SAVE STATE: Can A Heartbroken Lover Win Back His Ex — and His Happiness — In Time?
While we always remember our most joyful romantic moments — a first crush, a first date, a first kiss, the preparatory courtship, the “I do’s”, the fun honeymoon — we never forget the sadness and recriminations that follow the heartbreaking end of a relationship. After their relationships collapse, some ex-lovers either re-embrace the bachelor/bachelorette lifestyle or “play the field” by searching for a second “special someone”. Others, fearful that a new love affair won’t be as special, as satisfying or as enduring as their first, continue to fixate on how and why they screwed up that initial romance while overlooking the possibilities for romantic redemption that may exist in the dating world.
One member of that lovelorn class, writer/director Scott Sawitz, based his new comedy/sci-fi feature Save State on his memories of the failure of his formerly prosperous relationship, the counsel his father offered to him as he coped with losing his one-time squeeze during the COVID lockdowns, and his goal of producing a “high concept” movie a la Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg but in the low-budget, character-based manner of filmmakers like Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, Tape), Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story, White Noise, The Squid and The Whale) and Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy).
The character element of Save State is found in the disintegrating connection between a slacking, jobless college dropout, Chris (Gabriel Fries) and his longtime girlfriend, the professionally accomplished Veronica (Jessie Ann Carl). Aggravated with Chris’ insistence on following his own path in spite of his failures, and ready to reinvent both herself and her life on the West Coast with pal Stephanie (Nickie Kruszinski), Veronica’s final goodbye to Chris is fouled up by his accusatory and resentful attitude towards his ex-girlfriend, and vice versa.
365 days after their breakup, a lonely and single Chris remains on his couch playing video games and watching bad movies, while Veronica is on a high after moving up in her career in San Francisco. Bitter about losing Veronica, and with his mind stuck on their disastrous parting, Chris decides to take a chance on his friend Daniel (Ilya Gaidarov)’s unusual but promising invention (and the “high concept” element of Save State): a wristwatch-based “time displacement” device that instantly catapults him to the time of his spat with Veronica, where for only 10 minutes he has a chance to reclaim their 10-years long romance.
Though designed for Daniel to say a final goodbye to his late father, Chris learns that the more he uses the program to get Veronica back in his arms, the more his struggles to pull off that reunion change both his and his ex’s futures. As he tries and frequently fails to brighten his past, the jilted Chris must now ask: can he possibly move on from the woman he thought he’d live with forever?
Here, Sawitz discusses the origins of Save State, how his small but skilled production team accomplished its production and special effects, and how the film will touch anyone who has yet to get over their lost love(s).
Chris Hadley: Like Save State’s male protagonist (Chris, played by Gabriel Fries), you had the same regrets about and thoughts on how you could have kept your relationship going after it ended. How did the experience of breaking up with your girlfriend and the ways you tried to cope with it inspire not just the concept of this film but also the characters you created for it and the plot device that fuels the story — in this case, a “time displacement” device?
Scott Sawitz (writer/director, Save State): Julia (my ex) was the woman I’ve been with the longest romantically and I had that moment where you get comfortable with her as the last one I’d ever be with, you know? When we split, my first thought after some time alone was “this is a mistake” and I should call her and do what I have to do to get her back.
It was right as the lockdowns began, so that would’ve been a bit difficult to pull off, so I called my father and we talked it out. It eventually came down to the fact that I was not dealing with my emotions in a healthy manner and my thought that changing what was causing that would just magically fix it all was not good, either.
I thought, what if I could go back and change the moment we broke up? Then a very wise man (my father) pointed out what would change about us without the break up. We had tons of issues to handle and I kept thinking of that moment, and then I realized we had more issues to deal with than just that moment.
She helped inspire Veronica and I inspired Chris, obviously, and I thought of how my best friend was there for me the whole time. I originally wrote my outline from that perspective; what would it be like to have your best friend not be able to get over it. What do you do, how do you say it, etc. After that it became adding in someone for Veronica to have similar moments with and from there it mostly wrote itself.
CH: The film involves a heartbroken man (Chris, played by Gabriel Fries) who attempts to repair his failed romance with his girlfriend Veronica (played by Jessie Ann Carl) by using a “time displacement” device invented by his friend Daniel (played by Ilya Gaidarov). How did you come up with that part of the story, and how was it constructed in both a scientific and narrative sense?
