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The art of the autocue

By - Kirsty - 25th June 2014

Corporate films need to make powerful statements and an impact on their audiences. They also need to communicate key messages, which have been carefully planned. The viewer must feel compelled by a call to action and be inspired by what they see and hear.

Sometimes these aims can be met by filming key interviews. If each contributor is experienced in what they’re being asked about and feels comfortable enough in front of the camera to speak from the heart, then his or her message can be both genuine and compelling. For example, if a confident graduate employee is asked a question about their favourite experience, then an instinctive, gut-reaction answer in one take is often the most powerful and energetic.

But sometimes an Autocue can really help when there a number of different and complex messages to be explained on camera.

An Autocue displays text just below the camera lens, so a presenter can talk directly to the viewer while reading a script. The text is moved by the Autocue operator, at the pace the presenter is speaking at. It’s a useful tool to use, if you have asked a person to remember lots of facts and figures, names and key points, or if you just really need the presenter to stay ‘on message’. It also reduces the amounts of “ums” and “ers” which might otherwise pepper his or her presentation, and gives a more clean and professional feel. Another bonus, is that it can both significantly reduce filming time, and the presenter’s frustration as they continually forget their lines!

A downside to using an Autocue, is that the person speaking can sound disingenuous, scripted and too rehearsed. This is when great script writing can really help. Most importantly, the script should be written to be spoken, not read. So, try to remember to write, “haven’t” instead of “have not”, or “you’ve” instead of “you have”, for example. The best idea is to ask your presenter to read the script out loud and to give them the opportunity to change phrases so that they feel natural for them. You want your presenter to sound like themselves, not a scripted robot. Once a script has been finalised, ask your presenter to practice it a number of times. Of course, the text will be in front of them to read, but rehearsing will help them to put emphasis where it sounds natural. It will also give them confidence, because they will know exactly what’s coming next. Choosing your presenter wisely is obviously important; you don’t want a terror-stricken rabbit in the headlights. You also don’t need an expensive professional presenter; as long as he or she is warm, genuine and able to smile naturally in front of the camera, then you’re onto a winner.

You won’t want to risk losing life and energy from your film, though. Nobody wants to watch a dull and flat corporate film. If you feel using an Autocue will zap any authenticity and vitality, then perhaps think twice about using one. We’re big advocates of using personal stories to drive a message home, and an Autocue can sometimes get in the way. A personal account – such as a memory of a great client experience, a brilliant work social, a moment of pride in a piece of work or a product – can convince an audience far better than a list of facts and figures. The energy that radiates from somebody giving a personal experience, can be really contagious. It makes a message even more convincing. A script can get in the way of that energy and authenticity.

So why not combine the two, and use an ‘Intercue’ system to prompt natural responses to pre-planned questions? We’ve successfully used a prompter as an interviewing tool. Normally when we interview people, the interviewer is sat to one side of the camera(s) asking the questions, so the interviewee’s eyeline is slightly to the left or right. But on one occasion one of our clients wanted an unscripted and natural delivery, with their presenter speaking directly to the camera. So the interviewer asked their pre-planned questions to one camera – away from the main filming set – and this was broadcast in real-time onto a screen just below a second camera. The interviewee could then look into this second camera and talk directly to a real person, albeit on a screen in front of them. Their answers were as natural is if the real interviewer had been right in front of them; instead of course they were conversing directly with their audience.

If you’re really clever, you’ll be able to capture that energy and inject it into a fully scripted Autocue presentation. For a recent report, the Harvard Business Review paid a visit to award-winning screenwriter and director Robert McKee. His students have won 18 Academy Awards, 109 Emmy Awards, 19 Writers Guild Awards… The list is endless. He told the magazine, “A big part of a CEO’s job is to motivate people to reach certain goals… There are two ways to persuade people. The first is by using conventional rhetoric, which is what most executives are trained in. It’s an intellectual process, and in the business world it usually consists of a PowerPoint slide presentation in which you say, “Here is our company’s biggest challenge, and here is what we need to do to prosper.” And you build your case by giving statistics and facts and quotes from authorities…The other way to persuade people—and ultimately a much more powerful way—is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy… If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you.”

A script that’s written from the heart can help you to this achieve this, so you have the best of both worlds – professional delivery and high energy. Why not ask your presenter to write his or her script – or part of it – themselves? Ensure you are very clear on the one or two points the viewer must remember and take away from the film; will they still remember those points in a week or even month’s time? Storyboarding can really help to narrow down the messages you feel are most important, and to develop a story with those messages as its focus. Once the script is finalised, then we can think about how we fill in the colour to complete the picture – be that animation, live action or a combination of the two.

Finally – and perhaps more important of all – please remember that you presenter or contributor must have fun. Speaking in front of a camera can be a daunting experience. But an audience will only connect with your message and feel passion for your content if your presenter does.

About the Author

Kirsty Hemming - Head of Digital

Kirsty is a highly experienced producer having previously worked at the BBC and ITV before joining Swift Films.

Kirsty now specialises in digital marketing and analytics. She devises strategies and works on marketing campaigns to ensure that our clients’ videos reach their target audience.