Weird Sound: A Q&A with the re-recording mixer behind Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is an original movie from The Roku Channel starring Daniel Radcliffe, which tells the story of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s life. A parody of musical biopics itself, the film follows Yankovic’s journey from childhood to pop-culture sensation famous for his parody music. The film was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Television Movie.

As the only re-recording mixer on the team, Tony Solís certainly had his work cut out for him. We interviewed him about working on (proudly) his weirdest film to date, and what it was like to collaborate with Al Yankovic, who remoted into the soundstage daily while on tour across the US.

To start, how would you sum up this project for someone who might not know all that much about it?

Well, it’s a parody look at the life of Weird Al Yankovic from childhood all the way to… ridiculousness. I mean, everybody knows Weird Al. He does parody music; he uses other people’s music and changes the lyrics. He and Eric Appel, the director, wrote a parody of a musical biopic about his life. So, it’s incredibly meta in that sense. A lot of it is factual, especially his younger life—how he started playing accordion and how he got his first big break—but then it quickly veers into ridiculous territory. It’s a serious movie, but it’s also a comedy, a romantic comedy, an action movie, and a musical all in one.

I love it. And tell me about your role in the film specifically.

I was the re-recording mixer for the movie. Normally on a movie of this size, you’d have two mixers, but due to budget, I was by myself. The audio team itself was really only about three people: me, the supervising sound editor, Anthony Vanchure, and the sound designer, Mike James Gallagher. I’ve worked with Anthony in the past; he brought me on board because I have a musical background, and he figured that I’d be a really good fit. I said, “Yes, absolutely,” without even thinking about it, “I don’t even care what the rate is; I’m going to do it because I love Weird Al!” But it was a big undertaking to have so many genres of movie within one movie and then be the only mixer for the few days that we had to mix it.

Yeah, I have to say, the film is very sound-forward in general—not just the music. The suspense, the feel, from the very beginning, are so driven by sound.

I’m glad you mentioned that because it was a conscious effort with Eric and the other stage crew. We wanted to make a statement from the start because it was really easy for it to feel like it was either just a music video or just a really well done Funny or Die skit. A lot of that had to do with how well it was edited. The picture editing was phenomenal because it didn’t feel cheap, it felt like a big budget picture, plus the way that it was shot and the acting; it wasn’t campy while still being cheesy at the same time. It led to a lot of weight being put on my shoulders to bring it to the finish line audio-wise though because a lot of people know his music. We did not want to follow any sort of convention. We knew we were making a weird movie, so it was like, let’s just do whatever we want that’s ridiculous, and it stuck.

So fun. And I was impressed with Daniel Radcliffe, too. I know he has Broadway experience, but I personally had never heard him sing. He’s so good!

Yeah, he took it very, very seriously, learned how to play accordion and everything. He was miming it on set, but Al gave him some lessons so he was actually still playing the right stuff whenever he was on screen—except for the really big solo at the house party; that was actually Al’s hands. But, yeah, it was so cool to see Radcliffe do this role and take it so seriously. Big fan.

That’s awesome. So, tell me a bit more about the challenges you faced working as a solo mixer and with the nature of the project.

Yeah, bringing all of these genres together. I needed a lot of input from Al, I needed a lot of input from Eric, our director, because they had such a vision. My job itself is like, I have a bunch of line cooks and they just put a bunch of ingredients in front of me, and they’re just like, “Well, that’s supposed to be this dish,” but all I had was raw ingredients.

When I got the rough cut, the audio was incredibly rough, and a lot of the picture elements were still rough, and I could tell it was going to be heavy. And, knowing I was mixing it by myself with a very limited amount of time, the main challenge was to find the central focus, where your ears aren’t going to question what you’re watching. And for me, that lies in dialogue; as long as all of the dialogue is nice and consistent, we can do whatever else and you won’t question what you’re hearing. 

The biggest ask that we got in the movie was from Al himself: that whenever there was a performance, it had to feel “in the space.” And that’s very different from what most mixers in my position get asked. Normally, we just have a score or space music, or a needle drop of a cool Billie Eilish song, or something like that. In this case, it was, “This is the track that they’re singing, but I want it to sound like they’re playing it at that venue, at that bar outside.” It was a pretty big challenge because you have to get the space and the acoustics right—and in a really short amount of time. We probably spent the most time on all of the performances. Other than that, it was the acid trip scene. We spent almost an entire day just on that scene because there were so many elements happening: a huge score, while also dialogue and lots of crazy sound effects.

