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SYFY WIRE Features

How they kept all the timelines straight in 'Quantum Leap's tricky, twisty season finale

Cinematographer Ana M Amortegui shares how they kept three timelines straight for audiences. 

By Tara Bennett
Ben Song in Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 18

Quantum Leap's first season finale, "Judgment Day," had Ben (Raymond Lee) accomplish the leaps of his life navigating the future and the past to save Addison (Caitlin Bassett) from the malevolent stalking of Martinez, a.k.a. Leaper X. And the payoff is a scenario audiences going back to the original series are always hoping to see - a leaper jumping back into their own time.

Figuring out what that would look like for Ben, and the audience to follow, was one the unique challenges that series cinematographer Ana M. Amortegui, ADFC, (a member of the Colombian Cinematography Society) had to figure out with showrunner Martin Gero and production designer, Mayling Cheng.

"It's an amazing episode because we not only get to go to the past, but this is the first time we're gonna get to go to the future," Amortegui tells SYFY WIRE. "And the best thing is we get closure of the story and Ben gets to leap into himself."

RELATED: 'Quantum Leap' team teases season finale and beyond at WonderCon 2023

Amortegui says Gero let her know in episode prep that Ben would leap into himself in the Quantum Leap Project headquarters, and that she would need to light and shoot that existing set to reflect the multiple leaps in time. "We needed to make sure we could make the audience understand at every single moment if Ben was in the past, or he was in the future, or the present," she details of her visual task. "So we worked with different colors: the past was very warm, the present was cool, and the future was a very desaturated tone."

Mason Alexander and Ben Song in Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 18

Ben's life or death task for Addison is to protect her from Leaper X who intends to kill her. "Ben needs to change how the day went with Addison because Leaper X is gonna get her, so he leaps into himself the first day that they went out on a date," Amortegui says. With a lot of time shifts and returns to familiar leap destinations from Season 1, it was a requirement that audiences could easily follow the twisty episode. Immediately understanding where our Ben is in relation to 2018 Ben and 2023 Ben became Amortegui's focus in having the visuals do all the heavy lifting in achieving quick clarity for viewers. 

Multiple versions of characters means Amortegui also had to plan to shoot repeat versions of scenes using stand-ins for actors who are in the same time together. "Because Addison is the hologram, as well as the person that the episode is about, a lot of the time we have her and her at the same time," she explains. "We'd have to shoot everything twice. We had to lock down the camera when we established the move that we needed to do. And yes, you could do split screen and that's great. But, also you want to spice it up. So we had a repeatable head [for Caitlin] to be able to have her in the same time and then repeat the movements. We also used a double that looked like her with the same hair and everything. And because she was an actress, that helped us a lot."

Amortegui also got to stage arguably the most romantic moment of the whole season: when Ben leaps for the last time and gets Addison's permission to fix his 2018 mistakes with her. With her enthusiastic approval, he lays a big 'ole kiss on 2018 Addison because he finally can. As a DP, this was a seminal moment to capture for the long-separated lovers, so she says they went as breathtakingly romantic as they could with the camerawork. "We did it all with the camera work, as we went 360 around them."

Of course, that moment is supposed to lead to present day Ben and Addison getting their "happily ever after" with Ben's planned leap back home. With the Quantum Leap accelerator firing in all of its glowing glory, that harkens back to the original series and honors this series, Amortegui teases that audiences will have to wait and see what that moment looks like and how Season 2 will reflect a new look for more Quantum Leap storytelling.

Stream all of NBC's Quantum Leap Season 1 on Peacock.