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Original Uncovers Sunken Treasure with “Pirate Island”

Documentary Debuted on History Channel


Pirate Island

, a feature-length documentary that recently made its world premiere on the History Channel, follows legendary underwater archeologist Barry Clifford as he searches for pirate shipwrecks in the waters near Île Sainte-Marie, a tiny island off the coast of Madagascar. As with Somali pirates today, the Indian Ocean was terrorized in the 18th century by marauding seamen, who amassed huge fortunes by pillaging commercial vessels. Clifford, the only person to previously have found a pirate shipwreck, was seeking evidence of these early pirates and their booty.

The documentary is produced by


, a bi-coastal production company and one of the country’s top producers of television commercials. The company, which produced the film entirely in-house, has a desire to create a wide range of content both as part of a diversification strategy and to develop unique opportunities for its staff of directors and other talent.

Geoffrey Madeja, who served as producer and cinematographer, developed the concept for the doc with Clifford, and led the crew on a five week shoot (that included extensive underwater shoots with dive teams). Editorial, computer animation and other post work was completed at Original’s production headquarters in Los Angeles.

Madeja and his crew recorded Clifford making a number of incredible finds, including five sunken pirate ships, some the obvious result of combat with British naval ships. Clifford and his dive teams retrieved cannon, cannonballs and homemade hand grenades, as well as Austrian and Dutch gold coins. They also found some lead coins used by pirates as gambling tokens.

“We didn’t have time to fully excavate the shipwrecks; that will take years,” observes Madeja. “We just opened the glove compartment.”

Madeja brought in a team of geologists who made what may have been the most intriguing discovery revealed in the show. Using scanning equipment to scour the grounds of a tiny islet, they unearthed a system of subterranean tunnels used by pirates to hide their loot.

Shooting in Madagascar posed a number of logistical hurdles. Upon landing on the island, Madeja found that his film permits had been revoked, prompting a new round of negotiations with local authorities. “There was also the challenge of getting film equipment, our crew and the excavation team to the remote location,” Madeja says. “Once production began, we were doing two or three dives a day, plus hiking through mountain and jungle environments.”

Murky Indian Ocean waters also proved difficult to shoot in. “Often we couldn’t see more than a foot in front of us,” Madeja recalls. “We were also very careful to avoid stone fish and sea urchins—which had foot long tentacles.”

Back in the more relaxed confines of Original’s production offices, a team of CG animators produced computer animated simulations of 18th century sea battles. Madeja’s crews shot live action background plates for the animated sequences to increase the sense of realism.

As challenging as the documentary was to pull off, Madeja suggests it would have been impossible without the resources offered by Original. “The writers, the editors, the animators…we’ve got it all here under one roof,” he says. “That was really great.”

About Original

Original is led by executive producers Bruce Mellon, Joe Piccirillo and Marc Lasko and maintains production offices in Los Angeles and New York City. The company’s post production division, headed by Jonathan Del Gatto, provides editorial, design, graphics and visual effects services. Original is represented on the West Coast by Options, (310) 578-9383; on the East Coast by Jeff Devlin, (212) 832 2271 and Rich Scafler, 212 750-8111; in the Midwest by KK Reps (312) 533-4047; and in Texas by Jack Reed, (214) 213-8249. For more information, call (310) 445-9000 or (212) 832-2271, or visit