The Rat Pack

The Rack Pack is the BBC’s first original content feature film produced for its i-Player platform. It’s a comedy drama about the rivalry between Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and Steve Davis back in the glory days when snooker became a televised phenomena playing to an audience of millions. 

There is a moment in the story where the director, Brian Walsh, wanted to recreate a famous Higgins snooker break from the 1982 World Championship against Jimmy White as a continuous steadicam shot. This is an account of how the shot was achieved and the difficulties we encountered in the process.

Although the break, in reality, was a spectacular example of Higgins’ potting power the camera shot was also conceived by Brian as an expression of Higgins’ hypnotic presence around the snooker table, a presence that mesmerised audiences who flocked to witness his flawed genius. The shot builds and spins around the table as Higgins pots the balls resulting in a final flourish as he salutes the admiring crowds.

The main problem conceiving the shot as a continuous take was how the actor, Luke Treadaway, would sell the balls hitting the pockets. Although he had received extensive coaching on how to hold a cue and take a shot, he was obviously no Alex Higgins when it came to potting the balls.

Justin Atkinson our VFX supervisor created a pre-vis that gave us a route map of the shot which involved the balls being added in post production once we had a shot that everyone was happy with. The pre-vis is included here for you to compare with the finished shot. Pre-visualisations, more often than not, bear little relation to what we end up framing as camera operators because on–set blocking throws up choreography and performance issues that make the pre-vis redundant. However, in this case, the pre-vis proved invaluable. It allowed us to see the relationship of the camera to the actor and the relevant pocket for the pot. It allowed me to mentally rehearse the shot days before we were due to shoot. On the day, as the camera travelled around the table the director cued the actor when he wanted the pot to be made once actor, balls and camera were all in alignment. We had decided that the shot would look more convincing and authentic if the pockets weren’t perfectly framed and the camera not always perfectly positioned to see the pot. There are moments where the frame edge just glances the pocket as the ball goes in with the camera still on the move as we just manage to catch the pot. The timing and pacing of this was worked out in rehearsals although, due to the time restrictions of the schedule we, inevitably, started shooting the rehearsals. We completed 10 takes and had the whole shot wrapped up in 3 hrs. The final take was the one the editor used.

You can view the final shot here.

As camera operators we are not just entrusted with executing shots from A to B but also with breathing life and emotion into them. Although the pre-vis provided a guide to the choreography there was still work to be done in making the shot flow with the actor’s movements. Higgins was a very unpredictable and erratic character so Luke Treadaway’s acting would quite often reflect this. There were a few moments where he went off script and pushed or even left the frame completely as I was left floundering in an attempt to keep up. It was all to the good as I think we managed to transmit some of ‘The Hurricane’s’raw energy in the process.

 The Rack Pack crew were: Zac Nicholson (DOP), Peter Robertson ACO (steadicam operator), Ben Brown, Alan Hall (1st ACs) Alex Findlayson, Katie Ruffy (2nd ACs) Max Macgechan (Trainee)

Special Thanks to Paul Edwards ACO and the Fellowship of the Springs for stepping in to cover for me whilst I prepared for the big shot.


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