While 2020 has been an exceptionally odd year for cinema due to global events, it’s very easy to appreciate the movies that have been released when they are as good as Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January and released on Hulu in July, the Andy Samberg-Cristin Milioti comedy is a wonderful exploration of the time loop concept, and a creative and hilarious ride. It’s quickly gained a massive fanbase, and thanks to all of that interest we’ve had the opportunity to learn quite a lot about how it got made.
Last week a special “For Your Consideration” panel for Palm Springs was held online, featuring writer Andy Siara, Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons (with Kumail Nanjiani serving moderator duties), and between the conversation from that event and the various interviews the cast and filmmakers have given in the last few months, there is a lot of fun stuff to dig into from behind the scenes. So let’s dig in, starting with the very different kind of movie that the comedy almost was…
SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Palm Springs. If you have not yet seen the film, please proceed at your own risk
Palm Springs Was Initially An “Absurdist Comedic Version Of Leaving Las Vegas”
Being a time loop movie, Palm Springs is a part of a small but prestigious subgenre of science-fiction features that also includes greats like Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, and Happy Death Day, and it operates so uniquely within that space that you’d think the concept was the foundation on which the rest of the story was built. As co-writer Andy Siara explained in the “For Your Consideration” panel last week, however, what we see in the finished film is nothing remotely like what the project was in its first draft. Said the filmmaker,
We had the kernel of an idea of who this character who was, Nyles, and the kind of journey that we take this character [on], from caring about nothing in the world to finding purpose and caring about something. Finding meaning in a meaningless world. So the first version of the movie was more of like our absurdist comedic version of Leaving Las Vegas where he goes out to Palm Springs to kill himself and he just can't do it. And that was just bad then it didn't work.
Fortunately Siara and co-writer/director Max Barbakow kept plugging away at it and trying to make it better, and when the time loop idea entered the mix everything changed.
To Keep Track Of The Timeline, Cristin Milioti Kept Hyper-Detailed Notes In Her Script
Because the vast majority of films are shot out order, the challenge of an actor adjusting their performance to match their emotional state with where a scene takes place in a narrative is one frequently faced – but Palm Springs still presented an abnormal situation for its stars. Not only is the story set over a much longer time period than most movies (more on that later), but because the settings are constantly repeating there was efficiency found in grouping disparate sequences together for shooting days. This made it an extra special experience for Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, but the latter found her way to keep everything organized: maintaining detailed notes in her script.
The actor has compared her prep work for Palm Springs as being akin to the yarn-and-thumbtack work done by Russell Crowe’s John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. She not only paid close attention to exactly where a particular scene being shot took place in her character’s macro arc, but also filled in gaps for all of the days that we don’t see play out on screen. It was all work done by Cristin Milioti to ensure that her performance as Sarah was everything it could be, and she most definitely succeeded.
How The Dinosaurs Ended Up In The Palm Springs Script
Being a movie in which characters experience time resetting whenever they go to sleep, Palm Springs obviously operates in abstract and weird concepts, but still recognizable as one of the stranger touches is the pack of dinosaurs that appear in the distance a couple of times. It’s never explicitly explained where they come from – are they perhaps stuck in the time loop too? – but their inclusion is beautiful and poetic. Per Andy Siara, that particular beat came from both the desire to inject some symbolism into the script, as well as just his personal love for the terrible lizards:
You could look at it like you have two characters who don't believe love, either giving love or feeling love, is possible in that moment. And so they see something that is impossible because they are feeling the impossible – there's dinosaurs. I also just the whole time I was writing this movie I was like, 'If this ever happens, this could be the only movie I ever make. And so there has to be dinosaurs in it.' It's as simple as that.
Now the question remains if this means that Andy Siara’s thirst for putting dinosaurs in a movie is quenched, or if it means he will perhaps try and write something entirely about dinosaurs as his next project.
Cristin Milioti Had Not Seen Groundhog Day Before Making Palm Springs, And Still Hasn’t
It’s easy to be under the impression that all actors are cinephiles just because of what they do for a living, but that’s not always true, and Cristin Milioti is a perfect example. It was brought up multiple times during the “For Your Consideration” panel that the depth of the Palm Springs star’s film knowledge isn’t really all that deep, and while she apparently has a healthy love for Barry Sonnenfeld’s excellent Addams Family Values, the truth is that there are a lot of movies she hasn’t seen. Shockingly, this even includes Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day, which is considered by most to be the grandfather of all time loop films.
