Disney+ is not necessarily the place you’d find reality TV game shows, but The Quest has challenged that by wrapping it into an epic story that shot like a movie.
The creators of some of TV’s most popular reality shows including “The Amazing Race” and “Queer Eye” joined forces with the producers of “The Lord of the Rings” to create a cinematic competition show for TV featuring teenage contestants that all gets folded into a fantasy world filled with castles and sorcerers, and a mission to save it.
We spoke with the show’s creators to learn more about this new type of television program and the challenges and wins in creating something unique for Disney+.
DE: This isn’t the first time that a show like The Quest was created. One was created for ABC back in 2014 that only lasted one season. What was different this time around? What makes fantasy stories like The Lord of The Rings perfect for episodic TV?
Jane Flemming and Mark Ordesky (Court Five, “The Lord of the Rings”): “Disney+ wanted us to push the envelope for what an immersive adventure featuring real people could be – to create a new story-telling format for streaming. Not only did we avoid traditional reality tropes like confessionals, we deepened the narrative weaving through the Paladins’ (contestants) experience. Ultimately, as with the classic Hero’s Journey which features in the books and movies our contestants all love, their choices transform them and change the fate of Everealm.
Generally speaking, fantasy stories match well with episodic TV, because every fantasy hero must face increasing challenges on their way to completing a seemingly unattainable goal.”
DE: What challenges were there to create a reality competition show with scripted elements?
Elise Doganieri and Bertram Van Munster (New Media Collective, “The Amazing Race”): The challenge to create a reality game show with scripted elements was not that different from what we do in our other reality shows. We still had to come up with creative ideas that fit the concept of the show. This time it was very exciting for us to think about how we could integrate the tasks to fit the storyline, which was something new for us, that gave us something very specific to work from.
In addition the challenges had to feel organic in the storyline, and we also had to integrate scripted characters. In the gem challenges the scripted character, for example, Mila would speak with the teens, and in a narrative form describe the challenge into the conversation.
To round out the challenge a creature such as the Witch of Fortiteer or the Dragior would then be present the entire challenge and speak to the teens directly. This brought another dimension to the challenges and gave our teens the ability to converse with the creatures who would then improv, this is all very purposeful to create the immersive experience for the teens (Paladins).
The production challenges to film the show cinematically were to give the Paladins the experience that they were going into the world of Everealm and that the cameras and crew became “invisible” to them. We had a low profile when filming all the reality. We also had to film the teens in the sequence of the real story, in real-time. In a film you would typically film scenes out of order. Here we had to film in real-time, so every day the story would move forward for the teens. This was an intricate and logistical puzzle that had to be set up well in advance. Each time we filmed with the teens we also did not stop down. We filmed continuously so we had to set up and be ready to film a complete scene from start to finish.
The actors, who are extremely talented, had to be on-point every day. They not only had to know their lines, but they had to be ready to improvise when a Paladin asked a question.
Our incredible camera crews also had to be ready to pivot and follow the action as the scene developed.
DE: For the technically involved, what does “cinematic” mean?
Mark Kohl (Director of Photography, The Quest): When one is shooting reality, I think it’s best to have it have the most realistic look so that we believe that we’re in a world of a certain reality.
When shooting the quest we were combining a scripted fantasy world, with a competition world, with a live dinner theater, in which actors had to ad lib with live contestants. Something that actually had never really been done before.
So when I approach The Quest, I didn’t want to create two different worlds visually. Since the fantasy scripted world was very high in production value I wanted to stay with that look and continue it throughout the reality in the competition portions of the show.
We wanted the look to be as cinematic as possible, so we decided to go for the white screen 2.39 aspect ratio and in doing so, we created several technical challenges, but we combined anamorphic lenses for the scripted scenes with cropped censored zoom lenses for the reality portion
By doing this we created a unique never seen before look maintained over the scripted fantasy and competition portions. It is indeed new visual territory.
DE: What was it like to capture the authentic moments that these teens were experiencing while competing on the show?
Rob Eric and Michael Williams (Scout Productions Inc., Queer Eye on Netflix): Watching our contestants’ reactions to the magical world we built for them was absolutely amazing. We literally watched them grow through this adventure, find their confidence, and work together to unfold and solve the mystery of this kingdom on the verge of being defeated by an evil force. Not to sound goofy, but it really was magical!
DE: How can you identify those unique moments that happen and put them into a reality-based comeptiton show?
When we first started putting this show together, we asked ourselves what our main goal was in creating this unique hybrid experience. The answer was simple: to give our contestants an authentic fantasy world experience that would shock and awe them.
We aren’t just television producers, we ourselves are all huge fans of fantasy movies and books. We all, at one time or another, watched a magical movie or read a fantasy book and thought, “How cool would it be if I could be in this world? What would I do? Would I be a hero…a villain…etc.”
Bringing this world to life for our contestants was about capturing those moments from movies and books and having a real authentic reaction. We worked hard to build a world that had all the bells and whistles of a realistic fantasy world that we ourselves would love: creepy witches hiding in dark woods that could scare them, a castle that looked like it came out of a fairytale to set the tone, and immersive stories unfolding around them. It was a blast identifying these moments and giving our contestants the chance to both be the hero and compete in a reality game show.
The Quest is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.
Our special thanks to the producers for contributing to this story.