Palm Springs, which premiered on Hulu on July 10, is not your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. The plot sounds like it is. Two lonely people meet at a friend’s wedding and broken hearts, cheating, and confusion ensues. But, there are two other minor details: The guy and the gal are caught in an infinite time loop, as in Groundhog Day, and the guy is being hunted by a crazy killer. But don’t worry. It’s really funny.
The film stars Andy Samberg (who also produced) as the guy, Nyles. Cristin Milioti (The Wolf of Wallstreet) portrays the gal, Sarah. J.K. Simmons, veteran of TV, over 100 movies, and commercials for an insurance company “…that’s seen a thing or two”, shows off his scary side as the killer.
The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, securing what may have been the biggest distribution deal in the festival’s history. Besides the rom-com and sci-fi elements, the film explores deeper questions about loneliness, our place in the universe, and asks “What is time?”
Is your head spinning yet? To help fans get a grasp on this one-of-a-kind film, Film Independent, an LA based organization for industry pros and film lovers, sponsored a Q&A with the filmmakers. Director Max Barbakow, writer Andy Siara, and producer/star Andy Samberg answered questions from Film Independent’s Cooper Hopkins.
Fake Beer and Irvine
Hopkins asked Barbakow and Siara how they got together for the project.
Siara recalled, “We met at American Film Institute. In terms of developing ideas, one of the things we talked about then was Eastbound & Down. We were impressed by how this show could go from slapstick to gut wrenching drama so quickly. We made a couple of shorts together. After AFI, we went out to Palm Springs one day, had some Mai Tais and that’s when we came up with the nugget for the character of Nyles.”
Hopkins followed up on Siara’s Mai Tai memory. “Drinks play a big role in this movie,” he pointed out. “Andy, how many beers did you open?”
Samberg laughed. “It was important to these guys that I did a single finger open of the cans,” he said. “I’m not sure how many I opened, but I got a blister on my finger.”
Barbakow said, “I think we made up 500 cans of this brand. All filled with water.”
Hopkins asked, “What was the brand?”
“Ocupada,” Barbakow replied.
Samberg added, “We made this beer up. We’re still waiting for an alcohol distributer to make this beer for real.”
Getting back to the writing, Hopkins directed a question to Siara. “You mentioned Irvine in the film,” he said. “You’re from Yorba Linda, but you are a UCI grad. This line plays a big part: ‘Everybody has their Irvine.’ Do they?”
Siara said, “Besides going to college there, I was trying to understand the draw of the suburbs. As for Irvine, well, ‘Everybody has their Yorba Linda’ doesn’t flow off the tongue as well as Irvine. I would like to believe that everyone does have an Irvine. It’s a place in your mind. It may take years of reflection to get there.”
Making the Film
This film was the first feature Barbakow directed. Hopkins asked, “Max, tell me about what made you nervous on the set of your first feature?”
“I think the schedule in general,” Barbakow said. “Getting a movie done in 21 days, you only get two to three takes per set up. By the end of it, it felt like we were crawling to the finish. We had to prioritize the performances. What made it special is that everybody took ownership.”
Hopkins turned to Samberg: “Did you really shoot that crossbow?”
Samberg said, “Two takes and I did shoot it. The explosion was not real. The closest I had ever gotten to something like that was when I was fourteen and I accidentally set off a firecracker next to my ear. I heard ringing in it for weeks. So, I didn’t trust myself with a live C4 crossbow.”
Hopkins asked, “Was this fun to make?”
Samberg nodded: “It was. You know when you are shooting something and for every scene you’re thinking ‘I can’t wait to shoot that.’ There are so many moments that were funny or heartbreaking. I was laughing out loud when reading the script. After shooting it I kept thinking, ‘I can’t wait to see what we’ve done on the screen.’”
Hopkins kept probing: “Did you like the script at first?”
Samberg said, “It’s the best. There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s really good, but not necessarily what I’d be good at. It’s rare I get sent something cold and laugh. The script had class. This was very exciting.”
Hopkins asked about Samberg’s character Nyles. “Is there more backstory to him? Stuff that didn’t make it into the film?”
Samberg recalled, “For me, the character was fully formed on the page. Max and Andy both said it shouldn’t be over the top like characters I have played in other things. There’s more to him. The scenes by the campfire and by the side of the road show he’s broken inside. He’s lost. I don’t often get to play that. This was right in step with what I was comfortable with.”
Siara chimed in: “As for backstory, well, it took a long time to figure out what this movie was about. There were lots of false starts and fifty-page versions. We talked about it five years ago, and thought it was like Leaving Las Vegas. But it was always absurdist, but it was all about this character. We knew this character like the back of our hand.”
Palm Springs has a vague ending. Hopkins asked: “What really happens at the end? You as writers, do you know?”
Siara gave a hint: “I would say every little thing in the movie is there for a reason. Wardrobe choices, tables in the background, drink choices. That’s my two cents.”
Samberg said, “Nyles and Sarah walking into the cave together is important. The main characters’ arcs have been resolved. After that you could have gone to black.”
Siara concurred: “That they decide to walk into the cave together, that’s the point of the movie.”
Barbakow added, “One of the first things that was important to me is that it ended in a way so that people would want to talk about the characters and their relationships.”
A Team Effort
Siara, Barbakow, and Samberg all praised the crew and the rest of the cast, especially cinematographer Quyen ‘Q’ Tran. Barbakow had wanted her for the project. “She was set to work on a big studio movie, but at the last minute her other project fell apart and we got her.”
Samberg was also impressed. “She is so in charge and communicates very clearly,” he said. “Another thing about Q, and a lot of our department heads – they all had the right sense of humor. We got lucky in this project. So may great ideas from a small budget, super-fast shoot.”
Barbakow laughed: “Even the prop department came up with so many things to torture Nyles with.”
The character Nyles wears the same shirt throughout the film. Hopkins asked, “How many duplicates of Nyles’ Hawaiian shirt did you have.”
Samberg replied, “Must have been thirty.”
Still focused on the shirt, Hopkins inquired: “And Cristin Milioti’s line when Nyles ripped open his shirt?”
All three nodded and smiled. Samberg said, “She was great.”
Hopkins observed, “You had a great ensemble cast.”
Samberg agreed. “June Squibb is god in real life. June and I had worked together before. J.K. Simmons and I worked on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
Siara said, “We had a movie full of scene stealers. We said to go, do whatever you want, go off script. I still laugh after seeing the movie a hundred times.”
You can watch the trailer for this Hulu original below.
(Photographs courtesy of the film.)