You get handed all of this stuff and you have to make sense of all of it so that the viewer doesn’t just get this cacophony of noise. So that’s sort of my job at that point: the push and pull so that your ear goes to wherever I point you to go. It’s sort of like how an artist will paint a picture. I actually have a painting, it’s a big Picasso that draws your eyes in certain directions. I went to music school, so I took a bunch of art classes, and knowing how an artist will use lines to pull your eye to go somewhere—that’s what I do with your ears. We call it “Mickey Mousing” sometimes. But when you have about 400 tracks of audio that are pulling for your attention, it’s a lot of infrastructure to get through.

I love that analogy. So you mentioned your team a bit. Where was everyone located geographically?

My stage tech and I were at one of the Formosa lots in Hollywood. The sound designer would be on and off, either at home or onsite. The sound supervisor, Anthony, was doing two movies at the same time, so he was actually in the next stage over and would go back and forth. But the main offsite person we had was Al Yankovic himself. He was doing his big “Vanity Tour,” as he calls it, where he mostly played his original songs, not the parody songs. It was a huge tour, all of June through the end of October—like, 80 dates or something. And it just happened to be that for the entire mix, he was on tour. So we had him on Evercast with us every day. He would be on his bus, in a hotel room, his green room, or dressing room, on his laptop, just screening what we were doing onstage. That’s why Evercast was such a big deal for us because he was the biggest voice, and he was the one that was never physically there. 

Every single day of the mix, he was at a show. Props to him, he was a freaking trooper. He’d be like, “Hey guys, just give me ten minutes, I have to go do a quick sound check.” He would leave his camera on, we would just keep working, and then he’d come back and be like, “Alright, what did I miss?” And we’d hear his stage manager or his agent or somebody come in and be like, “Al, you’re on stage in two minutes.” And he’s like, “Oh. You guys, I’ll be back, it’s about an hour and a half show.” And literally, he would finish the show, say bye to the crowd, and come straight to the dressing room and be right back on with us. 


Yeah. But it was a necessary thing because we couldn’t move forward without his input for all scenes. He produced it, he wrote it, and—he didn’t direct it, but Eric would often defer to him. And he was 100 percent available at all times, other than when he was on stage. We had a scene in the last third of the movie where he’s doing a performance and has a call-and-response with the crowd, and it was sounding too small. We actually asked him, “Can you record your crowd tonight doing that call and response with you?” And luckily he was like, “Yeah, sure!” Two hours later, we had an email with the files. 

Honestly—and I’m not saying it because I’m talking with you and this is about Evercast—but this movie couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that connection. It worked so well, first of all, but it also gave Al an accurate representation of whatever we were doing on stage. The lag was barely there—I think he was only a few milliseconds off of us, and it absolutely did feel like he was there with us, even though he was on a screen to the right of me. But we had a camera set up so he could see everybody in the room. And it just worked. I never felt like, “Man, if he were here, this would just work so much better.” He knew it was going to sound different on the stage because we were mixing it in Atmos and he was hearing it in stereo, but he trusted what we were doing based on how he heard it on his headphones. With Al being who he is and who he was to the movie, it just never would have been able to happen if it weren’t for this technology, to be honest.

I’ve done a lot of incredibly high-budget mixes with other remote tools and I never felt as comfortable. We’d get a lot of notes about little dropouts or whatever, and they’d think it’s a problem on the stage, but we’d be like, “No, it sounds good on here!” We never had that with Al [on Evercast]. You know, I got freaked out when I was at TIFF because it was going to be my first time meeting Al in person, and then it dawned on me that he’s never heard it in a room, ever. Luckily, the screening was amazing. We opened TIFF, and directly afterwards, he saw me and was like, “I am so happy with what you did!” I was like, “Oh my God, thank you, because you only ever heard it on a laptop, and that is nuts!”

The Al Yankovic Story

Wow, and you had been streaming to him in stereo?

For Al specifically, it was just stereo because he was on his laptop. He had those really expensive Sennheiser headphones. I forget the name, they’re like HD900s or something like that. They’re pretty decent.