While Cristin Milioti showed incredible dedication to her work with her detailed notetaking mentioned above, evidently her preparation didn’t include any cinematic research. And while that might be excused by her not wanting to have that movie influence her performance, the truth is that she hasn’t taken the time to watch it in the year-plus since production ended. Assuming she gets around to seeing it at some point, it will be interesting to eventually hear her thoughts on it.
There Were Some Big Ideas That The Palm Springs Production Simply Couldn’t Afford
With mid-budget movies becoming increasingly rare in the modern era of Hollywood, productions try and work every angle to cut down on their expenses – and Palm Springs is a film that was well-equipped to do that. With the exception of one sequence, almost the entire thing takes place in and around a single hotel/resort, and the aforementioned repeated locations meant that the filmmakers were able to work quickly. The side effect, of course, is that there are some great ideas were are left categorized as “unfeasible.”
As Andy Siara explained when being interviewed on ReelBlend this summer, one such idea was showing Nyles take that crystal meth-fueled trip to Equatorial Guinea that he mentions while talking with Sarah in the bar about how he has spent his time in the loop. It definitely would have been funny to watch it, but Andy Samberg’s description of it works just as well, particularly with the punchline, “It was a huge waste of time.”
Cristin Milioti Memorized A Multi-Page Monologue Of Quantum Physics Details… And It Got Cut
One of the key differences between the time looping in Palm Springs and Groundhog Day is the applied science. In the Bill Murray movie, the resetting day happens as a kind of universe-created punishment for the protagonist, while the 2020 release throws a lot more quantum physics into the mix. The driving force behind this is Cristin Milioti’s Sarah, and originally the film had a whole monologue dedicated to her explanation about how everything works.
To hear that a scene like that got cut probably isn’t all that surprising – but what makes the circumstance a bit painful is knowing all of the hard work that went into it. In the For Your Consideration panel, Milioti explained that the monologue was five pages long and took her days to learn, and that she was stunned to see that the whole thing was cut when she first watched the movie. Said the actor,
When I saw the cut for the first time before we went to Sundance, that scene came up and it was literally like a bit from The Simpsons. It was me turning around, 'And that's how we get out of the loop.' And there've been pages of me talking about like, 'The thing is, is that when on the Cauchy horizon...' I was like all quantum physics stuff, but yeah, no one cares.
Andy Samberg Wanted The Trailer To Not Reveal The Time Loop Aspect
If you don’t know what Palm Springs is about going in, the opening is quite strange – particularly the wedding and the introduction of Andy Samberg’s Nyles. The guy may come across as a typical “life of the party” type who has the ability to wrap the whole wedding around the tip of his finger, but he also seems to have a serious gift for timing. Unfortunately, because marketing and word of mouth exists, it’s unlikely that the majority people will go into the movie not knowing that key plot information, but for what it’s worth, Andy Samberg tried to keep the time loop a secret.
Said Andy Samberg during the “For Your Consideration” event,
We tried really hard and, I mean, we succeeded at Sundance not giving up that aspect of it. And then once it became something that had to have a trailer cut, it kind of became impossible. We kept being like, 'Could we try an edit where you don't show that part of it?' And they were like, No.'
Nyles Was Trapped In The Time Loop For A Crazy Long Time
Andy Samberg’s Nyles is a special character in the time loop subgenre specifically because we as the audience don’t experience his first time through the loop. He’s a master of the repeat by the time we first meet him via Cristin Milioti’s Sarah, and because he hasn’t bothered to strictly keep track it’s impossible to gauge how much time he’s actually spent looping. It’s an answer that isn’t specifically provided by the film itself, but Andy Siara has attached an approximate number to the question.
Per an interview with the filmmaker this summer, Nyles spends over 40 years in the loop a.k.a. more than 14,600 days (which, it should be noted, doesn’t actually equate directly to “number of loops” because the rule goes by sleeping instead of a specific time period). Could you survive that long without going totally crazy? It’s an interesting question that hopefully nobody ever has to personally answer!
Palm Springs is now streaming exclusively on Hulu, and given that it’s considered by many on the CinemaBlend staff to be one of the best movies to come out in 2020, expect to hear it mentioned quite a bit as we get closer and closer to the end of the year.