While there's a lot of nuance to Netflix's smash hit Baby Reindeer, one of the most impressive elements was how it balanced pitch black comedy with some extremely heavy subject matter. You might be wondering how such a tightrope walk is pulled off so expertly. In my opinion? It all comes down to the edit.

We got to chat with Baby Reindeer editor Peter Oliver on just how exactly he managed to do so. He also enlightens us with some useful insight on starting your editing career that involves some broken wrists, and is generally a very nice and charming guy.


Editor's Note: The following quotes from Peter Oliver are edited for length and clarity.

Frome Fine Art to the Editing Suite 

"There was no film school for me, so I did a fine art course and I started as a sculptor. My sculptures got bigger and bigger and bigger, so I filmed them and then the work became more the filming, and then the editing, obviously. So now the editing is the art.

So that took over and there was a little edit suite that I never used, and so I pop in there and do some editing and I fell in love with it. So my stuff is less about the film history of it and more about the rhythm of it—the craft of it and the art of it.

I'm always looking for rhythm. I still kind of think of myself as a sculptor, but it is a different kind of sculptor. It's kind of sculpture with light and time and angles. So I'm really loving the angles, putting angles together, and the rhythm. Half the time if you ask me at the end of [a project] what it's about, I dunno, but I know about the rhythm and the timings and always looking for emotion and that kind of thing ...

[Then I was] a runner and I used to make tea for people, and then I was an assistant for a long time, and then an editor broke both of his wrists on his bike, so I had to step in and then that's how my editing career started. I had to step in for someone and then it kind of took off.

Sometimes you do have to go back to it as well, even when I was assembling, start off with assemble editing and then had to go back to assisting and then come back up. But I think you really appreciate editing when you get there, if you've done all of the work to get there. It's almost like an apprenticeship, making the tea and then stepping up and up and up. So I really appreciate that.

Every projects a new experience and you learn more and more and more. I mean, half of it's politics as well, so you learn the politics of editing as well.

My assistant Andrew Reynolds is brilliant and was very good at doing visit effects, and so he was really good at changing the emails and that kind of stuff."

Balancing Comedy and Tragedy in the Cut 

Editing the Rhythm of Comedy and Tragedy in 'Baby Reindeer'

Baby Reindeer


"I mean, it's easier to make people cry then to make people laugh.

I've done a lot of comedy, and it's really hard. You have to have triggers and you have to have beats. Comedy is really hard just because [people have different triggers]. Baby Reindeer was perfect for me. It had some comedy in, but it also was very dark. I like the darker side of things.

I think even in the darker episodes—like episode four—there's still humor at the start and there's some humor at the end as well. But obviously we've just got a great talent for writing very, very dark scenes and then bringing in the comedy as well. Obviously those very, very dark moments of sexual assault, for there's no comedy or light, and then [Richard Gadd] brings it back into a lighter space. So I think that's what happened all way through the series, is that he had a good balance of the dark and the light.

I mean I think comedy is timing as well. So some comedy you can do and then move on straight away and it's kind of like, oh, hang on, that was funny. And then you've moved on. But some of it, especially in Baby Reindeer, is just how long you can hold on those infinite moments and almost make it funny, but also awkward. Like that canal scene from episode two, you can make it several different things at the same time."

Collaborating With Creator Richard Gadd

Editing the Rhythm of Comedy and Tragedy in 'Baby Reindeer'

Richard Gadd in Baby Reindeer


"I call [Richard Gadd] the Trinity because he was the writer, the actor, and the exec producer. So he had a lot of hats on and he came into the edit and we had him, [director Weronika Tofilska] and I, and then the execs and producers. It was quite a busy edit just because of the content, I think. And also just because people were so interested—it was like a magnet. People were just, oh, what you doing today? Whatcha doing today? That kind of thing. And then people would get involved.

Richard was lovely to me, I think he was lovely to everyone. He hadn't been in the edit a lot before, I don't think, on other projects. So at the beginning he was kind of like, well, what else are we going to do? Which is a real compliment. He had seen the assembly and went, well, okay, that's it. We had to explain that there was a bit more to it.

