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‘Palm Springs’ Editor Matthew Friedman Breaks Down Cutting Key Scenes

Framing the Scene: Subtle Changes in the Time Loop to Avoid Repetition

Palm Springs
Sundance Film Festival

When it came to editing Hulu’s “Palm Springs,” the key to cutting for editor Matthew Friedman (“The Farewell”) was not to make scenes repetitive. The film stars Andy Samberg plays Nyles, a wedding guest stuck in a time loop. Soon, he’s joined by Sarah, played by Cristin Millioti, and together they relive the same day over and over.

Friedman breaks down the key to cutting comedy and frames two key scenes from the movie: the pool scene loop and the montage sequence for “Palm Springs.”

EDITING COMEDY

The key thing in the cutting room was not to let the audience get ahead of the story, and that’s one of the core principles of cutting comedy. The key to cutting comedies is all about timing and to give the audience just enough time to form incorrect expectations. If you subvert it too fast, it’s not going to be funny, because the expectation hasn’t had a chance to form yet. Audiences are smart, and they know they’re watching a comedy, they’re aware that a joke is going to happen. And if you give them too much time, they’ll get to the joke before you, and they won’t laugh when you want them to. So much of what I do as an editor is understanding on a very basic level, how audiences are experiencing and processing the movie, and using that to tell a more effective store.

POOL SCENE LOOP

This is at the beginning of the movie, and it’s the sequence when Nyles is hanging out in the pool. When he talks with Jerry, I got a whole lot on a different cut because we did two different structures of the opening of the movie. – and we were playing with that right up until the last minute.

The alternate version we were considering didn’t hold your hand quite as much and it wasn’t clear that the film was going to be a comedy. And we tested both ideas extensively.

In the end, we went with a structure that introduces jokes and laughs a little bit earlier and holds your hand a little more to get you into the time loop aspect of the film.

One of the things that we took great pains to do, was to ensure that these repetitions did not feel repetitive to the audience. If things started to feel repetitive, the audience would get bored.

If we look at the sex scene between Misty ( Meredith Hagner) and Nyles, they have that exchange the first time. The second time, we don’t have to see all of that again since the audience already knows that. We do it a bit shorter. We tell that story faster and more efficiently the second time.

In the pool scene, we use a wide shot establishing the pool. The second time, it’s much shorter. We don’t show Jerry coming in with the kickboard because again, the audience has seen that.

What we do change is how Nyles sees things, this is his perspective, he remembers the past and it’s his repetition and it’s affecting him. When he says, “Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same,” the first time, you’ll notice the second time, he says it faster.

When Sarah comes out and asks him, “What did you do to me?” The first few times we see it, it’s always from his point of view. We stay very wide. The camera never goes behind Sarah.

The second time is played from Sarah’s POV. The camera moves behind Sarah and seeing what she’s looking at. In this version, she says, “What the f— did you do to me?” twice. We don’t do literal repeats, we repeat the story beats and try to do it in the shortest amount of time. And it’s all very subtle.

EDITING THE MONTAGE

We were all concerned about this montage. But by all normal, stylistic conventional rights, this should not work. Convention dictates you have a montage, time passes and one song or one piece of music covers time passage. We had three different pieces of music in this.

Originally, we wanted “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac, but that was such an expensive song and just couldn’t afford it.

We originally scripted it so Sarah falls out of the sunroof as they’re driving to the house, but as you see we moved that later. Because her energy is so happy in the car, and it’s not how we left her in the previous scene.  We pulled it out and saved it for later.

Instead, the montage starts by the pool with this short sequence and a bit of dialogue. There’s another short sequence with target shooting. Next, we get to a dance scene in this bar. It’s the longest scene, and it almost does not feel like a montage. This moment allows the brain to reset itself. We had talked about adding in a joke through ADR as Sarah and Nyles run away. But we ended up not doing that because we couldn’t come up with something.

At the end of it, at the Happy Birthday moment, we have a close up between the two of them, there’s no dialogue. And that look sums up the entire relationship. When we were going through the footage, it spoke to us about it being the end of the montage. We didn’t want it to feel like one giant long never-ending montage so we cut music out completely before bringing in a song again — the next song — to change the energy of the scene. Also, we didn’t want joke fatigue so this whole ending to the sequence becomes about two people who have become really good friends and are having fun together.