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How They Created The New Quantum Leap Headquarters in NBC Revival
Quantum Leap cinematographer Ana M. Amortegui explains how they honored the original series by updating the look of the new series.
How do you make the revival of a beloved, 30-year-old television show about time travel look and feel similar, but also stand on its own? That was a core challenge for Quantum Leap revival cinematographer Ana M. Amortegui, ADFC (a member of the Colombian Cinematography Society), who helped establish the look of the new series in the pilot episode and eight other episodes of the first season. She worked closely with series showrunner, Martin Gero, to figure out how to continue the mission established in the Scott Bakula-starring series from the '90s.
"This is the continuation of what the mission was because the project got opened again, 30 years after. So when we take over, we have a different space. But the leaps, in an essence, can be the same," Amortegui tells NBC Insider about their visual logic in connecting the past to the present. "Even though technology has changed so much, it does look different. But the essence of what the show is about and the essence of the stories we tell are always going to be the same. And in that sense with the past, when we leap back, that's when the shows can connect a lot."
Unlike most television shows, the Quantum Leap revival is unique in that they are essentially making a brand-new series every single week. Every leap means a new time period, new sets, locations, costumes, and props that get entirely swapped out with every new script. Amortegui says it's one of the most exciting aspects of being a cinematographer on the show, because the visuals become the shortcut for the audience to understand where and when in time Ben Song (Raymond Lee) is in any given week.
"More than a challenge, it's like a blessing," she says. "There's nothing more exciting than trying things differently every single time. We're extremely supported here at the show to be bold, to be creative, to take risks, and go all in. Like if I need to switch a set of lenses for a specific episode because I think it will look better for this period, or because of this story, they say, 'Go ahead and change it.' The only enemy that we have is time, right? It's like making a feature every [episode] with different locations every time. We've got to do everything from scratch every time. We have to light every single location. We've got to build the sets in less than eight days. We have to shoot a lot of content in a just few days. But I love it because that never gets old. You're constantly experimenting and creating."
Creating the world of the new Quantum Leap
As the primary cinematographer for the series, Amortegui rotates episodic lighting responsibilities with fellow DPs Christopher Duddy, Tim Bellen, and Alan Caudillo. "I have a fair amount of days to prep my episode while the other DP shoots. And I do have a very strong team that supports me."
When Amortegui is prepping an episode, she says she starts with the script and the time period for the leap. "We try to read as period accurate, so we do a lot of research," she details. "But at the same time, we want to make it nice and visually interesting and give it a little bit of magic as well. Every time I get a script, the first thing that comes to my mind when we jump into the past is that I picture a color. And ask what is the texture in that color of what that time will be? Depending on where we are, depending on the story we're telling, I get inspired by that color. Then I start researching about the city that we're in. Are we in a downtown? Are we in a rural setting?"
Amortegui says figuring out all those answers helps build the unique look of every leap. But the other visually defining aspect to this Quantum Leap series is the Quantum Leap Headquarters where Magic (Ernie Hudson) and his team work with Ziggy to figure out how to get Ben to his next leap. The original series never had such a permanent set, which she says helps make the visuals on their series feel fresh and very tech-centric.
How they made the new Quantum Leap headquarters
"The advantage of the set is that we live on it and it can be shot many ways," she explains. "It is a huge set. We're very lucky with that as we can have a crane where we move the camera around. When Ziggy is a big protagonist, we can showcase who Ziggy is. He's magnificent, so we can have a space for all the characters to walk, to go, to move. The cameras move. We have see-through screens, which are great, so there are endless possibilities."
Amortegui says when developing the set and lighting for Season 1, the studio had just one note and that was to avoid the very cliché, cold blue look that is seen in so many futuristic sci-fi films and TV series. "Our task was that we needed to find a way to make sure that the headquarters felt like it was a warmer environment. They didn't want blue cyan and sci-fi," she says. "So that came in with the production designers who made sure the set was set in an LED world. With LEDs, we can put color anywhere we want. They designed a beautiful space that lent itself for us to go creative and be surrounded by color and light.
"If you look at the pilot until now, it has evolved a lot as we've been finding the look all season," she continues. "I even shoot that set differently every time. One time there'll be more cyan, the next time will be more amber. Even in the same episode, we might have like this big stripe on the top, that kind of sets the tone. Sometimes I put in amber, sometimes I do cyan, so I feel like that's the beauty of the set. It's flexible and it's versatile. It can give the space a feel like it's a lonely space, or that is full of work, or just reflects the case itself."