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At 59, He Scrolled Into a New Venture

TECH CAREERS / KAREN AXELROD

January 27, 1997|KAREN AXELROD | Karen Axelrod is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

At the time in life when many corporate veterans are planning for retirement, Dick Hein was figuring out his next career move.

Burned out from decades spent in the corporate rat race, Hein landed a job in 1988 as a TelePrompter operator in San Francisco, working for the man who developed the MagicScroll TelePrompter software.

In 1993, at age 59, Hein packed up and moved to Orange County to branch out on his own. "It was harder to start my business than I thought it would be," he said. "I didn't know the Southern California market or who to call, so I spent hours on the phone cold-calling and sending out letters. To be successful in this business, it's not knowing the technical aspect--it's not that complex. It's the marketing."

Hein works primarily on industrial and corporate videos, and his clients include such well-known organizations as Fluor Daniel, Pacific Bell, Panda Express and the Federal Reserve Bank. He often has to convince clients that a TelePrompter will make their lives easier when it comes to taping a 20-minute annual report for the board of directors.

Barbara Kraft, owner of Emerald Cove Productions and a producer of corporate videos who often hires Hein, agrees: "When I don't use a TelePrompter for a job, production takes twice as long."

Hein uses about $10,000 worth of TelePrompter equipment, including a Macintosh 5300 Powerbook, a TelePrompter monitor and the $2,800 MagicScroll software, which enables the words from a client's script to scroll smoothly and evenly on the monitor. To his knowledge, Hein has the only Macintosh-based TelePrompter service in Southern California. "I get jobs specifically because I have a Mac," he said. "Mac people tend to run together."

When Kraft was seeking foreign-language prompter services two years ago for a series of videos she produces for the International Churches of Christ, she searched Southern California for someone to work with.

"We shoot a half-hour news show every two months in six or more languages, including English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Japanese, and occasionally Arabic and Indian. I called every TelePrompter company in the book, but no one would do all these languages."

No one, that is, except Hein. "You can't put Japanese, Chinese and Russian characters on a PC," he said. "You'd have to change the whole operating system. I was able to do this job because of the Mac's ability to support files using foreign characters."

Kraft, who pays Hein between $400 and $500 a day for his TelePrompter services, says that converting foreign-language files for the TelePrompter is the biggest technical problem she's faced in making the churches' videos. But Hein has dealt with and solved all the problems. "Each time we have a problem and solve it, it solves it for the next time," Kraft said.

When asked how to break into the business, Hein chuckled. "The junior colleges have TelePrompters, and students learn to use them along with all the other equipment involved in video production," he said. But it isn't always easy, because there are no classes available specifically on prompting.

Hein has a career he loves--and one he doesn't plan to give up any time soon. "This is all I want to do. I love the people I work with, I'm technically challenged and I have just the right mix of freedom and responsibility. My income is less than when I held down a corporate job, but my personal satisfaction is boundless."

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