Black Sails will say goodbye on Starz after four seasons. But this swashbuckling prequel to Treasure Island certainly has made its mark with the help of Denison alumni.
Robert Levine ’00 is just one Big Red graduate from the show, becoming a series co-creator for the first time. “My collaborator (Jonathan Steinberg) had been thinking about pirates and to show what it was actually like to be a pirate, why it happened historically and the day-today experience of it,” he says. “I really thought about a Treasure Island component—Captain Flint is already dead in that book; it’s his treasure they’re looking for and it seemed there was a great story to be told by going back. You could watch the series and then pick up Treasure Island and the story could now seem different to you.”
The show, which counts Michael Bay as a producer and has won three Emmys, had help in going full throttle by adding another Denison graduate. Levine (pictured at left) said the team realized in mid-run that they needed assistance in crafting ship sequences and, with Master and Commander among the best-known films of the last 20 years for featured use of ships from centuries ago, they contacted its sailmaster, Andrew Reay-Ellers ’83 (pictured at right) to be a part of the show.
“Just a terrific experience,” says Reay-Ellers, who actually has captained approximately 20 ships in his career. “They had ideas for having more complex sea battles, putting ships in all sorts of situations—I was even able to go travel to South Africa to help them multiple times and they were open to my suggestions. They didn’t take all of them—since I might send 20 pages of notes from the script they sent my way!”
Chelsey Warner ’11 also bolstered the team, eventually rising to postproduction supervisor. “Robert Levine had taken time to talk to me before I graduated from Denison and then, after working in casting for Survivor and The Amazing Race, among other things, he called me to see if I would want to work for the show,” she says. “I couldn’t wait! I started out as a writer PA (production assistant) then went to postproduction and later became postproduction supervisor… Many things come with the job—one is tracking all of the shots in an episode and making sure shots are up to date.”
Levine, who also had written for Jericho and Human Target, says it’s not so easy to move on from Black Sails but believes it’s an apt stage for the show to come into port. “We felt like we were able to end it on our terms—we said to Starz that we felt we would reach about the best end of the story after four seasons,” he says. “It’s great when you can have a feeling that you tried to give the audience a full experience.”
LEVINE’S FAVORITE EPISODE
Many stand out for cocreator Levine, but nothing beats a hurricane! “A Season Three episode found Captain Flint and his men cornered by a pirate hunter, and their only possible escape was to steer the ship into a hurricane,” he says. “It’s something you never do because of controlling the ship. We also told the stories of what it’s like on deck for the captain, what it’s like to be up in the sails with 100 mph winds and what it’s like below deck trying to keep flooding from happening—and then dealing with what happens when flooding does happen. It was intense.”