And then he got into it and he was like, oh, what about trying this, or trying this? And so there was a lot of trial and error or just trying different things out in the edit even later on in the process. So we were always trialing things, but what stands out to me most about Weronika and Richard was that they wanted to make the show that they wanted. So it wasn't necessarily like, okay, we've got algorithms and test audiences [to plase], although those are good. They wanted the pace they wanted.

We didn't try and speed it up or try and get through it fast. It had its own pace. But I think a lot of shows I work on, you kind of tried to not hook people through, but trying to speed it through and go quick, so it was really nice to work on something that had those moments of stillness as well as the rollercoaster moments and the faster moments. And then to help the audience with how to feel. You just slow everything right down or take out all the audio so that suddenly the audience has got the rug pulled from under their feet and they're like, oh no, I didn't expect that. Especially with Jessica Gunning. Jess was so good. She could really make you laugh one moment, and then you were just really freaked out by her the next moment. And it was lovely just to hold on her performance and to watch so many takes.

She had a lot of takes and she always did something slightly different on each take, which is a real skill and so helpful in the edit because you can really nuance a performance by just carrying on. You could change a couple of things in the whole episode and it would change how everybody views the episode. There was a lot of back and forth going on that way.

Richard was brilliant in the edit, and we kept rerecording the voiceover. So there was a lot of different script voiceover or he'd go out on the record and the corridor, and we didn't have anywhere specific to record it, so he'd be walking in the corridor talking on his phone. And so that was quite funny. You just imagine what other people are thinking as they were all passed with all his bizarre voiceover. And then we'd bring it back in and we'd all discuss through, oh, maybe the intuition here, or just rhythm of this. And then he'd go out and record it again and come back and we'd keep playing with it. That's the thing that most changed the most, the voiceover."

The Importance of an Intricate Soundscape 

"I had a lot of fun with sounds. I recorded my own voice and just the depth of the sound that you could get. Even again in that announcing I had lapping water and just really distant sounds and just the levels of building of the background sounds in the whole thing. Like busy pub, there's a scene where it is Martha's birthday coming up, and I recorded people laughing and got lots of laughter in the background of the pub rambling on, and it's a funny scene. And she's talking to Donnie about her birthday coming up and she's being a bit cheeky with him. And then she asked for his phone number and suddenly everything goes quiet.

I really like that. And the track I used underneath I used it from quite early on. "She's in disguise" I think was the chorus. And I really liked that track. And then when the crowd did come back in, the crowd sound, I tried to make it more of a serious rumble rather than the laughter from before.

You can do a lot in sound as well as picture. And it is quite subliminal, but I found that quite fun on this. And I haven't done that as much before, but I'll take it on and do a lot more of that in the future. The sound grip and the sound layers and just how much sound. The other thing I learned was to try and watch through the whole program without music. And so if you take all the music off, it's very naked and it's very humbling in a way. To just kind of think, does this work?

But then you really see where you need music. And I think I've been guilty in the past of wallpapering and trying to cover over cracks with music. Oh, put the music on there. But with Baby Reindeer, I definitely played through without the music and then built the music back in. And so that was a great discipline that I would take on because a lot of the time you don't need music."

Peter Oliver's advice to Aspiring Filmmakers

Editing the Rhythm of Comedy and Tragedy in 'Baby Reindeer'

Baby Reindeer


"Try and get your work out there as much as possible. I mean, when I was a boy, when I was an assistant and assembling, I had DVDs, and I just watched the DVDs whenever I cleared them. And it was a long time ago.

I always try and tell my assistants or runners who work in the edit suites just to keep your work, even if shows you don't think they're all that good, just keep 'em on your website because one day will come when a director or producer will say, you'll have a moment— like my moment with the wrists broken—and they'll say, well, what have you got? And I think you should always just build up a back log of work and just go, I've done this, I've done this, I've done this. And even if it's stuff that you're not all that proud of, or you don't think looks that great, just to keep it so that you can show people.

You can even show editors that you, you're working with and they can say, oh, you could have done this, that, and the other. And I always like my assistants to assemble scenes for me so that I can see their progression and help with their progression in editing.

I'll edit a scene, and I'll ask them to edit a scene. And then I'll put 'em together and say, okay, we'll play yours first and then play mine. And then we can discuss it is a really good learning curve for an assistant. To be able to watch back to back, and then I'll explain, this is why I did this, and I understand why you did this.

And maybe I'll steal that because that was better than mine [laughs]."