‘Black Sails’ is a gritty saga following pirates of New Providence Island, outlawed by the world’s nation-states, in their quest to obtain an invaluable Spanish treasure. Set in the early 18th century Bahamas, the show is created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine, and is a prequel to the events of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island.’ The series takes us through tropical sunbathed beaches, vast stretches of ocean, and quaint coastal shanty towns.
The adventure includes real historical pirates like Blackbeard, Jack Rackham, and Israel Hands while being led by fictional ones like Captain Flint and Long John Silver. With a blend of historical characters and instances to go along with captivating maritime visuals, ‘Black Sails’ portrays a gripping and convincing tale of piracy and treasure hunting. The exemplary visual storytelling of the series may have you pondering if its filming took place on location in real-life Caribbean and European destinations.
Where Was Black Sails Filmed?
‘Black Sails’ was largely shot in Cape Town in South Africa with the help of a local film studio and its team recorded footage of the sea in The Bahamas to composite into shots of the ocean seen in the series. Most of what is seen in the series has been built in a Cape Town studio, barring a few scenes of wilderness that were shot around Knysna. Everything had to be built from scratch, from the beach and tanks with sufficient water for harboring its ships to the entirety of Nassau Island.
The annual production cycle of each season of the show started with the script being sent to the team around October or November, and the shooting is carried out through November till the middle of May, with a Christmas hiatus pausing it for a few weeks. Let us take you through the elaborate filming process for the Starz show, which garnered an Emmy for its first season.
Cape Town, South Africa
The capital city resting on the southern tip of the African continent became a comprehensive filming destination for ‘Black Sails.’ Cape Town Film Studios, on 7 Film City Boulevard, was used to create its sets of the craggy Maroon Camp, Philadelphia, and Charles Town in London. To build Nassau Island, it took 400 crew members working for four months, completing it with huts, piers, fishing boats, and its own artificial beach. The studio has also been home to productions such as ‘Outlander,’ ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ the 2012 ‘Dredd,’ and the 2018 ‘Tomb Raider.’
Creating the ships and their water tanks for the series was a gargantuan undertaking in its own right. The film’s production team was the first to build a dual tank setup in South Africa, one for the deep sea and one for the beach. The beach tank could hold between five and seven million liters of water and had a sea sand surface bed. It was fitted with wave machines while being connected to the deep sea tank to simulate high tide and low tide. For season one, two ships were built, one whole, and the other, half. 300 workers were engaged in building these to-scale vessels for four to five months, committed to a high level of detailing.
For the second season, a complete new ship depicting the larger, Spanish Man O’ War, was created with 50 people working over three months. These dummy vessels each took up about 8,600 square feet of canvas and 16 kilometers of rope. A smaller sloop-like ship was built for the third season and modified accordingly to portray different vessels. After the show had wrapped up production, the ships were repurposed and reused in another Starz project, ‘Outlander,’ and they eventually found their way into the live-action Netflix adaptation of ‘One Piece.’
Knysna, South Africa
The emblematic Skeleton Island seen in the show was not created at the studio. Its filming was carried out at the Keursboom River near Knysna, roughly 300 miles east of Cape Town. The location’s verdant landscapes, green islands, and emerald lagoons make it a visual spectacle for filmmakers to create their coastal settings. The rocky and densely forested Skeleton Island found a fitting home in the cliffs and bays surrounding the Western Cape province town of Knysna.
A filming team of ‘Black Sails’ traveled to the island nation of The Bahamas for a week during the production of season one. The archipelagic state situated in the Atlantic Ocean became a location for the team to capture plate shots of a harbor and the open sea. This gave the crew authentic footage of the Caribbean Sea’s look and movement, which they composited and used in conjunction with computer-generated water to create expanses of ocean indistinguishable from reality.