For Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia, summer is for hunting artifacts and having adventures
An exciting summer vacation is waiting for you on television.
Blood & Treasure, a summer series about world-traveling treasure hunters, takes viewers all over the world, from London to Cairo to Montreal, and points in between. Starring Matt Barr and Sofia Pernas, the show is the brainchild of writer-producer-directors Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia. Reminiscent of old Saturday matinee serials, the show is nevertheless firmly rooted in reality.
The basic plot of the show follows an antiquities expert, Danny McNamara, played by Barr, who teams up with an accomplished thief (Master thief, as she reminds him in the show's intro), Lexi Vaziri, played by Pernas, as they try to find Cleopatra's sarcophagus, which is also being sought to help to finance a terrorist plan.
As the pair chases the sarcophagus across the globe, they meet up with a variety of fascinating characters, good and bad, and some who could be either.
Federman and Scaia knew exactly the look and feel they were going for in their treasure hunt. Federman says, "We've been obsessed with all that stuff since we were kids. We've done four different treasure pilots for four different networks over time trying to get it going. This time we had come across some information about how ISIS was using blood antiquities to fund terror operations.
"They would go into places like Palmyra and they would blow it up for PR value. But what the world wasn't seeing was they were cutting out sculptures and things like that and selling them on the black market and funding terrorism.
"So for us it would be the thing that unlocked the way in for this show. But then knowing that that's a very serious backstory for the show, we still always wanted the show to be fun and to kind of be about all the stuff that we loved growing up, but just kind of poured into a modern world."
Having it as a summer series made their vision that much clearer, according to Scaia, "Part of it for us was once [the network] asked us to do a summer series, we saw it as an opportunity to not make a TV show but to make a movie on TV.
"That's, I think, one of the things we love the best when people talk about the show and they compare it to things. They don't compare it to other TV shows, they compare it to big giant blockbuster movies, which feels like a great compliment. So we tried to make the show as real as possible. When the script says they're walking through Trevi fountain, we walked through Trevi Fountain for real.
"The thing we were trying, really striving to do was make it feel real. I think that there's a lot of times that big giant action movies rely on green screen and special effects to sell a moment. I think that the things that we loved as kids were things like Raiders [of the Lost Ark] and Romancing the Stone where you can really tell they went there and they did that thing.
"When they had that snake that was a real snake, it wasn't a CG snake.
"So we were striving to kind of capture that reality where our show is two inches off the ground, but it still takes place in a world like our world. Anytime we can do something for real, we did it for real. So in a lot of our choices for lenses and lighting, we're really just trying to find the best way to match the real life place we are in.
"Except maybe when we were in the Nazi flashbacks, which we treated a little bit more stylized because they were more omniscient memory than they were an actual moment with our characters. So we could take a little bit more latitude with it where it had a little bit more about that feeling of a Saturday afternoon serial that is what Raiders was based on.
"That really truly was our goal where we would try to find interesting places we could go in the world.
"But also as story was changing, we weren't even planning to shoot in Morocco originally, but as the story in the writer's room was adjusting for that, we realized there was more story to be shot in Morocco than there is in some place like Croatia, which is one of the places we were thinking of going originally.
"So we were able to pivot because we had a great production crew. We're just one scouting visit Morocco away from finding all those spots we needed. We were able to go there and find so much more than we've expected. I mean there's a whole episode that takes place in Havana and that's north Africa. That's not Cuba."
Another early choice that gives the series a unique look is in the casting of relative unknowns. Scaia says, "That was a goal for us because we knew we couldn't get Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas, so we decided we would try to find fresh faces so you didn't necessarily know where the story was going because, 'Oh, it's that famous person, so therefore they must be the good guy or the bad guy.'
We had a great casting person, Liz Barnes, who found us Sofia first. Then we literally read every single handsome male actor between 25 and 55 in Hollywood for Danny. But luckily we found Matt Barr towards the end actually, even though he had been lobbying for the part for a long time. He didn't come across our radar until right towards the end of the process.
"Believe it or not, we actually cast him, I think it was two days before we started shooting.
"We called him to tell him he got the job on a Tuesday morning. He was thrilled and we said, 'Great, we'll see you tomorrow morning in Montreal.' He was laughing and he's like, 'No, but seriously, when are we starting?' We're like, 'No, seriously, you're getting on a plane tomorrow morning. We start on Thursday.'
