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Emmy Watch: Supervising Sound Editor Benjamin Cook, Black Sails

June 24, 2015 07:29 | By
Black Sails

Black Sails

If you are looking for a challenge, look no further than the sound department’s job on the crew of Starz‘s Black Sails. Shot completely on land in South Africa, one of supervising sound editor, Benjamin Cook‘s biggest concerns is “convincing people they’re on the ocean.” Filmed on location at Cape Town Film Studios, the land-locked set fills in for the Bahamas in 1720. Add in the fact that the studio is a mere one hundred yards from a bustling freeway, and “traffic becomes the enemy” shared Cook. “A lot of wind helps mask the traffic issues. It’s a heavily backgrounded show.” You don’t want to hear a motorbike or birds when you’re supposed to be in a battle in the middle of the sea.

The three time Emmy winner (Deadwood, The Pacific, Black Sails), was originally interested in the show because he had worked with one of the producers before on two HBO shows – Rome and The Pacific. But perhaps more importantly, he also connected with the script. The show is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson‘s beloved classic Treasure Island and works as a prequel to the tales. In the book, the iconic Long John Silver is the most indelible character. However, in this version, the narrative follows him on his early voyages on the Walrus, captained by an atypically sophisticated Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), and the story is turned on its head as the pirate is not proud of his deeds. His occupational choice is mysterious and unfolds in flashbacks as the series continues.

BKS2_210_042914_4862.jpgIt’s thrilling to see the charismatic Flint’s back story and a new interpretation of a character the audience knows next to nothing about, from Stevenson’s classic tale. And considering Michael Bay is the executive producer, the bar is set high to deliver a theatrical experience. However, the sound team also strives for a naturalistic feeling and stays away from anything stereotypically associated with pirates. Sonically, they want a rich and layered texture for the show, but work to keep it as real as possible.

His producers understand the complexity of the show and they budget according to a varying schedule. “Sometimes the show runs 52 minutes, sometimes upwards of 60,” noted Cook. “Television is the producers form rather than the director. Some directors are more involved and review the mix.” Cook revealed that co-creator, “John Steinberg is really the driving force and reins it all in.”

Cook believes that one of the reason’s Black Sails resonates with the audience is because the story mines a fascinating time in history. And although the characters are indeed well drawn, the story mixes in real historical events as well, such as the “King’s Pardon” of 1718, offered to surrendering pirates.

As Cook is now mixing their upcoming third season, much of it is centered around a hurricane. Half of the ship is in a tank and the supervising sound editor looks forward to the welcome addition of extra ADR, wind machines and rain machines. And we, in turn, look forward to more plot twists, sexy characters, and epic peril on the high seas. No matter the outcome of the impending storm, as Benjamin Cook would say, “People love pirates.”

Editor’s Note: Black Sails has been nominated for Emmy awards for outstanding sound editing for a series and outstanding special visual effects.