“Barry” Editor Ali Greer on Cutting Her Way Through a Brilliant Final Season
Ali Greer has been so focused on editing the fourth season of Barry that it didn’t truly dawn on her that the hit HBO comedy about the master assassin/would-be actor was coming to a close.
“Tomorrow will be my last day. We have our final sound mix on the series finale… tomorrow… yes,” Greer says during a recent Zoom call. “This is the first time I’ve thought about it. You’re always putting your head down and working.”
Greer, whose credits include Portlandia and Hacks, joined Barry in Season 3. She and Franky Guttman, an assistant editor on the first two seasons, cut all of Seasons 3 and 4.
Greer was thrilled at the opportunity. She thought Barry’s oddball world matched her editing sensibilities perfectly. “Seeing previous seasons was helpful,” Greer continues. “Liking the style of a show and making sure I’m a good fit is important — that — and honoring what’s been done, trying to build on it, and finding new ways of pushing the story forward.”
Greer admits she was nervous about meeting Bill Hader. A big fan of SNL growing up, she wasn’t sure how she’d react. Hader quickly put her fears to rest with his disarming demeanor. “We didn’t even talk about the show,” she adds. “We talked about the movies we liked and things we found funny.”
The two bonded over their quirky cinematic tastes. Greer likes foreign comedies — Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure (2014), The Square (2017) and Triangle of Sadness (2002) and Toni Erdmann from German director Maren Ade.
Greer sees how these films impact her choices. She references Force Majeure’s lingering wide shots and elongated comic commentary. “That’s a very Barry thing to do. Letting it play out wide. Letting the comedy happen in the background,” she explains. “Or downplaying the violence by hiding it.”
Believing many of today’s comedies tend to race to the punchline, Greer compares Barry’s rhythm to that of a 1970s movie. Its sly humor doesn’t need to be rushed. She was thrilled when Hader agreed with her.
“Once I realized that Bill was comfortable with a slower pace, that allowed me to relax,” Greer says. “Not specifically “cutty” — but making sure the jokes hit. It’s okay if every piece of dialogue is not on camera. It’s okay if whole scenes go by and you don’t see the other characters. Having that freedom is something that I absolutely love.”
The more comfortable Greer got, the more she felt she could take bigger swings. Her favorite was Season 3’s “all the sauces” sequence when Sally attends the premiere for Joplin.
“I made it kind of weird, magical, not very specific. It doesn’t follow a straight trajectory,” says Greer. “I was worried people would think that’s not this show. There’s been no scene like it. But when I showed everybody the episode, that’s the part that worked best. They gave me the freedom to express myself and have fun. And that led to things I find funny, cool, and interesting.”
There’s another reason Barry is unique from Greer’s previous editing experiences. “It’s the only show I’ve ever worked on where the director and the other editor are in the room while I’m cutting,” she says. “When I was doing Episode 1, Franky was on the couch and Bill was hanging out making suggestions. And then we switched. I’m on the couch while Franky’s editing. We each know the entire season intimately because we’ve been through all the footage. Whether it’s my name or Franky’s name on it, we’re both active in the process.”
Having three sets of eyes can come in handy. When there’s not consensus, majority rules. “Happily, there’s a tiebreaker,” laughs Greer. “But I would say it’s making sure that it’s the funniest take. If there’s a toss-up, it’s usually little things — the way their lip does this or the lighting.”
Greer offers a unique perspective on the latter. Her mother was a commercial photographer. During high school, Greer would help her on shoots. “There was always talk about imagery and lighting and stuff like that,” she says. “A certain amount of that is ingrained in the way I think about images.”
Even when directing, editing is in the back of Hader’s mind. Greer often finds notes he’s recorded to her during filming. “He’ll just talk on the footage — ‘Ali, this last one…,’” she says. “Once we’re in the edit, he is focused on making sure all the characters feel authentic. That’s really important to him.”
Hader does have an Achilles heel. He’s uncomfortable watching himself. “There are instances where he’ll say, ‘I don’t like when I did that,’ and we’ll say, ‘No, that works,’” Greer says. “He trusts us to let it play the way we think.”
Barry also allowed Greer to utilize her unique talent for sounds. In “all the sauces,” Noho Hank hires Barry to blow up the Bolivian gang’s house. Greer thought it would be funny to have the bomb talk in foreign phrases. When Barry moves it, a voice in Korean proclaims, “You’ve picked up a bomb.” The second time it moves, the warning is in Japanese. But that’s not Greer’s only sound contribution in the episode. That’s her on the phone as the customer service rep who assists Barry when the bomb’s detonation app malfunctions.
The Season 3 finale, starting now, presented Greer with another unique audio challenge. Captured by the Bolivian cartel, Hank finds himself in a stark concrete room handcuffed to a radiator. Suddenly, he hears what sounds like a ferocious beast (it’s never seen) being released into the adjoining room. Horrified, he listens as his fellow captives are torn to bits.
“It’s such an incredible scene. The footage is just a wall and Hank reacting,” says Greer. “My assistant DeAndre (Vidale) and I spent a week figuring out what’s happening on the other side. We worked so hard to get the sounds right. It’s getting a puzzle, and none of the pieces have anything on them.”
The effort on that episode rewarded Greer in a way she never anticipated — an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series. Greer learned of the nomination when a friend texted.
“It’s crazy. I think I forget that the work is seen by other people,” Greer admits. “I hit ‘save’ and think, ‘Okay, that looks good.’ I’ll hear people are viewing it. ‘Oh, That’s great. I’m happy they like it.’”
She describes the honor as “surreal,” especially when it was announced that she won. “I was so convinced I wouldn’t. I was utterly shocked,” she recalls. “Our table was next to the stage. I had no time to gather myself. I stood up. I was on stage. I’m not used to speaking publicly, so I left kind of a voicemail – ‘Hello. Nice to meet you all. Thank you. Okay, bye.’ I forgot to thank a lot of important people. I forgot to thank my husband… all the classics.”
When I joke her speech could be fixed in post, Greer reveals the ultimate irony of her Emmy win. “They cut it,” she continues. “My award got cut from the Creative Emmys broadcast. Some editor edited out the editors.”
A twist even Barry couldn’t have scripted.
The Barry finale airs on May 28 on HBO.
Featured image: Sarah Goldberg, Zachary Golinger, Bill Hader. Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO