The Interrotron vs the EyeDirect
Interrotron Rental | EyeDirect Rental
A curious contraption, the Interrotron, is quite simply a variation of the teleprompter. It is mostly used to interview subjects. A basic distinction is that rather than seeing the words over the camera lens, the on-camera interviewee sees the face of the person conducting the interview.
An old and true proverb asserts that necessity is the mother of invention. A need or problem presents itself and emboldens imaginative efforts to resolve the problem or meet the need.
To wit: Filmmakers have invented the gear they need on their jobs. Lighting, batteries, camera bags are all examples of this. Errol Morris became a member of a renowned roster that includes Ross Lowell, Anton Wilson, Jim Domke by inventing the Interrotron. While working on the Fog of War with Robert McNamara he saw the need for a more intimate, personal interaction with his subject.
A common problem with interviews was that both interviewer and interviewee could not look directly at each other. Lo and behold! The Interrotron was born! It allows both people to see each other throughout the interaction. To reiterate, with the Interrotron both the protagonist of the piece and the questioner can have a one-on-one personal, close, conversation. The audience is drawn into their collaboration. Given the direct sight line, eye contact is possible. What ensues is a much more realistic dialogue and interfacing. Body language adds another dimension.
By the way, Morris’ wife coined the term “Interrotron” by combining the words “interview” and “terror”. The device prevented fear in non-professional actors. In researching the genesis of this unit, I found that the very first such Interrotron was homemade. Two cameras with modifies teleprompters were used. They displayed the feed off each other. It was instrumental in garnering an Acadmey Award for Morris.
Updates to the Interrotron Mark III – Bill Milling
The following is a direct quote from Frank Beacham from the Broadcast Bridge.
…Then Bill Milling, a director who has done 20 features and many documentaries himself, entered the picture. His company, American Movie Company and its subsidiary, TeleprompterRental.com rent the Interrotron, which includes a trained person to ensure proper setup.
“I read an article by Errol Morris about what he had done and thought any documentary filmmaker would want this,” Milling recalled. “If the director is looking right at his talent, why would he want to work any other way? They’d get the interview on the first take. It would save hours of time. I thought ‘God if I had this when I was a documentary filmmaker.’ ”
At this point, Milling’s American Movie Company, based in New York City and Los Angeles, were already renting Autocue teleprompters and had a green screen studio for special effects. Milling was so taken with the idea of the Interrotron, he started experimenting and building them for rental. That was five years ago. Today, the tinkering and refinement continue.
Interestingly, Interrotron is not a brand. Morris did not copyright the device. Anyone can build them, but Milling has gained a reputation for continuously refining and perfecting the device through years of experience. In fact, Morris called him and is now his client, renting the devices several times from his company.
The main Interrotron model in use today is the Mark III which can be rented from the American Movie Company. The basic prompting equipment is from Autocue, but it has extensive modifications. It uses a 16 x 9 high-definition monitor for the talent unit. The director uses a 16 x 9 professional HD monitor with HD-SDI, HDMI, component and composite inputs.
The director’s monitor allows not only eye contact with the subject but the viewing of the exact framing, focus and aspect ratio which the main camera is getting during the recording.
Further elaboration from an interview with Morris in 2004. He explains:
We are used to, on television, seeing people interviewed 60 Minutes-style. There is Mike Wallace or Larry King, and the camera is off to the side. Hence, we, the audience, are also off to the side. We’re the fly-on-the-wall, so to speak, watching two people talking. But we’ve lost (direct eye contact)…We all know when someone makes eye contact with us. It is a moment of drama. Perhaps it’s a serial killer telling us that he’s about to kill us; or a loved one acknowledging a moment of affection. Regardless, it’s a moment with dramatic value. We know when people make eye contact with us, look away and then make eye contact again. It’s an essential part of communication. And yet, it is lost in standard interviews on film.
Morris’ problem was that if his subjects were looking into a camera lens, they weren’t looking at him, the engaging, empathetic interviewer. And without a human face to talk to, his subjects would clam up. Speaking to an intimidating, inhuman lens was not going to attain the proper result.
