Being an Assistant in Hollywood)”