"That to me was what I love about Matt Barr is he is totally game, just like Sofia, just like all the cast really. I mean Mark Gagliardi is spectacular as Chuck with a humanistic priest thing. Michael James Shaw's awesome as Shaw. We'd worked with him on Limitless. So we knew he was great at sort of playing the part of the lovable scoundrel with a heart of gold.
"Katya [Winter] is great as the badass no nonsense cop because she actually wanted to be a badass no nonsense cop in Sweden before she became an actress. I mean you've got like Oded [Fehr] and Jim Callis and they're awesome at what they do and you just sort of point the camera at them and let them go."
In part because of the travel, the cast and crew became close and formed a tight-knit unit. Scaia explains, "I mean it helps when you're in the middle of Tangier with the crew of however many of you. You eat a lot of meals together. It really did become a camp all over the world."
Federman adds, "We didn't have any divas. Everyone we cast, we looked into them and made sure that they were going to be good people to work with and people who are game for the adventure of it. So everyone was just so excited to be there and everyone was like fulfilling their childhood fantasies by being on the show. We feel like you can really see that on the screen."
Scaia notes, "We tried to make the show as much fun to watch as it was to make. We got close."
Federman and Scaia have been working together since they met as PAs on The West Wing in 2002. As a team, they have produced such series as Warehouse 13 and Limitless. The concept of working as a team is important to them both, and it is manifested in Blood & Treasure.
Scaia says, "I think if there's an overall word to describe the way that Blood & Treasure succeeds, it's teamwork. It starts with me and Matt being able to be a team and working well together. It trickles down all the way through everybody in the writer's room, then our actors and the cast and the crew on set.
"I can't tell you how many times we solve the problems in the middle of the Sahara desert because our crew loves the show and they all feel like they're part of a team. They are not just coming in to present the problem to you. They tell you what the problem is, but they also have three solutions and one of them is almost always perfect and makes the show better to be honest."
The show has recently been renewed for a second season, and the team is rolling with all the changes and challenges.
Scaia says, "The people who love the show are finding the show. I actually think a lot more people are going to find the show, but they're going to find it as something that can binge over the summer or the winter or whatever. As we cook up season two. it's an interesting math problem for us because last time we had a year and a half to get a season together.
"So we did all the writing first and we did all the production, then we did all the posts. This season we have considerably less time for that to be ready for next summer. So it's all kind of happening at once.
"So we're hoping that the lessons we learned in first season will be the thing that can carry us through to having everything ready to go in time for next season. The sort of way we're approaching it is every, without giving anything away for the finale, each season should feel like its own discreet summer novel or franchise movie.
"We love the way that for better or worse, Indiana Jones was looked one way for Raiders of the Lost Ark and looked a completely different way for Temple of Doom. So while this season's treasure and adventure took us through Egypt and the dusty planes of the Middle East. We're off to Southeast Asia and the hot steamy jungle for season two for that adventure.
"Our goal is we were talking sort of about the look of the show, I really am striving for you to be able to turn on the TV to an episode of Blood & Treasure and know just by the look of it, which season you're in."
Most of all, Federman and Scaia hope to offer a great escape for the whole family. Scaia says, "It's about giving you an escape for that time when you are watching the show and getting to see a little bit of the world and maybe wanting to go to those places yourself.
"So we're trying to present something that's fun and positive and the kind of show that we grew up watching, which was we would watch TV with our moms and dads and grandparents and brothers and sisters. We feel like everyone kind of goes to their corner with their tablet or TV or phone to watch what they watch and no one has the shared experience anymore.
"Blockbuster movies are really the only place everyone all comes together anymore. So we wanted to bring that to TV as best we could."
Once the show's run is finished on CBS, it will continue to be available on CBS AllAccess and Amazon.
Federman adds, "What'll be exciting for us is when all 13 are there on Amazon and now when people hear about the show it's like, 'Hey, just go to Amazon. You can watch all 13.' They'll probably watch it in a couple of nights because they're not long episodes. Hopefully we can grow the audience over the break and then when season two comes out the audience can grow on CBS."