Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to Palm Springs editor Matt Friedman about IMDB goofs, why he stays away from set, and the other thing the film has in common with Groundhog Day.
In one year, editor Matt Friedman went from working on a comedy where every character avoids talking about death to one where the two main characters take it head on (sometimes literally).
As someone with a lot of experience editing comedies, including John Tucker Must Die and What Happens in Vegas, Friedman knows how to find the funny in film. But as I learned in my conversation with him, his work on Hulu’s Palm Springs brought about exciting challenges within the genre, including these eight surprising facts about the editing process and the film.
1. His previous film, last year’s hit The Farewell, has a lot in common with Palm Springs.
“Part of what drew me to the story behind Palm Springs was that The Farewell was a comedy that dealt with death, and Palm Springs is a comedy that deals with a different kind of death—physical death over and over and over again. But it also deals with this slow, emotional death that both of these characters have been dying up to the point where they meet each other. As an editor, one of the things that I find really rewarding is when I get to work on movies that are not straight-ahead single genres, not just a flat-out comedy, but a comedy that also involves deep pain. Those emotions in real life really do often go together. Everybody I think has had the experience of crying so hard and being so sad that eventually that it segues into laughter. It’s a natural way that our human brains operate, a defense mechanism probably. And I love getting to help replicate that on screen.”
2. He thinks IMDB goofs are funny to read, because of course most editors are aware of mistakes.
Friedman teaches at the American Film Institute and in classes often cites film editor Walter Murch’s five points for editing, which ultimately support that if the cut works emotionally, then screw continuity—which is why he laughs when he reads IMDB goofs about changing half-full and half-empty glasses of water in scenes.
“Most of the time we did notice. But we made the conscious decision to ignore it because we weren’t telling the story of how much liquid was being dropped from the glass. We’re telling the story of the conversation that’s happening. If you get the latter story correct, you won’t give the audience time to even sniff out the physical continuities.”
3. The time loop element gave him more latitude when it came to continuity.
When Nyles (Andy Samberg) is in the pool and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) bolts out of the house and starts throwing beer cans at him, the first time we see it, it’s from Nyle’s perspective and then from her perspective. In one perspective, she picks up the beers before she throws them at Nyles, but in another perspective, she just starts throwing them.
“You never notice that when you’re watching the movie because your brain already knows where she got the beer cans. Because we’re in this time loop structure, where we’re seeing the same things over and over again, it allowed me to tell those bits of the story more efficiently, the second or third time you see them. That mechanism is present all the way through the movie.”
4. In Friedman’s opinion, going to set can be damaging to the editing process.
Not just because of delicious craft services (which he cites can be damaging to his diet!), but because of behind-the-scenes things that go on that could influence his cutting. In another project, a director told him not to cut a specific scene because of how long it took them to nail a challenging dolly shot, that they had all worked so hard for.
“It’s human. I tell young directors in the classes I teach, you can [save shots for the sake of saving them], but you have to understand the repercussions of doing that. If you do it too many times, you get into a situation where the film can be uninteresting to an audience.”
5. When it comes to the dance scenes, he lets the rhythm dictate where to go.
“The way I go about cutting dance numbers, I’ll go through and pull out all the bits that are funny or cool or sometimes even have good camera moves, because sometimes that is a good thing to put in between two jokes rhythmically. There will be things in that sequence that are literally just thrown together that work, and you’ll go, ‘oh, yeah—that feels really good.’ A lot of it is—this sounds so fucking cheesy—letting the material speak to me. A lot of times the movie or scene will tell you what it wants to be.”
6. He didn’t think the Palm Springs montage scene would work until the test screening audience loved it.
In the film, Nyles and Sarah die over and over again via a montage that has not one—but three—songs over the course of it, something that was of great concern for Friedman, since most montages typically utilize one song.
“There’s no way!” he laughs. “We talked about it before testing it, and we decided to bring the whole thing to the test screening, knowing it was going to work, but we wanted to see if there was a section that people clearly didn’t laugh at and that would help us make the decision of what to cut. And we took it and it worked perfectly, and people loved it. We gave ourselves permission to fail at that first test screening, and we failed upward.”
7. Improvisers like Conner O’Malley (who plays Randy) made his job extra challenging because of all the funny takes.
“We would watch his dailies, and literally every take would be different, and he’d just come out with the most bizarre, fucking-funny stuff. So you’re sitting there and you’d go, ‘Okay, of these seven things that he said that made me roll on the floor, I have to pick one of them and kill six.’ That was hard.”
8. Palm Springs has more than just the time loop in common with Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day star Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis had fights on the set of the 1993 film, specifically about the concept of it, with Murray wanting to make it more philosophical and Ramis aiming for more of a straightforward comedy. While the Palm Springs creative team didn’t have fights about the time loop, Friedman believes that that duality is mirrored quite well in the film.
“We were always conscious about striking the right balance between the absurdist, classic, Lonely Island-style comedy and the deeper messaging and the deeper emotion and the pain that these two characters are going through. It’s one of the reasons why I loved getting to get to cut this film because both Cristin and Andy are incredibly talented comedians and also incredibly talented actors. I don’t think people knew how talented they really were until this movie came out. Andy delivered a performance that’s so sad and yet so funny at the same time, and that’s no easy feat. I think it’s something that surprised a lot of people about him. And her, too. She is strong, has drive, she’s funny.”
But when it comes down to it, Groundhog Day and Palms Springs are ultimately still very different movies.
“Palm Springs does have a loop, but then on top of that loop is a fully continuous storyline between two characters, whose relationship evolves over the course of the movie. In some ways it’s a loop movie, but in some ways it’s not.”
Palm Springs is streaming on Hulu.