Creator Jonathan Steinberg On The Past, Present And Future Of BLACK SAILS

With Sundays incredible season finale, BLACK SAILS came to its conclusion. After four years, the pirates of Nassau have reached their ends, some literal, some figurative and some metaphorical. Though the ending was sincerely satisfying, and more than complete, there will always be questions. One of the series creators, Jonathan Steinberg, took the time from his busy schedule to sit down and discuss the series as a whole, the challenges with crafting the story and what may, if anything, lie ahead.

Sinful Celluloid – The show seemed to have three separate focuses, one that centered on the Urca gold, one on the golden age of piracy and one on John and Flint. How did the show develop from start to finish?

Jonathan Steinberg – It happened in a couple of ways I think. There is always a process of finding the show you intended to make which sometimes but not always happens in its pilot or first season. I think for us it took a good chunk of the first season to really have a harness around it and understand how to make the show we wanted it to be. We wanted to do a lot of different things simultaneously, to do set piece action which we haven’t seen on television before and we had seen in that time period before and with no upward limit of how big or how ambitious it could get. 

At the same time we wanted to tell a story about people who have been cast out of civilization and the process of wrestling with their own identities and trying to understand themselves. Which was baked into our initial interest in the story that people don’t really know who these people were and the historical record is messy, compromised and biased. The more interesting question to ask is who do they think they were?

Those are two very different shows in a lot of ways and I think once we find a way to keep them both alive at the same time it really became the show we wanted about Flint and Silver’s relationship and how close it could get before it ended tragically so we could park both of them into the book in an interesting way.

Sinful Celluloid – I always felt that Black Sails was telling those three different stories at the same time…

Jonathan Steinberg – Yeah. That I think is true and something we felt as well. Originally the finale came with great difficulty to be able to end all of those stories in a way where they feel related but also have their own space and feel fulfilling in a way that you want them to be. And they are related a fair amount but I think with the story about the institution and how we understand piracy looking back on it three centuries later and the story of the people within it with Flint and Silver standing at the center, it became more important that each has its moment, and I think they do.

Sinful Celluloid – As a writer, I know that sometimes characters won’t do what you want them to. Is there a character that really dictated its own outcome?

Jonathan Steinberg – That is a true story. (smiles) That is a really good question. It sounds like a cop out but it’s not, they all did. They all start talking to you if they’re built the right way. A little bit less that they would go where I didn’t want them to go because I feel both Robert (Levine), Dan Shotz and I have strong feelings that when a character talks, you should listen. And I think that’s a little of what you watch evolve over the first season is in those characters that we understood a part of but hadn’t fully exposed, being in scenes where you felt this momentum build. To have them become something or have them fall into a conflict that really expose a thing that we always knew was there but wasn’t clear most of the way.

I think Max’s story is one that we were pretty proud of. We had to find her a little but once we found her she became fascinating and became something we really wanted to be sure we got right. Also Silver’s story. We knew the beginning point and the end point but that’s barely half the battle. How you get there is complicated. Anybody can say they want to meet a guy that’s nothing like the one he’ll be 40 hours from now but all those points along the way are difficult and easily miss-stepped. I think both the character and the actor in all those cases, Max and Flint and Silver helped when their performances are resonating the right way, you can feel when things are feeling true or untrue.

Sinful Celluloid – The show really seemed to be heading for a dark ending. How did you arrive at the ending you chose and is there a different one out there?

Jonathan Steinberg – I think the Flint/Silver ending, by the time you get to the finale, is the emotional core of the narrative. I think we knew a long time ago that we wanted it to feel this way. We probably would have been able to identify in season one that the long throw of this show is about Flint being a guy standing on a rock in the middle of the atlantic ocean shaking his fist at civilization and fighting it, almost winning, and being taken down by the least likely adversary he could have imagined at the beginning of the story. Eventually that would manifest as a friendship unlike any he had ever had that had to fall apart and end tragically. I think we knew what it was gonna feel like it’s just about figuring out what all the nuts and bolts look like to build it. I think that’s not terribly surprising but gratifying that we were able to get there.

Are there other endings out there? There were scenes we considered and didn’t do? Always. There are always a lot of bodies piling up in the corner. Things that couldn’t quite defend themselves as ideas. That’s to be expected. But this one felt right. In all of its facets, all the characters with where they’re placed and all of the subtext which I think is heavy and meaningful to us, that all felt like it was sitting in the right place as well.

Sinful Celluloid – Let’s talk about Jack Rackham. I was expecting things to go south for him. I’m so glad that it didn’t but that was a pleasant surprise.

Jonathan Steinberg – I think people have a reaction to that character. Historically we know how he dies so he must die but everybody dies, it’s just a question of where you choose to end the story. Some of it felt right. It felt like he was the one who had always been witness to all of this and it just felt organic that he would be the one to be able to look back on it all and be able to express some hindsight about it. Plus I have to express that we just couldn’t express the thought of it. That character is just too much fun.

Sinful Celluloid – There are obviously lots of deleted scenes, will be seeing the light of day on the season 4 set or the inevitable complete series set?

Jonathan Steinberg – That’s a good question. I don’t know. The thing about deleted scenes is that they are generally deleted for a reason but I think there were scenes that we find ourselves missing. Would they ever be released? I don’t know. That’s a STARZ question but I wouldn’t oppose it, there’s some good stuff hiding in there. There’s some gems in there for sure.

Sinful Celluloid – Where there any you particularly liked?

Jonathan Steinberg – Yeah. I would say for every episode there was something that was the hardest one and the last one to be let go off before we put the icing on it. There were some in season 2 that we got the sense even when we were writing them that they were for our own amusement. Those I don’t know if they would ever see the light of day…we would be judged. (laughs)

Part of the process of figuring out what the show can and can’t do I think is to continue to push until you break it though some of the times when you break them it makes for interesting scenes that have no business on the show.

Sinful Celluloid – Since Black Sails ends with possibilities, are you open to telling further stories, either in comics or novels? In short; what comes next?

Jonathan Steinberg – For sure. That’s something Dan, Robert and I have done, Mostly Dan and Robert, on another show we worked on called JERICHO. It was a thing that just became fun to be able to continue that story without all the pressure of having to produce it. I think that we would all certainly be open to opening the toy box and playing with it in that direction for sure.