The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Palm Springs.
How did you guys come up with the idea for this project?
Andy Siara: Max and I met in film school, we finished up and we decided to make our first movie together. I’ll write it, you direct it, and we’ll come up the idea together. We didn’t know what that idea was, so we headed out to Palm Springs to figure out what we wanted to do, with a focus on doing something on a containable budget. We had kind of our own “lost weekend” but one that didn’t include any hard drugs. There was a lot of drinking and gambling and talking about life and sort of an existential exploration of what we were going through. I was about to get married, so we dissected that a bit and out of that weekend grew this seed of the character of Nyles, and the setting of Palm Springs. Over the next three years it evolved into this wedding time loop movie about love and commitment and whatnot, but in the earlier stages it was this thing that was growing even though it wasn’t one clear sentence of a movie.
Max Barbakow: It was a hipster death bender movie. Like an absurd version of Leaving Las Vegas, set out in the dessert, that didn’t really make a lot of sense. There were a lot of false starts and I think those ended up helping us once we got to the foundations of the movie that is out there now, because we got to know these characters of Sarah and Nyles. It’s a pretty clean, high-concept premise but it took a lot of false starts to get there, and to figure out who these people were, and what their versions of hell were before we were able to properly develop that concept.
we wouldn’t give anything away about what’s coming, but we would also honor what’s coming
What were some of the logistical challenges of shooting a film where you have recurring locations and scenes that take place throughout the whole arc of the film at different points for the characters, but were assumedly filmed back-to-back?
Marbakow: Our DP Q [Quyen Tran] was amazing and before we even talked about visuals or shots in the movie, we talked about understanding each moment within these scenes, what was happening on a human level, even if they’re happening in the same place. Because of that, every moment is pretty unique the way it’s shot. It was challenging on a physical level to move around each space and re-set the camera to get all the different stuff we wanted. It could be tedious when it was taking a long time but I think it got fun at some points too, when you’re working at a fast clip and you’re doing series of takes and jumping in and out and doing different versions of stuff. I think it was very challenging when we’d shoot one side of a scene one night, like the dance floor at the wedding and the speeches, and then the next night we’d have to shoot the other side. That’s when things kind of got crazy—when you’re doing different parts of scenes on different nights. But by and large, it was such a quick shoot that it was a blur and we were just trying to keep up the momentum.
Cristin Milioti: In some ways I think that was one of the most fun parts of it, as well as the most challenging. I had very extensive notes, like A Beautiful Mind shed of scribbles that I had to constantly refer back to. All of the scenes of me waking up throughout the film, we shot that in one day. So every time I woke up, I had to say to myself “okay, I think this is right after this happened, which I think is going to go like this,” and there were a lot of logistics. What I really kept in mind was actually one of my favorite parts of the film, the first fifteen minutes of misdirect. You think, oh these people just met at this wedding, and you kind of want to rope in the audience until that moment that you bring them into this dark weird alley. I wanted to be able to fold in things in the early part of the movie so that we wouldn’t give anything away about what’s coming, but we would also honor what’s coming. And what’s she done and what she’s already grappling with, that was a very fine balance.
Andy Samberg: The way I started out acting was us shooting our own stuff on home cameras. And you’d call ten takes in a row without cutting or resetting or anything. We’d do it on the SNL shorts too, it would be go, go, go. It was a little like voiceover where you’d do four different ways of saying the words. And I feel like we did a lot of that because of time constraints on those particular occasions when we needed to get all the scenes that are little quick pops and were all at the same location. Max would do a great job and Cristin was really on it. I feel like we had a constant conversation about scheduling and we made sure to pinpoint the scenes that we couldn’t rush. Where we needed to explore it more and let it happen more realistically, and give ourselves time to get it a few different ways. A lot of the emotions in the movie are played kind of ambiguously; you’re supposed to feel a little conflicted. So you want to get those nuanced more sub-texty takes that match up with the more nuanced sub-texty writing. Communication is always important in all things in life, but in this project in particular it was really key in terms of getting out in front of it and making sure we didn’t run into problems as we went.
Can you talk about the wardrobe?
Milioti: We had a really brilliant costume designer Colin [Wilkes] and she just killed it. Everything was very specific. For Sarah, we were looking for that outfit that she would have gotten wasted in the night before, almost like a fuck you to the rehearsal dinner that she doesn’t want to attend. I imagine she showed up to the dinner in those shorts and boots with maybe a slightly nicer shirt, got black out drunk, put that sloppy pajama shirt on, and then… did whatever she did. There were very intense thought-out conversations, even in those little pops in the montage. We had long talks about, what could Sarah have found at the CVS down the street. Because they only have 24 hours. She didn’t come with a suitcase of tomfoolery costumes! She came to a wedding she didn’t want to be at, so what could you get a Walgreen’s at Palm Spring? The crappy pirate’s hook or that sparkly jacket. One of my favorite parts of the wardrobe was that none of it was fantastical—though it was beautiful and cinematic—but it was all grounded in what you could find in Palm Springs.
Andy Samberg: A lot of it was really well drawn by Max and Andy and the script, and our initial talks. I really felt like you could see it when you read the script. There was definitely a lot of discussion over the “hero” outfits for Nyles and Sarah. We went through a lot of Hawaiian shirts. It ended up looking exactly how I imagined. We’ve just passed Halloween and I’ve been seeing a lot of Nyles and Sarah costumes, which is pretty dope. When you make something there’s nothing better than people saying they want to be your characters.
What was the research process like in regards to the quantum physics angle?
Samberg: We had a “real-life” scientist we consulted with, who was fantastic. And he actually ended up in the movie as the scientist Sarah is talking with at the diner. We had a couple of nice chats with him where we basically asked “how embarrassing will this be in the science community if we say x, y and z” and then he would give us adjustments.
Milioti: He’d be like “oh, that’s not what you should be embarrassed about!”
Samberg: A lot of the stuff that we worked out with him ended up getting cut because we found people in the test screenings didn’t really care that much. They were really more keyed in—thankfully—to the emotional component. But poor Cristin had to learn like three pages of physics.
Milioti: I saw the final cut and it was me finishing the speech that was three long pages of dialogue, and it’s essentially me saying “… and that’s how we get out of it!” And I was like, no! I spent days memorizing the whole thing.
Samberg: But I am glad we did it, because I think it gave us all a much better grasp of what we were doing internally. If you dig a little deeper, it still holds up. And if you dig past a certain point… it’s all theoretical so who knows. But it all starts with, if your theory is this, then all of these rules apply and there’s a logic to your world.