Palm Springs is a desert resort town in California known for spas, getaways, partying, wild weekends, and… weddings. It is also the name of a romantic comedy movie with a peculiar sci-fi twist via a recurring time loop. Screenwriter Andy Siara (Lodge 49) toured with his indie rock band The Henry Clay People for several years before deciding to study filmmaking at the American Film Institute Conservatory (AFI). There he made an award-winning short called Duke with director Max Barbakow (Mommy, I’m A Bastard!) setting the foundation for their filmmaking careers.
“It began with a trip to Palm Springs in June 2015 with Max Barbakow,” proclaimed screenwriter. They had just completed their film studies at the AFI and went to the desert in search of some inspiration for their next film project. Siara decided his first feature film would be his version of the “last weekend before marriage.” Then he got writing… and rewriting… until the idea of a fully-formed movie emerged.
a whole lot of pain and suffering,
a fair amount of joy,
sex, drugs, and a big rock with a hole in it.
Most of life can be boiled down to these words.
So can Palm Springs. — The Filmmakers
The film centers around carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg) (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) who is in search of something to care about. Max Barbakow and Andy Siara initially fleshed out the broad strokes of Nyles’ character in their “therapeutic sandbox,” since they were both at a stage in their lives searching for purpose and direction.
Curiously, Siara got married during the development phase of Palm Springs yet still felt his life lacked something. “I was worried that I would never achieve that level of happiness [after getting married] again,” he confessed. “Max was worried that he’d never make it to that level of happiness.”
The idea behind Palm Springs took some time to take shape because it wasn’t a typical romantic comedy of a groom going on a bender all weekend. Siara was always hitting roadblocks with Nyles, because he wasn’t convinced that a man in his thirties couldn’t ever care about anything. There had to be something behind it. Something driving him to playing out all the time.
It wasn’t until later that the idea of a time loop, clearly a nod to Groundhog Day, filtered through. “The rewriting process which took over a year was an exploratory process to set the parameters of the story,” added the writer. The time loop concept was an ideal arrival because a character like Nyles, who essentially lives the same carefree day over and over again, would eventually stop caring about anything until he escaped the time loop. “We had to justify his point of view of the world.” Nyles eventually starts caring about the world through caring about other people. His journey was complete.
To juxtapose the film’s core idea of being too carefree, Siara put Nyles in a world where “everyone cared too much as is the case with planning a wedding.” Does a wedding seating chart or flower arrangement really matter in the happiness of a married couple? This contrast formed the basis of the thematic conflict and Nyles’ internal struggle.
Establishing The World
Both Barbakow and Siara grew up in Southern California and were very familiar with Palm Springs as a destination wedding venue, since that is where Siara got married. It was a no brainer setting the film there. “There is also a magical quality of the unseen in the desert.” It is a place of mysticism where life’s burning questions are often revealed.
Nyles keeps returning to November 9 in the movie. There is some special significance to that date in the time loop. That was when Andy Siara started writing the draft of Palm Springs that was ultimately sold. There is also some desert mythology that this date is tied to a journey of self discovery.
A key component of Palm Springs is the portal inside a cave which activates the time loop. We asked Siara how he established the rules of this process. Siara and Barbakow didn’t want to get caught up in all the intricacies of how the time loop process worked. They had a clear overall concept of how the time loop would work and added rules as dramatic necessity dictated. An example is a rule where the time loop is activated when Sarah (Cristin Milioti) (Black Mirror) and Nyles fall asleep. If they stayed awake until morning, they could bypass the loop and see the next day. The screenwriter didn’t want a situation where Nyles and Sarah were trapped in Palm Springs and couldn’t escape. Finding ways to cheat the time loop allowed the story to venture into different locations. Sarah who constantly drives to Texas to unsuccessfully escape the time loop.
Like all good comedies, Palm Springs turns to contrasting serious moments to keep the funny moments grounded. Nyles, who claims not to care about anything, tries to kill himself, repeatedly. “The origins of his carefree moments are darker,” said Siara, referencing the shame Nyles feels for cheating on his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) (Search Party) with Sarah night after night. To amplify Nyles’ shame and guilt, he could never dismiss it as a one time thing, because the time loop ensured he relived the moment over and over. “Acting too laissez-faire is a coping mechanism to make their misery easier to deal with.” This gave meaning and purpose and Nyles’ and Sarah’s character.
“I don’t want tomorrow to be today. I want tomorrow to be tomorrow,” mused Sarah to Nyles.
Andy Siara advises that good screenwriting “all comes down to what’s on the page.” Success is all about the writing. “It was only the script that attracted Andy Samberg to the project. Not me or my star power The most important thing about the screenplay is to be emotionally honest about the writing.“