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Pirate drama series Black Sails films on location at Cape Town Film Studios

Pirate drama Black Sails filmed on location at Cape Town Film Studios in South Africa, doubling the region for the Bahamas. Set in 1720, the series is pitched as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate novel Treasure Island and follows the adventures of Captain Flint.

South Africa was chosen as the filming location due to the right combination of finances and skilled crew, as well as the availability of sound stages at Cape Town Film Studios.

“Cape Town Film Studios built some time ago a special hill on which a section of the 13th Century medieval village of Carcassonne (in the south of France) was built,” explains studio head Nico Dekker: “This village was later transformed into medieval Florence and has now been transformed to form part of the Nassau Island of 1720 that is the base for the pirates of Black Sails.”

Deep water tanks and a beach set were specially built at the studio for Black Sails and the medieval standing set was redesigned to turn it into 18th Century Nassau.

“The major challenge was building a tank sufficiently big enough to accommodate the ships while taking into account the technical aspects and visual effects requirements of these particularly complex components,” says producer Nina Heyns of Cape Town-based service company Film Afrika.

“This tank can hold 40-metre-long ships and take wave machines,” Dekker adds: “It has specialised heavy-duty winches and built-in anchors, enabling it to effectively and quickly move ships from one end to the other. The tank holds five million litres of water and has a specialised rim flow system, allowing seamless filming from three directions.”

“The beach tank has a solid base and a sea sand surface bed,” Dekker continues: “It holds between five and seven million litres of water and is further secured from leaking with an industrial spec liner underneath the cement surface. It takes waves machines and is interconnected with the deep-sea tank, allowing for high and low tide creation, if needed.”

An advanced filtration system and chlorine gas keeps the water clean and special plinths prevent sand from clogging the mechanism.

“No-one has ever built such a double tank system in South Africa for filming, so there is very little local knowledge of how to deal with certain challenges,” Dekker notes.

“As far as I know, there is nowhere in the world [that has] a similar double tank system linking a sand-filled beach tank with a deep-sea tank, but we have been successfully dealing in the past and still dealing with all the challenges we are facing.”

Black Sails can be seen as a small-screen legacy of Disney’s spectacularly successful Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, combined with the more adult content of Game of Thrones. A second series of Black Sails was commissioned several months before the show even launched.

Rival pirate drama Crossbones is underway on location in Puerto Rico on the site of a former naval station. The series will tell the story of legendary real-life 18th Century pirate Edward Teach, better known as ‘Blackbeard’.

(Black Sails photos: Starz)

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