Editor Matthew Friedman Reflects On "Palm Springs"
Matthew Friedman, ACE
Record-breaking Sundance feature earns plaudits, major viewership on Hulu

Remember when the Sundance Film Festival had in-person theater screenings booked to capacity. In some respects that seems like eons ago. But back when it was safe for audiences to gather, in January 2020, the feature Palm Springs made an indelible mark at the Park City, Utah fest as it set an acquisition price record. NEON and Hulu bought the film for some $22 million. The previous record Sundance deal had The Birth of a Nation in 2016 fetch $17.5 million from the then Fox Searchlight.

Fast forward nearly a year and the record financial return has been matched by critical acclaim, the latest recognition coming a couple of weeks ago when the Critics Choice Association unveiled the winners of its inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards. Topping the feature film competition with three wins apiece were Palm Springs (Hulu, Neon) and Soul (Disney+, Pixar). Palm Springs was recognized for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie (Andy Samberg), and Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie (Cristin Milioti).

Directed by Max Barbakow, Palm Springs stars Samberg and Milioti as wedding guests who are trapped living the same day over and over again in the Southern California desert town. While it has a Groundhog Day-esque premise, Palm Springs provides a unique twist with its own blend of comedy and pathos.

The nature of the story posed its own inherent editing challenge, observed Matthew Friedman, ACE who’s credited with cutting Palm Springs along with Andrew Dickler. “The characters are experiencing this repetition,” explained Friedman. “I wanted the audience to understand this bone-crushing repetition, this soul-crushing repetition while not having to experience it. The movie shouldn’t feel repetitive to that degree.”

Repeatedly reliving the past can be livened up for the viewer when the same scene is seen from the perspectives of each character. Friedman used this variety to combat redundancy.

Friedman also took advantage of the fact that the audience knew what it had seen so when doing resets in this repetitive loop, the movie didn’t have to go into as much detail each time around. Fewer frames are needed each subsequent time. For example at first we see Sarah (Milioti) reach down, grab a beer can and then throw it at Nyles (Samberg). The second time, she never picks up the beer can. “It just magically appears in her hand,” related Friedman. “You don’t need to see her picking it up. You understand where it came from. We were cutting these corners but not in a way that’s distracting to the audience.”

A memorable montage has Nyles and Sarah dying over and over again with three songs coming into play during the course of the action. Friedman learned a valuable lesson from this particular montage experience. “When we assembled that montage, I remember very specifically watching it and thinking no way this is going to work. It’s too long, too unconventional. Convention says you have a musical moment in a montage. This montage started with a song, segued to a dance number with a different song, and then had a third song. I said this can’t work. We’re going to have to cut something. Andy suggested, ‘Let’s just screen it and see what people don’t laugh it.’ We ended up cutting nothing. They laughed all the way through it. It took a lot of effort between transitions to make it work but it did.”

From that discovery, Friedman related, “You really don’t know what you don’t know. Assume that you don’t know and keep an open mind.”

Friedman added that he benefited from a stellar script by Andy Siara. “I knew I wanted to do the movie from reading the script,” recalled Friedman. “It was a solid, funny and unique script that had a unique voice to it.”

Friedman got the opportunity to edit Palm Springs in part because he had re-cut an earlier project for Dylan Sellers, a producer on Palm Springs. That mutually favorable experience opened the door for Friedman to meet with director Barbakow and Samberg, who also served as a producer on the film. Friedman struck up a rapport with them and got the gig.

The gig has Friedman again squarely in the awards season conversation. Friedman earned his first career American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Award nomination in 2020--for the acclaimed Lulu Wang-directed film, The Farewell.  Less than half a year later, Palm Springs, despite a very limited theatrical run during the pandemic, became a pop culture hit over the summer on Hulu, garnering numerous plaudits along with a big audience. In fact, Palm Springs set a record for being viewed more times than any other movie in its first three days on Hulu. Palm Springs also became the most discussed Hulu film on Twitter during that opening weekend.

Friedman has edited features around the world and has credits in numerous genres, including animated comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, the 3D dance movie Step Up Revolution, the comedy What Happens in Vegas, and the young adult cult favorite John Tucker Must Die. Other credits for Friedman include Wang’s debut feature Posthumous, starring Brit Marling and Jack Huston; Some Kind of Beautiful, starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, and Malcolm McDowell; and Asbhy, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and stars Mickey Rourke, Nat Wolff, Sarah Silverman and Emma Roberts. 

Friedman has edited for producers and directors including Shawn Levy, Will Gluck, Betty Thomas, William H. Macy, Andrew Lazar, Adam Shankman, Karen Rosenfelt, Charles Stone III, and Will Smith. 

For Friedman the professional learning process isn’t confined to his filmmaking experiences. He is a longstanding faculty member at the American Film Institute (AFI) conservatory, noting that he learns as much from the students as they do from him, amounting to what he describes as “an ongoing process of discovery.”

As for what’s next on the project front, Friedman was at press time wrapping The Starling (Netflix), a Ted Melfi-directed feature with a cast including Melissa McCarthy, Daveed Diggs, Timothy Olyphant and Veronica Falcón.

This is the fourth installment of a 16-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards will be announced on Monday, March 15, 2021. The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021.

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