ABC's ‘The Quest’ Producers Reveal How They Found Heroes

In advance of the fantasy-reality hybrid show's Thursday premiere, the EPs tell TheWrap about making the show's world feel real

ABC's new fantasy reality hybrid series, “The Quest,” is more than the nerdiest dream come true: It's an endearing blend of cinema magic and reality series tropes from the producers of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Amazing Race.”

Clearly, the success of “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings” prove that there are all new levels of mainstream acceptance for fantasy productions. And there's certainly always been a large audience for stories of valor, magic and heroism.

That's what “The Quest” hopes to tap into, but the show's major hurdle lies in getting the competitors to accept the fantasy environment and react naturally to it.

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“We didn't want to throw a beanbag at them and say that it was a dragon, we really wanted to make it real,” Jane Fleming, show executive producer and film producer, told TheWrap.

Shot on location in Austria and utilizing an actual castle with crew and extras dressed to populate the town, the producers provided an environment that would get the reactions they needed.

“It took five years to make sure that we were having our contestants in a world that seemed 100 percent real to them and completely immersive while at the same time looked like a movie,” veteran reality producer and one of the show's executive producers, Rob Eric, said. “That was the whole point. If you were going to put 12 real people into a fantasy adventure, it has to look like one as well.”

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Working from a trailer pieced together from movie footage, the producers figured out the look they were going for. Taking into account the difference between a movie budget and that of a reality TV show, they found partners that believed in the vision and wanted to find the means to create it within the budget ABC gave them.

“People wanted to be part of it so everybody just kind of joined forces and said, ‘We will do this with what we have in our budget.’ So we had a lot of people working with us,” Elise Doganieri, a co-creator on “Amazing Race,” and “Quest” executive producer, said. “Everybody said this is a fantastic idea, this is going to be a great project, a great show, and we are going to make this work.”

Part of that immersive environment would include actors — who could never break character. They include a loyal, young guide; a queen who must be protected; and a battle sergeant who will become a breakout star of the series.

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Ed Sanchez and Gregg Hale from Haxan Films, creators of “The Blair Witch Project,” assembled a character bible for each of the actors.

And finally, they had to find the right contestants — 12 people known as “paladins.” The producers cast a wide net and hunted throughout the U.S. for about four months.

“This is a show about finding a hero,” Doganieri explained. “Or making a person believe that somewhere inside they're a hero. They needed to be competitive, but they also all had to have a sense of fantasy.”

What they came up with a diverse group of contenders from varied backgrounds, all believing they hold the qualities to be a hero. They range from a young woman who was bullied to a man who's a professional mixed martial arts fighter, and all types in between. This will be their chance to prove that what they believe inside can be manifested if given the right exterior.

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“We just were blown away by how they grew as characters in the show,” Doganieri said. “They might have been a quiet person, or a loner, or someone who doesn't really believe in themselves completely. And with this show, with mythology, and the tasks that they had to do during the challenges they all supported each other and helped one another grow into stronger individuals. It's a show about triumph, respect, and doing something that's right. Each of them came away from this show feeling really good about themselves.”

“Selflessness,” she said, was the most important trait for a contender this season.

“The Quest” premieres Thursday at 8/7c on ABC.

Watch the show's opening sequence above.