It’s pretty remarkable that Palm Springs, a movie which has a time loop as its central story beat, was first conceived without a time loop. Director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara conceived this project, at first, based on just that feeling that daily repetition that so many of us feel even before the pandemic started. Of course, now, it’s not lost on both of them that the film takes on an even deeper meaning.
But in its conception, it was influenced by movies about the daily minutia of life. Film’s like Rachel Getting Married, Patterson, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Anomalisa are all listed as influences. (As a lover of all of those movies, it’s no wonder I like Palm Springs so much.) Eventually, they landed on a literal time loop, then enlisted Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti to star as Nyles and Sarah, characters both stuck in an infinite time loop coinciding with Sarah’s sister’s wedding in Palm Springs.
Palm Springs wound up being a massive success at Sundance, setting a record for the most money ever paid for a film. It was also under sad circumstances because just a couple hours before the premiere the news broke about Kobe Bryant’s death, which, I remember, was heavy in the air as the lights went down. Ahead, Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara take us through what that particular premiere was like, and then take us through all the films that influenced this funny and very weird movie.
My recollection of the Sundance Premiere was it was the day Kobe Bryant died, everyone was in a sad mood, and the movie started and everyone started laughing. It was therapeutic. Were you pleased how it was received?
Max Barbakow: We had some test screenings and I sat in the back during those and I couldn’t really feel how the movie played and I swore I would never do it again. And then the premiere happened and I sat in the back. And I knew we got a laugh during the Lonely Island Classics card coming up with a room full of acquisitions people, so that was beautiful to know that we got a laugh out of the way. But still, it was a crazy emotional experience for us, because it was like we were giving the movie away to the world at large. I can’t say I had any indication of how it played because I was sitting in the back until afterwards. I knew people liked it, but I’m glad. I don’t know how you felt, Andy. I just was in the back paralyzed with emotion during the thing.
Andy Siara: Yeah. I was paralyzed with emotion and all that. Once people laughed during the Lonely Island Classics card, that put me at ease a little bit, But, yeah, it was just a weird day.
And now the film has new meaning, with people being at home and kind of living the same day every day.
Siara: Obviously we could never have predicted that. I think Max and I were both, during those few years of talking about this movie, each in our own lives, were feeling this daily repetition. And I remember we talked about Paterson, that Jim Jarmusch movie.
Oh, I love that movie.
Siara: As we were coming up with a movie still, what we found was at least we’re in this together. Either be it me and Max in this together, or me and my wife, not having to go through this shit alone. So I think that line has taken on a new, more powerful meaning in the past four months of not having to go through this shit alone.
At the premiere you were asked about Groundhog Day and responded, “Never heard of it.” So obviously you knew that question was coming at some point. Did you consider referencing it in the movie?
Siara: That was brought up, and then we decided to not directly reference it, but people know. Our goal was just to try to take it in a different direction, which is why the movie starts where it does. And this is a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist. There’s probably a whole lot of movie that can happen when Nyles gets first stuck in that time loop that we don’t do because far more talented, smarter people have already done that movie.
And you kept the whole “time loop” aspect a secret before Sundance. Why? When people found out they were very excited.
Barbakow: It was very, very fun doing press and withholding that information, and I personally loved going into stuff blind. I don’t think there was any way of bringing this movie out into the real world, especially after it was reviewed at Sundance, where people wouldn’t know. But I think there’s enough in there, once you get past the time loop, more surprises and twists and turns and subversion.
See, I kind of like the rules to this universe in comparison to the rules of Groundhog Day. Like how if you can stay awake long enough you can travel anywhere.
Siara: Once we decided to just do the time loop thing, a couple of years into talking about this movie and trying to figure out this movie…
Wait, it wasn’t always a time loop?
Siara: No, no. We just knew we wanted to do something was that “contained.” Rachel Getting Married was a big influence.
No wonder I like this movie. You keep mentioning movies I love.
Barbakow: And then Anomalisa and The Lobster came out. A lot about Inside Llewyn Davis and even The Great Beauty. And it started as a hipster goes to Las Vegas or to Palm Springs to die and weird metaphysical fissures happened. You’re giving us way too much credit if you thought we knew that we were going to always be the time loop.
Again, you list all these influences and it’s no wonder I like this movie. That’s a lot of my favorite movies of the last decade.
Siara: Yeah. That’s where so much of it came from, and then once the time loop stuff got in there, there was a base set of rules and through the writing of it I realized like, oh, there’s a problem here. And then Max and I would put our heads together like, okay, what is our role here? Different problems arise that we did not know, or we did not initially realize when it comes to a time loop. It’s like the mathematics of it all, so there was never one single session that was like, “Let’s come up with our rules.” It was running into roadblocks along the way. Or logical bumps along the way. Then we would talk and figure out our way around it.
What was the biggest roadblock, time loop wise?
Siara: It seems so silly to focus on it: but what time they wake up and where Sarah is versus where Nyles is. So, to me, I think Sarah wakes up at nine o’clock every day, and Myles is always 20 minutes later.
See that’s clever, because she always has a head start and there’s nothing he can do about it.
Siara: Right, because no matter what happens, there’s no way that he could ever wake up earlier and get there in time before she gets up.
So at one point, they celebrate Nyles’ millionth birthday. How long have they actually been in the loop?
Barbakow: Definitely long enough for Nyles to forget what his life was like outside the loop. And definitely, definitely many, many moons. I don’t think we ever explicitly put a number on it, but a very, very, very long time.
Siara: Looking back on our own lives, we go through something ten years ago that seemed so big and important to us, and then ten years later we have whatever wisdom that comes with time and age. And people can get over things in different ways. I think the Nyles sense of truly not knowing who he was or what he did before he got trapped in this loop, so therefore it has to have been, like what Max said, long enough for that to happen. Long enough for the petty things to be pushed aside.
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