Maria Baltazzi

Update 7/22: Maria sent me some more detailed answers about her experience with Mark Burnett, the History Channel, and the expedition team, which I’ve embedded below.

Note: Maria and her production team were just nominated for a 2009 Emmy for their cinematography.

The best thing on TV this summer, the History Channel’s thrilling Expedition Africa, just wrapped on Sunday night. If you missed it, catch up on Hulu or History.com.

Maria Baltazzi is a veteran, hands-on producer who’s worked with Mark Burnett on classics like Eco-Challenge and Survivor (can we bring Eco-Challenge back, please?). Maria was the original brains behind the concept of Expedition Africa, and was the on-location show runner, meaning she went on the same expedition, only behind the cameras. Tough girl!
After stumbling across my Mount Helicon reviews via Expedition explorer Mireya Mayor‘s tweets, Maria was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on making this summer’s smash hit.
Adam Morgan
Where did the idea for Expedition Africa come from?
Maria Baltazzi
[First], I thought back to my elementary school days and thought about the explorers I most remembered. Even if someone knows nothing about exploration, they may have at least heard the words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Expedition Africa is the modern-day story behind one of the most famous lines ever said in exploration. Second, when you think of early exploration, Africa’s daunting and epic landscape comes to mind first. Then, after many discussions with Mark Burnett and History, we all agreed this would be a great expedition to re-capture.

The initial inspiration for developing EXPEDITION AFRICA came from Nancy Dubuc, the Executive VP/General Manager for A&E Television Network’s History Channel. She wanted to do a series about the world’s greatest historical expeditions, and asked Mark Burnett to develop the series. Then Mark, knowing my great love for travel, asked me to develop the series with him. We have had a working relationship since the very first shoot day of Survivor: Borneo (season 1).
My very first meeting with Mark on this project was Jan 10, 2008. We presented our concept to History on Feb 26, 2008. A year — to the day — later, I delivered the very first completed episode of Expedition Africa. As the series showrunner, I could not have asked for a more supportive working relationship than the one I experienced both with Mark Burnett and the History Channel. I can truly say the experience was epic in every conceivable way.
Adam Morgan
Were any other locations or historical expeditions considered before you settled on Stanley and Livingstone?
Maria Baltazzi
We talked about Lewis & Clark, parts of Magellan‘s voyage, Marco Polo, the Arctic explorers… to mention a few.
Adam Morgan
How well do you know the explorers themsevles?

Maria Baltazzi
I did the casting, and they are exactly what you see on screen. I adore each one of them uniquely. They are so different and strong in personality. Each brought a special talent to comprise a well-rounded expedition team.

When I did the casting, I had our casting director look here, in the States, Canada, England (where I found Benedict), Australia, NZ, Kenya and South Africa. It was challenging to find experienced explorers, who’s skill-set didn’t overlap too much, could verbalize the history as well the “how-to” part of doing an expedition, and handle having a camera around them 24/7. I presented my choices to Mark Burnett and History for final approval, and the result was a dynamic none of us could have predicted. We all thought they were an amazing team of knowledgeable, skilled explorers, who were very expressive with their thoughts and feelings.

Adam Morgan
What’s the best expedition you’ve ever been on?

Maria Baltazzi
Hard to pick “the best” expedition I’ve ever been on. They are each so unique. But I can truly say Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone was EPIC. This is not an exaggeration.
Adam Morgan
Which explorer do you most resemble? Personality-wise, not physically!

Maria Baltazzi
I would have been mostly similar to Mireya with a touch of Pasquale mixed in there. You have to keep the expedition team moving forward AND look after everyone’s well-being. That was my daily concern. In truth, I think I see a bit of myself in each of the Explorers: Benedict’s micro curiosity for the world he explorers. Kevin’s desire to tell stories about people and places. Pasquale’s focused determination to achieve a goal. And, Mireya’s love for people and nature/wildlife.

Adam Morgan
What’s next for you?
Maria Baltazzi
More adventures! I specialize in shooting on location.
And while Maria wouldn’t dish on the inevitable sequel, the tag scene of final episode contains a blatant reference to Marco Polo. Then again, it also blatantly refers to Subaru, so I guess Season 2 could ostensibly be a trek across the grounds of the Indiana Subaru plant, which doubles as a real-life wildlife preserve…
Major thanks and kudos to Maria and the rest of the Expedition Africa team. Head over to StudioDaily for a more in-depth interview with Maria about her experience on the show.
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