Recently I shot a short video which involved about 20 interviews. I do a lot of interviews for my work, and I’m consistently frustrated by the fact that people never look at the camera. Now, I know that most people are intimidated by cameras, but as a filmmaker it is necessary that they address “the viewer” not the guy behind the machine, and I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make them look at the lens and not me. I use tape. I hide behind walls. I try to disappear. None of it works all that well.
Of course, the best-known solution to this problem is the Interrotron invented by Errol Morris. The diagram to the right shows how it works, and the basic setup is that the subject of the interview is not allowed to see the camera because it’s hidden behind a teleprompter on which the interviewer’s face is visible. So the subject feels as if they are talking to the interviewer, but really they are talking to the camera.
I’ve looked into buying a teleprompter, but they are prohibitively expensive. The cheapest use an iPad as the source of the text/image, and those run about $200. Full systems are in the thousands.
To me, this is ridiculous, since a teleprompter is really just a bit of mirrored glass, a frame to hold it at an angle, and an image source — like my iPad. Poking around online, I found some ideas and decided to make my own teleprompter. It cost me under $40, and I mostly used junk I found in my basement. Here’s how I did it. Feel free to use this as a guide, or innovate on this scheme if you need.
What I used:
- a box frame from IKEA (this was laying around the house unused; probably $5 in the store)
- glass from a 2nd IKEA box frame
- small hinges ($2.97 at Home Depot)
- L bracket (from the basement; ~$1)
- window privacy kit, mirrored ($19.97 at Home Depot)
- 1″ plastic plug ($.87 at Home Depot)
- Gorilla glue (this should be in every home)
- Gaffer’s tape (you already own this, right?)
- scrap black foam core
- a random bolt (from the basement)
- black spray paint (also from the basement; my former neighbor paid $3.99 according to the sticker)
So this was my first attempt. It works really well and is very stable on the light stand. I found that I needed to change my exposures by about 2 stops, so more light will be required for good exposures, but overall it is a very simple and efficient box. When I use it for projects I’ll probably throw a black cloth over the whole unit to block even more light.
So there you have it. A box frame from IKEA, some privacy film from Home Depot and a few hinges and tape — and now I have a teleprompter. A good use of a Wednesday, in my opinion.