As supervising sound editor/sound designer on the Starz period drama Black Sails, Benjamin Cook of Culver City-based 424 Post oversees an international sound production team that spans the globe, from South Africa, to London, Los Angeles and even Australia. The show is an epic pirate drama designed as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, combining classic characters from the book with real historical figures.
“It’s definitely a monstrous show to shoot,” said Cook. “It’s probably got more sound than anything else on TV. It’s right up there with Game of Thrones. It rivals many features with the amount of action.”
Cooke explained that he typically has about seven days per episode, or perhaps longer when there are a lot of effects. “It’s much more like a film vs. a fast network TV turnaround,” said Cook.
Much of the show is shot on a set in Capetown, South Africa, equipped with a large water tank. However the studio is roughly 100 yards from a major freeway, which poses one of the main challenges for the sound team.
“It’s a period piece so you’re always worried about noise and things like traffic,” said Cook. “It’s also extremely windy in Capetown. So wind and traffic are the two biggest problems we face.”
The show’s multinational cast often calls for ADR sessions in London, Australia or L.A., but according to Cook, “We try to get as much of the ADR work done while they still have people on location, right when they’ve finished filming, but sometimes that doesn’t work out.”
ADR sessions in London are also used to record large crowds of people, speaking a variety of languages including Spanish, Dutch and English.
Cook works out of his ProTools suite at 424 Post, but final mixing is done at Universal Studios by re-recording mixers Matt Waters (SFX/Foley), Onnalee Blank (dialog/music) and Rick Camara (recordist/mix tech).
“The hardest part is to convince people that the ship is actually on the water, with all the sails and the ropes, and the boat creaking and the people,” said Cook. “That’s a huge challenge. Sometimes they’re travelling fast; sometimes they’re travelling slow. In one episode they’re stuck in the middle of the ocean with no wind or current, so it’s a really quiet episode, which is actually more difficult than some of our normal ones, where we rely upon wind and sails and different things to mask the background ambient noises. When it’s quiet, we have less tools to help mask those things.”
Cook explained that in the show’s first two seasons, the Foley team – (consisting of Jeffrey Willhoit, Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit and Brett Voss at Happy Feet) – managed to build a library of period sounds, like canons firing, that they’ve been able use through season three.
For some of this season’s big naval battles, Cook has been working with a new sound particle plug-in from audio engineer Nuno Fonseca, which essentially uses the particle concept, typically used in visual effects, to distribute a large number of sounds in 3D space – in this case canon fire.
“It’s a really interesting program. It’s based on the VFX idea where they try to build smoke and water using this idea of particles,” Cook explained. “He’s basically taken that idea and applied it to sound. We’re able to do all sorts of really challenging soundscapes using particles. It’s a fascinating tool that I’ve used a lot on the show to build elements.”
Cook and his audio team won an Emmy for outstanding sound editing for a series in 2014, and were nominated again in 2015. Season three of Black Sails premieres on Starz, Jan. 23.