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22/01/2018

A Day In The Life Of A Prompting Operator

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Our job is to provide script prompting and operators for conferences, award ceremonies, television programmes and concerts… But nobody knows what we actually do. So I'm going down a different route for this article; I'm going to let you in on the illusive world of a prompting operator.

Let's start with a 'typical' day... already I have hit a hurdle – there are no typical days in this job. One day we'll work on a video shoot for a company director on the 32nd floor of Canary Wharf – the next, we'll be in a breathtaking hotel for an award ceremony (these can range from star-studded events like the 'RTS Awards' to the equally glamourous, yet unexpected events like the 'Sausage Awards') – the following day, we can be fantastically busy on a high-profile event like BBC Sports Personality Of The Year.

So, we rock up at the venue and start our rig which takes about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the venue (FYI, we do love a conference when we are set up just behind the stage). We may look cumbersome when we arrive with all of our cases but we are professionals and we will get the rig done efficiently and to a high standard. We take into account all the potential issues – glare of the lights on the glass, a clear shot for the camera at the back of the hall, correct height, positioning and eye line. After all, we are the 'invisible role' – we don't want audiences to realise we are being used.

Once we have the kit up and running, we input the script into our system and edit the speech so that it flows well for the reader. This may sound like an easy job but do not underestimate the wonders of the human mind; there are little tricks to help the script more readable. We care about these nuances because we want to make everyone look good.

During the show the presenter is reliant on us – there needs to be a high level of trust which is one of the hardest skills to learn. The relationship between presenter and prompter is often created in a brief introduction and a ten minute rehearsal. In this short time you have to determine how to react if the presenter adlibs; should you stay where you are and wait for them to get back on script even if this means they will repeat themselves? Or do you follow the script and jump to the next point? Each presenter works differently, and these snap decisions can have a big impact on the production.

With television, the relationships are incredibly important and you often have presenters who will only work with one specific operator for many years. This happens frequently on larger shows such as The Jeremy Kyle Show, University Challenge and Match of The Day. It's a strong bond and trust is such a crucial aspect of our work.

The pressure in this job is immense. If anything goes wrong it will be noticed by the presenter, director, producers and, more importantly, the viewers at home or in the audience. You have to constantly be on the ball. You have to pre-empt eventualities. Listen to producers talking of changes, get the scenario in your head and remember all of the links that reference that change. All this goes on whilst you are still listening to the programme output, the PA who's counting until the next link and scrolling with the presenter whilst simultaneously making those changes. The adrenaline really kicks in at these times.

Once finished (without a hitch), we have the joyous task of the de-rig. And then it's time to head off home for it to start all over again – different crew – different location.

The main skills required to do this job are; patience, alertness, multi-tasking, a decent grasp of the English language and… more patience.

Our job is unlike any other. It's always interesting, highly demanding and often unacknowledged – discretion is key after all.

It's a niche job. And we love it.

Image: Lisa Robinson in the MOTD studio.

Article by Lisa Robinson, Manager of Prompting Plus North Office in Manchester.

promptingplus.co.uk

This article also features in the January edition of Broadcast Film & Video.
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