But it was my first experience with Evercast. We were about to do a film about this guy’s life, the guy himself, with his music and the way his music is represented, so I got instantly anxious about how this was going to go. And it just never was a problem.

I was trying to think of any moment where I thought, “Ugh, if only he were here, if only this worked better,” and honestly, I can’t say that ever crossed my or anybody else’s mind. And I know our mix tech, Will, was a big champion of Evercast. It just worked!

I mean, it’s as simple as that, right? The best technology disappears. You’re not supposed to log on and be amazed the whole time. You should actually forget that it’s there.

Yeah, I would forget that it was there! We had Al patched in so that we actually heard him come out of the speakers. All of the sudden he’d be like, “Hey guys, that last scene…” It was like, oh that’s right, Al’s there, and he’s listening in real-time with us, and hearing everything that we’re doing. We would sometimes spend a long time on one scene; I would just loop a section over and over, and he’d stay on and just chime in. It honestly just felt like he was in the room with us. He was sort of my gauge as to how most people were going to hear the movie because most people were going to hear it on a laptop or on headphones. And if he said that something sounded good, I trusted him, because he is who he is. He’s audio-minded and he can tell me if something is off.

That’s great. So, was he the only person remoting in?

He was the only person that remoted in every day. We had some other crew that was with us on some days and not with us on other days. We either had, I think, a minimum of two people and I think at most, seven [on Evercast]. And we never had any dropouts.

Our picture editor, Jamie Kennedy, was mostly on stage, but then she had to go to an event in San Diego, so she was on Evercast from her hotel room for a couple days. She was like, “Wow, this sounds as good as it does on a stage—it’s like I’m there.” She was integral because she played a big creative role with Eric and Al during the cutting of the movie. She also got nominated for an Emmy, so congrats to her! 

But the final playback day was the biggest day. We had Roku people, we had Funny Or Die people I think, too. There were ten people on the stage, and about seven people on Evercast watching. That was great because we had everybody that we needed to, and they gave notes through Evercast, and it just worked beautifully. It was so smooth. Nobody said the sync was off, or that the audio cut out or got weird-sounding. You know, it’s easy for these kinds of things to frustrate you if they go wrong, and you have so many other things that you’re dealing with on stage that you really don’t need a technological hurdle.

You said it beautifully before: you forget that it’s there. It just works, and it creates a seamless experience for everybody involved so they can just focus on what they’re there to do, which is to give notes on the project. Roku was putting a lot of eggs in this basket for this movie.

Awesome. So tell me a little bit about the setup with Evercast.

We were on Pro Tools for the full mix, and we were running about three or four computers together digitally. I don’t know the details of how Formosa has Evercast set up, but it’s incredibly seamless. I actually had an iPad where I could control specifically what I was hearing and then also the type of talkback, like which mic is going to Al, what Al is hearing on the stream, and how Al hears us in the room. I just had this iPad and could talk to him directly. 

The room that I started in [at Formosa] was the room that Family Guy mixes in, and all of those mixes had been completely without clients for the last two-plus years. So they had integrated everything.

You know, this is an interesting use case. My mix partner, Jeff King, is a Skywalker [Sound] guy, and he’ll fly down and do mixes with me here. Sometimes he’ll sit down at our dining room table, and Evercast himself from his laptop to the stage that he mixes at at Skywalker, so that he can do notes from a laptop on a different rig. He’s able to use the room at Skywalker, because he’ll remotely log into it, then start an Evercast room over there, then join that Evercast from here so that he can monitor what he’s doing through the remote access. He explained it to me, and I was like, “I don’t think that’s what they had in mind when they made this technology, but that is brilliant.” He’s like, “I wouldn’t do a full mix like this, but it's easy to do notes and punch in mixers because the mix has already been set. I can just do this from my laptop or iPad, and it’s the way to get the best audio.” He’s on that Star Wars show, Bad Batch. I forget what program he uses to remote in, but it’s a Skywalker thing, it’s like a dark fiber connection, so it’s really snappy.

Wow, that is very clever actually! But for you, you were just streaming your Pro Tools right into Evercast from the stage?