Morris looked at the teleprompter and saw a solution. The teleprompter is a device that uses a computer screen and a two-way angled mirror to display text in front of a camera lens. Newscasters and politicians use them. Morris unplugged the Teleprompter from the screen used to display the text crawl, and plugged it instead into a camera aimed at himself. He then rigged another teleprompter in front of the second camera and fed the main camera’s feed into that prompter. Now both he and his subject were looking at screen images of each other, and since those images were reflected on two-way mirrors, his subject was also looking directly into the camera lens. Suddenly, people with no on-camera training were essentially looking Morris dead in the eye and pouring out their heart to the lens itself. Morris explains:
I put my face on the Teleprompter or, strictly speaking, my live video image. For the first time, I could be talking to someone, and they could be talking to me and at the same time looking directly into the lens of the camera. Now, there was no looking off slightly to the side. No more faux first person. This was the true first person…I worried at first. Would it frighten people? Would they run out of the studio screaming? Who could say? I used it for the first time in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. And it worked like a charm. People loved the Interrotron.
The American Movie Company’s New York City office can supply the company’s new Skype-O-Tron, which connects a director to a remote location so interviews can be done over the Internet.
The Mark III, with a trained operator, rents in the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, but can travel to other locations for an additional charge. The New York rate is $845 a day, while the Los Angeles rate is also $695 a day.
A Mark IV unit, now in prototype, rents for $100 extra a day in New York City only. It adds speaker audio to the front of prompter so the voice of the director comes directly toward the talent from its source. The unit currently uses a push to talk microphone by the director as the research continues on how to focus the audio without getting feedback.
Also available in New York City is the company’s new Skype-O-Tron, the most advanced Interrotron and one used only two weeks ago by Morris in a Boston to New York City interview for a current project. It adds the ability to connect the director to a remote location to do interviews via the Internet.
“This is a combination of our top-of-the-line Interrotron with the addition of a live stream studio. It is basically an Interrotron at a distance. It has four cameras and can do a face-to-face interviews with two people at once,” Milling said.
Errol Morris using the Interrotron.
“The director stands the whole time, instead of being comfortably seated. Also, the director has no idea what the camera is seeing because he is completely removed from the camera. He is only involved with the talent.”
The good news is it’s very portable and fits in a very small case. I package it with an extra mirror and an iPad, which turns it into an iPad teleprompter. I don’t recommend it for a serious shoot, but it’s better than nothing. It’s for when you can’t bring an operator and your crew is very small.”
Though American Movie Company has built and sold a couple of Interrotrons, it discourages clients from buying the devices. “We are not in the sales business,” said Milling. “We like to send out a trained operator to set the thing up. When we sent out regular units without an operator, they always came back broken. It’s not worth it to go through that. That’s why we made the smaller unit. These are complex devices and need trained operators. Rental works best for everyone involved.”
Incidentally, Morris was asked if Robert McNamara, a man who had been interviewed a thousand times, liked using the Interrotron. “He walked into the studio and asked, ‘What is that?’ I smiled and said, ‘The Interrotron,’ Morris said. “He responded, ‘Well, whatever it is, I don’t like it.’ Then he sat down, and we proceeded to record over twenty hours of interviews. I guess he came to like it, too.”
What is an EyeDirect?
Essentially this photographic device ensures direct eye contact with the person being interviewed and the questioner. Producers and directors love it because it guarantees a real, intimate connection between the two. A “periscope” is formed with mirrors that lure the subject’s attention to what is being reflected behind the camera. It is a simple unit that does not require electricity.
The EyeDirect Mark II is the professional toy that absolutely guarantees direct eye contact between subject and director. It can be configured to handle DSLRs and accommodates larger cameras with huge zooms. iPads can be attached and convert the Mark II to an AutoCue/Teleprompter. The interviewer can be on either side of the camera.
Folding Mark E (FMKE)
This particular device was constructed as a much lighter, smaller solution to absolutely guarantee eye contact. It actually folds to the size of a laptop.
The EyePrompter – Teleprompter/AutoCue
This device is, in essence, a teleprompter that folds and is used for tablets and phones. The EyePrompter affords the director/producer a much wider field of view in small setup spaces. It uses a high-quality beamsplitter and folds to the size of a laptop.
As you can see, there are choices!