The fourth and final season of HBO’s “Barry” has been filled with shocking twists and audacious set pieces (like the simultaneously hilarious and horrifying “death by sand” that wiped out several characters in Episode 4), and the sixth episode was no exception. With Barry (Bill Hader) in Los Angeles hunting down Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), his wife Sally (Sarah Goldberg) was left to fend for herself at home as a truck rammed into her house, tilting it in a special effect reminiscent of films as varied as the Fred Astaire musical “Royal Wedding” and Wes Craven‘s horror classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” As Hader told IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, “The room is on a gimbal, and we put Sarah Goldberg in there and would just tilt the room up and down.”
While that concept might sound simple, the execution required careful planning for the show’s effects and stunt departments. Luckily, there was precedent. “It was fun because, unlike the sand, everybody had done that,” stunt coordinator Wade Allen told IndieWire. “Basically, the special effects boys bring out a pneumatic platform base that is able to move and do all kinds of cool things, and then we build the set on top of it.” The stunt had another advantage over the sand silo, which is that it could be repeated; the crew only had one chance to get the sand stunt right, whereas the gimbal system allowed them to shoot the room tipping over as many times as Goldberg could handle it.
The catch, in this case, is that Hader had designed a specific shot in which Sally’s face couldn’t be hidden, which meant that Goldberg, not a stunt person, had to be the one in the room. Allen ran a series of tests with a double in which he figured out a gradient he could safely achieve with Goldberg and the fastest way to get there. “We start with educated guesses about what Bill wants, and then I’ll shoot previz that we take over to Bill so he can make some tweaks,” Allen said. Once the shot was determined, the art department began painting closed-cell insulated ethafoam to look like various textures in the room. “They put that on the front of the dresser drawer so that it looks like wood grain, but Sarah can run into it safely. And then we put limiters on all the furniture so they’re all tied back; they can slide, but not slide so far that they [endanger Sarah].” The key was to keep the scene from seeming sterile by having too many items locked down, so Allen made sure there was a protective bubble around Sally while things fell and smashed. The end result is terrifying, but according to Hader, Goldberg was having a blast. “Sarah seemed to be having a ton of fun,” he said. “She was laughing a lot.”
Hader had a lot of fun as well, not just working with the gimbal but planning the shot where the truck smashes through the wall. “I’m learning with visual effects that a really good thing to do is not animate the whole thing,” he said. “That’s when it looks like ‘Roger Rabbit’ or something. It’s good to shoot a practical element of it and then let visual effects sweeten it.” To that end, Ryan Riley’s special effects team built a tire that could come through the wall practically. “We did that on the stage, with a tire mounted high enough that they could drive it in and break it through that wall,” Allen said. “Then there was a piece on location out in the desert where we built that wall and we’re looking through that hole and it’s me just hauling ass in reverse in a pickup truck and then taking off. Then those pieces got married together.”
The scale and ambition of not only this scene but Season 4 as a whole surprised not just viewers but the creative team as well. “At one point, we had the ‘Mega Girls’ set on one part of the stage and then we had this massive gimbal on another part of the stage,” Allen said. “And then just right behind it was the sand silo set. If you didn’t know it was ‘Barry,’ you’d think we were shooting a fucking Marvel movie. You’re like, ‘What is happening around here?’ For a 30-minute comedy, the stuff that we were doing this season was crazy.”