Yeah. I don’t know at what point of the audio stream—if it’s my output or the output of the recorder machine—but they have it patched directly into Evercast, so they can send out a surround. But because we knew that Al wasn’t going to be listening to that, I was using my own mixdown of that surround to send to him because that’s the mixdown that was going to be used on the final delivery. 

We were mixing in Atmos, but we had a parallel mixdown happening at the same time that I could monitor. That was a big part of our delivery to have a good stereo. So, I was sending him that specific mixdown. They patched that in so I knew what he was listening to was going to be what we were delivering, so that there wasn’t going to be any question about sync or how stuff was folding down. For this specific Atmos mix, I had 22 channels, and I was folding it down to two, so a lot of the stuff I was doing might not translate well in stereo. So, it was just good to jump back and forth with him and be like, “Hey, Al, how does this sound on your headphones? Stuff flying over your head now in stereo.” He’s not much for “OH MY GOD!” He’s just like, “That was good, that was good.”

That’s so funny. His persona is so larger than life!

Yeah, I was expecting that! It’s not even that he’s like “business,” he’s just very chill. I would be like, “Hey Al, is it cool if I do this?” He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, if it sucks, I’ll tell you to change it.” But he was never hardcore.

Love it. So, what’s your vision for the future? Do you see this sort of sound workflow continuing on?

Personally, yes, because things that we do on the stage are starting to get a lot more integrated. We wear more hats than we used to, and to have a huge room for a big team is not practical for a lot of studios anymore. On the biggest budget movies that I’ve done in the last year and a half, the entire editorial team is on stage remotely. If the tech works, it’s just like they’re there. As much as I love having a bunch of bodies in the room, their presence is still there, it’s felt. The work is getting done, we’re not losing time, and we’re not losing the creative flow because of weird lag or anything like that. 

I was just talking to the dialogue editor for some of these big budget things that I do. He lives in North Carolina, and he works full-time in LA from over there by way of technology. He was in LA for a decade plus, but he wanted to be able to buy a house, so he moved to North Carolina with his wife. He hasn’t skipped a beat. He works on all of the same shows. He works on all the same crews.

His ethic has given me a roadmap of how this technology is necessary. We don’t lose time, we actually go faster. It’s more efficient. Also, you have quality of life issues. My mix partner, Jeff King, just bought a house in North Hollywood and is going to completely work remotely for Skywalker Sound starting from November on. 

This technology allows that kind of quality of life difference to happen. So, if I, the person in the room with the clients, don’t feel like their physical presence is missed and the work is still top-notch, it’s still getting done, no time is lost, and the budgets don’t get overblown, then why not? That’s how I view it. I would love to continue this sort of thing.

Not everybody is like Al—some clients just cannot deal with headphones. For one of those big-budget movies I did, the director was in New York for the full mix. He had a big 5.1 system, so he was hearing it that way, and it worked. He actually preferred it. For the very last day, he flew in, and he was like, “This sounds almost exactly like it does in my room. Why did I need to fly all the way to LA? I could just stay in New York and approve the mix.”

So, we’ve had a lot of moments like that in the last few years where we notice as crews, or as supervisors, we’re not skipping a beat here—we’re actually more efficient. And supervisors love it because now they can use whatever crew they want, anywhere around the world, and still have effective communication without feeling that they’re thousands and thousands of miles away.

Right. You’ve mentioned lag a bit. When you’re working remotely, some latency is going to be a given. How do you navigate that?

We’ll usually have a laptop on the stage, and we can actually check how much latency we’re seeing, so we can let the client know ahead of time, “Hey, if you have any sync notes, just know that you’ll have about a quarter, half of a frame, three quarters of a frame, a whole full frame, of drifting here and there.

The sync stuff is something that we can always deal with. It’s more about how the audio is relayed. With Evercast, we didn’t have any issues with that.

A lot of my generation of mixers, we adapt, we just move with tech. We roll with it. It’s a lot better than sending a mix, then they hear it on a laptop and write 20 pages of notes, and then you have to have a meeting about it later.

Yes, makes sense! Well, this was such an interesting story. Thank you so much. And congrats on the Emmy nomination, too!

Thank you, thank you. It’s been surreal that this little project has been getting so much recognition around the world. We’re pretty stoked about it. Hoping to bring some statues home!

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