SS: My first idea was having Daniel build a big ass time machine in the basement, which would be totally cinematic (and an absolute pain in the ass to build). That first draft I wrote had a big-time machine and Chris changed the world for the worse every time; he fought zombies, there was the Terminator apocalypse and all sorts of just wild sh*t.
There was a great scene I’ll probably use later from that version where Daniel and Chris are stuck in the zombie apocalypse and Daniel is using it as a way of getting back at all the people who bullied him in high school. He and Chris have a chat about going to San Francisco. It gets kind of dark from there but I wish I could’ve found a way to use that in this version.
Then I realized that the heart of the story was Chris and Veronica. Him moving on was the moment and all the big shenanigans were too expensive and took away from the real emotional heart of the story which is the two of them having that moment where the best memories are in the past and that the immediate future is going to be painful but it’s a necessary pain.
I wanted to make it small and intimate. I have always wanted to make something like Kevin Smith’s Clerks or Richard Linklater’s Tape: something where there is the world around my character but not one they delve into. I’m in my mid-40s and grew up during the big indie revolution of the 90s; those were the guys I really wanted to be. I love action films, and have seen more than most, but as a creative I always wanted to be more like Noah Baumbach than Michael Bay because I like characters and small stories.
Scientifically it (involved) a ton of research and conversations with some Ph.D types in the field. The nature of time travel and how we view time was something I had almost up until we filmed but I took it out because it was a moment where the film just slammed shut, pacing wise. It’s what was the direct inspiration for the “you press a button and shazam!” moment and why I used Days of Future Past.
Narratively I wanted it to be linear for Chris the character; we see him grow, and change, despite him always trying to go back and “fix” the past. My outline was impossibly chaotic as I had a separate sheet for how Chris handles things, each time he goes back, what he knows (and doesn’t) and what every other character knows and doesn’t. It took a lot of work but it made shooting (the film) a breeze because we knew where everyone was.
CH: Did you base Chris’ character and his story directly on yourself or was he different from you? If so, how?
SS: He’s very different from me, or so I’d like to think. It’s also an age perspective; I bet I was probably closer to him at the age he was (mid 20’s) but I’d like to think I was better than that back then, you know? I like to think that we’re a little bit of Chris as younger men and then as older men we realize that guy’s a moron and we’re glad we’re not him anymore because we’ve grown and developed.
CH: Were the other characters based on people you knew in real life, or were they different from them? If so, how?
SS: I partially based Daniel on my best friend. Someone in the writing process suggested changing him into a character named Dinesh (to make it easier) and as I kept writing he turned more into Ilya (who I cast for the part), so I turned him into Daniel. Veronica and Stephanie were created out of whole cloth to make the story function better instead of trying to use characteristics of people I know.
CH: How did you find the film’s cast?
SS: We used Backstage for everyone but Ilya. Ilya starred in a web series I created in 2016 called Confessions of a Superhero, which is where I met him. He was here for a couple of years working on his MBA so he was a part of two short films I made, too. When I officially said “we’re doing this” he was my first call because I wrote Daniel with him in mind. He had also given me amazing notes and adored the character, too.
CH: Considering that the “time displacement” flashback scenes all began the same way but played out differently given the story, what was the process like for filming those sequences?
SS: We shot all of Jessi and Gabe’s scenes in a row, and then did the same for Gabe and Ilya. For Jessi and Gabe it was a matter of having them repeat those same basic moments early and then adjust from there. I used my camera to take a photo of how everything was supposed to look and after each scene we adjusted it so that it would look the same for each shot.
For Gabe and Ilya it was a matter of having a spreadsheet with each timeline and what changes in each. We cut off part of my living room and used it to store all the props, etc, that we used to make the changes. I labeled everything and had it all worked out beforehand.
My idea is I wanted to do everything for both pairs of actors in a row so that we’d have that lived in comfort-ability each time they go back; they’re used to repeating the motions so those tiny things up front, from how they talked to how they moved. All were basically identical. I also got lucky in that Jessi and Gabe are impossibly talented actors and knew all the right things to do (and how to repeat them).
