March 7, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Andy Siara got past the endless drafts to find ‘Palm Springs’

It’s tough to sum up all of my feelings about “Palm Springs.” Not because of an exaggerated sentimentality or that it’s some enigmatic art piece that should be left up to audiences to decipher. Quite the opposite, actually. My memory is just terrible, and 2020 made it so much worse.

The last five years feel like a meandering journey to discovering what this story really wanted to be about. In hindsight, the movie was mostly an attempt to capture the feeling of being in love and making that terrifying leap of commitment. But it’s also the culmination of a creative friendship. Maybe a reaction to 2016. Maybe it’s a look at depression, the wedding industrial complex, or some journey through the subconscious. Or maybe it was just my long-winded attempt at getting dinosaurs into a movie because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since the summer of ’93. I’ll try to distill what I do remember into something coherent.

June 2015. Max Barbakow (director) and I headed out to Palm Springs for a creative retreat of sorts — two buds playing make-believe in a therapeutic sandbox. The simple goal was to throw around ideas for a micro-budget indie that we could feasibly get off the ground. How one gets that off the ground, I had no clue. I was living with crippling debt, so the idea of finding a way to finance this nonexistent dream project was already outside the realm of possibility.

Our conversations didn’t have much of a shape, either … they were more like stews of love, fear, shame and armchair nihilism brought on by mai tais and existential angst. But we left the desert with the seed of an idea — to see if it’d be possible to take a character on a journey from caring about nothing to finding a reason to care. And that was pretty much it. This wasn’t a time loop love story at a desert wedding yet. I didn’t really know what it was.

So, of course, I carried that ignorant confidence forward and started writing, without a real plan or outline. Turns out that’s a super inefficient way to write a screenplay.

There were countless false starts, abandoned drafts, a version that’s one extended bender-montage. I wouldn’t call the exploratory nature an act of rebellion, because that implies that someone cares about what you’re doing; no one was keeping tabs on us. That lack of oversight freed us up to draw inspiration in everything from “The Great Beauty” to “Dumb and Dumber” to “Saving Private Ryan” to Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, because — why not? And thanks to this inefficient approach, I eventually stumbled upon a magical cave.

October 2015. Max was filming my own Palm Springs wedding as I broke down into a blubbering mess during the vows. In the movie, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) tears apart the whole idea of weddings and marriage — and I agree with her. At the same time, I also share some of Nyles’ point of view: Bask in the love. Maybe the pageantry is archaic and detrimental to the progress of humanity, yet here I bought right into it — and I loved my wedding. They’re strange affairs, where hundreds of people can come together for the purpose of connection — and while I’ve watched countless new relationships form at weddings, I’ve seen just as many old relationships crumble to their death. They manage to bring out the best and worst in people. It’s great!

Suddenly, Palm Springs wanted to be about a relationship at a wedding. What better way of torturing your main character, a guy who cares about nothing, than to trap him for all eternity in a place where people care perhaps too much about the trivial details that have no real significance in the grand scheme of things.

2016-17. The script evolved into this tale of two people who decide to give up on the disappointing real world, because floating on pizza rafts, eating burritos and drinking away their life is so much easier than actually doing something to change their miserable existence. But apathy can get tiresome, they meet in the middle on the spectrum of caring, and so on. Plot stuff, quantum physics, Irvine, etc.

January 2018. We knew it’d be hard to find the right partners to get behind the movie. I failed at hitting that micro-budget mark — with all the plane crashes, dinos, goats .… And with a tone that intentionally shifted from silly to sincere, that’s tough to pull off in execution. Luckily, we found the one guy who said: Let’s do all of that — and more! Maybe we should put a bomb in the wedding cake, too? Suddenly, with Andy Samberg, this nonexistent dream project found a way.