Sky Post Production editor Luke Smith describes how Luke Littler’s unexpected run to the final impacted the production of the Championship
I have been working on darts OBs for a long time now. Over the past 10 years I’ve been to Blackpool, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Frankfurt, Dublin and the Alexandra Palace. I really enjoy the pace of an OB. It’s certainly different to working onsite or remotely. Amidst the noise and commotion of people, you often find yourself smoothing out edit points in the silence between the roars of the crowd and the frequent metallic screeches of the heavy-set truck doors as the behind-the-scenes crew go about their duties.
You’re right in the thick of it on an OB and as an editor it’s a chance to meet a lot of people (production management, lighting, EVS operation, directing, etc) that you might not otherwise. It’s also a better way to understand their roles in the production. It’s really through all my OB experience over the years, above anything else, that I have gotten a better understanding of the multi-faceted nature of what we make at Sky Sports and how we produce it.
On top of that, a darts OB is a great way to challenge yourself and keep at the top of your game. The workload is large, the creative expectation is high, and the turnaround is short. It can be quite a culture shock coming onto an OB for the first time. You really need to be able to manage your time to make sure you are successfully hitting TX deadlines while also fulfilling creative briefs that would normally be given many more hours more to be realised. It’s a change of tempo that can be stressful but also very developmental and rewarding.
Over the course of an OB the content you are expected to create can vary enormously. These days I tend to do a lot of openers and graphics-based work. Really though, it’s a case of working together as a team and getting things cut and on air. This often means that less pressing edits can suddenly be interrupted by more TX critical work. You may be cutting an opener or feature for the following day when suddenly an interview or a tease for a player performing later in the evening needs to be cut. It’s really a case of stopping what you’re doing and focusing on getting that to air. The content required can also change by the minute as the action onstage unfolds. Unexpected wins, losses or stand-out moments can all create opportunities to produce new content and to adapt narratives.
This can take place daily as upsets occur or unique events happen, and that also applies across the length of a tournament. We saw this at The World Darts Championship 2024 where Luke Littler’s amazing and unexpected run to the final really began to change the narrative arc, forcing us to adapt the content we were producing. It was important that the edits we created underscored how much of a huge historical moment this was and how much his story captivated the audience. It really changed the focus and the style of the content we produced. Everything from the interview questions and the focus of our features to the music and graphics on the openers was impacted as the narrative arc of the tournament developed.
To turn out the huge volume of work on the OB, the kit we use is primarily Adobe Suite. We edit using Premier Pro and frequently use After Effects for GFX-based work. This varies from the way we work back at base in Sky Post Production where we primarily use Avid. To help speed things up I always take along my personal drive to an OB. This has lots of sound effects, After Effects projects, stock footage and textures on it which is extremely handy as there is little material on the OB computers themselves and not many third party plug-ins installed.
It’s also a case of coming along with your own ideas. Darts openers and teases afford a lot of opportunities to get creative in liberal ways and that is one of my favourite things about working on an OB. Furthermore, producers may have less time to prep and may be across various jobs or shoots so it’s an opportunity to see what you can bring to the table creatively and aesthetically. It’s often the case that you are creating from a fairly blank slate so it’s important you have the correct tools and mindset for the job.
In that sense, it was awesome to work on the World Darts Championships final opener. It’s often easy to take for granted how many people watch and consume the content we create daily, but on the run-up to the final it really hit home. Numerous friends and family messaged me about the final, asking me if I was working on it, then messaging me about how much they enjoyed the opener I created after it went out. After nearly 15 years of editing at Sky I have to say this was one of the most communal and instantly rewarding moments I have experienced as an editor. My phone immediately pinged with numerous people telling me how much they enjoyed the opener and how excited it made them feel for the final. I was very happy with the way it turned out and the reception it received. It was clear that Luke Littler had really managed to capture the nation’s attention in a way that was quite rare and special.
The idea for the opener was [assistant producer at Sky Sports] Angus Krompaszky’s. The day before he, and camera operator Aaron Young, did a very nice shoot in the Palace basement with the two finalists, Luke Littler and Luke Humphries. He also selected a very fitting and emotive track with James Blake’s ‘Retrograde’. From there we decided the graphic style and titles on the day. I often let the music drive the style and aesthetics of an edit but with a piece like this, it was also about the story. Two new finalists, a guaranteed new champion and the potential for a 16-year-old to write themselves into the history books of sport.
We wanted to communicate how it would feel to be walking onto that stage in front of all those people and millions of viewers at home. And how it would feel picking up that trophy at the end. So, there’s a narrative thread throughout of the two contenders’ physical and emotional journey as they walk to the stage and get ready to face off for the championship. This is a dream come true for these players, but it’s also a huge amount of pressure, especially for a teenager, and it was about getting those feelings across.
In After Effects, I added some chromatic aberration, some blurring and some lens flares. Some shots were also rotated. Nothing too complicated. It was about creating a dreamlike feel, the idea being that the players were living out their fantasy by taking part in the final. The dancers and the shots of the trophy in the basement all add to this. I guess you could say the basement is a representation of the subconscious recesses of the player’s brain. The place where they get to live out their dreams of being world champion. But it’s also a place shut off from the rest of their psyche. A safe place where they don’t have to deal with the immediate task at hand and their potential defeat at the hands of their opponent. The opener ends with a shot of both players reaching out to touch the trophy, but we cut before they can grab hold of it and seize the moment. Only one of them will taste victory. The dream is not yet a reality. And as the opener ends and the world championship final beckons, it’s clear that there is some work yet to do.