CH: What were the biggest challenges that you and your cast faced in shooting those scenes considering all the repetition involved with them at the start of each scene?
SS: It’s hard always starting with the same dialogue for Jessi and Gabe, I totally admit, but they viewed it each time as a way of exploring the character. Chris may be changing each time he goes back but we’re also seeing new pieces of Veronica, too. I viewed it as doing the same scene in different ways. You know how you always wish you could say something really cool during those moments of awkwardness at a party or on a date? That’s how I viewed it. It’s a character trying to get it right and failing, which to me is fascinating.
CH: In terms of the “time displacement” device used by Chris in the film, what technology was involved in it and how did you make it work considering that this movie was made on a limited budget?
SS: It was a $10 Fitbit knockoff I got on Amazon that a little VFX (visual effects) work in post made look cool. I got impossibly lucky in that (the film’s editor/VFX designer) Tom Barrows was referred to us; he got the concept right away and is just an absolute stud when it comes to editing and VFX work. It also doubles as a metaphor for Chris if you think of it hard enough. What does a Fitbit do? It tracks your steps and he’s always making some ones. Eventually he’ll need to take a step forward, not back.
CH: Besides director Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, what other movies and TV series inspired Save State’s time travel angle, its humor, and its romantic plotline?
SS: Clerks was one. I was 16 at a high school soccer camp when I met a kid who had the soundtrack for it. He let me borrow it and this is the 90's, so it had bits of the movie cut throughout it. When I got home I had to go watch it, and then from there I got lucky to find all sorts of indie films from that era. Clerks, Tape, (director Gary Fleder’s) Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, (director Robert Rodriguez’s) El Mariachi and a couple dozen more were what inspired me. Source Code was the other. It may not have been a mega hit but it’s a fantastic film.
CH: In what ways does Save State stand out from comedies like Groundhog Day and Back To The Future that incorporated time travel with romance in their storylines?
SS: To me it’s the personal nature of it. Groundhog Day is amazing, and so is Back To The Future, but they’re big budget with big everything. I wanted this to stand out from them by being smaller; we want to be able to think of time travel as a big adventure but I’ve always viewed it as a very personal one. You’re going back for a specific reason, usually, and I wanted to strip away everything and boil it down to small, simple and engaging.
CH: Who do you think would like to watch Save State? What audiences are you hoping to attract to it?
SS: I want everyone to watch it. I’ve always viewed film as one of those things that unite as humans and if someone can take 85 minutes and change out of their day to watch this film, and laugh a little, that’s not a bad thing. I’m an old school comedy guy and I just want people to watch something, take their mind off how messed up the world can be, and just have a good time.
CH: How has making this film impacted you not just in a professional sense but also a personal one? What have you taken away from the experience of making it?
SS: It made me better as a creative (person). I think if every screenwriter made something, even if it’s a one minute short, it’d make you better because you understand what the entire process is like. Great prose on paper sounds good but the difference between writing a script and making it becomes an economical use of words. You want to be as specific as possible but you also want to leave your actor(s) with enough where they can make it their own, too.
CH: What projects are you working on now?
SS: I’ve got several things in various stages right now. The goal right now is to make the next feature, a script called Self Portrait that I think would be a worthy follow-up. If you’d like to read it, it’s on my Script Revolution account. I did a table read with some actor friends and it just really made me want to make it. Right now I’m focusing on writing and getting into the right headspace, creatively, to make the next feature. The one thing they don’t tell you when you make a feature is just how much it takes out of you. This was also a personal story, too, so I’d like some time and space away before I dive back in. In the end credits we did promise a sequel to Save State but I’d like to wait on that a while.
CH: What do you hope audiences take away from watching Save State?
SS: The nature of regret. We can’t always fix the past, we can only learn and grow from it.
See Save State on Tubi (free with ads):
Save State (2023)
When his girlfriend decides to leave for California for a job, Chris uses a time machine to try and stop her before it…
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Chris had what he thought was a perfect life: a loving girlfriend (Veronica) and a stable (if unsatisfying) job. But…
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Save State - Apple TV
Chris had what he thought was a perfect life: a loving girlfriend (Veronica) and a stable (if unsatisfying) job. But…
To read Sawitz’s script for Self Portrait on Script Revolution, visit: