Ambrose Bierce once referred to the accordion as “an instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.” So seeing Daniel Radcliffe take up the accordion in one of the more notable roles in his eclectic career for Roku’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story might actually make that statement more accurate than it was intended to be.
This post was written by Lisa McNamara and originally appeared on Frame.io insider on Nov. 7, 2022.
Editor Jamie Kennedy, longtime Weird Al superfan and frequent collaborator of Weird director Eric Appel, generously took the time to talk to us about her dream project and her career in this installment of Made in Frame.
It takes practice
When you’re interviewing an editor with a career built around comedic work but you discover that it began with a stint on the decidedly unfunny series Frontline, you’re kind of obligated to see how they got from there to here.
Like pretty much every editor doing really cool projects, Jamie worked (a lot) on her way up. From a day job at a YouTube entertainment news channel to her (unpaid) night gig at a freelance reality TV house and “so, so, so many” short films, Jamie made it a point to just keep editing. Her big comedy break came when she was a post-production PA on Modern Family, where editors Ryan Case and Tony Orcena served as her mentors as she worked her way up to AE.
From there, she followed Orcena on to other comedy shows until she transitioned to a full-time editing job on the show Flipped, directed by Case, for the short-lived Quibi platform. It was there that she also first became acquainted with Frame.io, which she’d go on to use for subsequent projects including Weird. But more on that later.
When Flipped wrapped, Case recommended her to the team behind another Quibi production, Die Hart, in which Kevin Hart decides to hang up comedy to become an action hero, directed by Eric Appel. Appel has a lengthy comedy resume, including directing episodes of Silicon Valley and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, along with numerous shorts for Funny or Die.
Although the Quibi platform shut down a mere nine months post-launch, the relationship Jamie built with Appel has blossomed into an ongoing—and fruitful—collaboration. [Career aside: the relationships you build along the way are as important as your skills.]
Not their first polka
Among Appel’s Funny or Die shorts, one in particular holds a special place in Jamie’s heart. “I loved working with Eric, and halfway through our post process I learned that he was the creator of one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos—the fake trailer for Weird,” Jamie says.
Made in 2013, Aaron Paul delivers as an edgy Weird Al, with Olivia Wilde as a smoldering Madonna. Al used it as part of his live show, and thousands of fans asked why it hadn’t been made into a real film.
“I expressed to Eric how much I loved it and he said that he had actually been trying to make a feature version with Al for years, but had hit so many dead ends with it,” Jamie says. “I told him if he ever did get the chance to make it to please give me a call because it would be a dream come true. Fast forward two years and I get a text from Eric asking if I had a moment to chat on the phone. I was like, ‘Is this a Die Hart text?’ thinking the sequel was coming up. I got back, ‘It’s a Weird: The Al Yankovic Story text’ and I have never picked up a phone faster.”
Roku, which acquired the Quibi library, financed Weird. So with a script co-written by Eric and Al, a lean $8 million budget (according to IMDb), an enviable cast, and only 18 shoot days, they embarked on making their collective dream project a reality.
Given Eric’s background in improv, it would seem like a project with a cast full of comedy greats in cameos—including Weird Al himself— would have been an improvisational playground, but according to Jamie, “Almost everything you see in the movie was scripted. Partially because 18 days of shooting doesn’t leave any room for improv, and also because the script is just so funny there was nowhere else to go with it.”
The demanding shooting schedule had the team covering somewhere between six and nine script pages per day, which also made for a hectic editing schedule. “We were receiving around three hours of dailies every day, with multiple cameras going at once that we grouped. There was a gauntlet of a week where Eric was shooting three musical numbers in a row—I don’t even know how he survived it,” Jamie says.
With only 18 shoot days, Eric also didn’t have the luxury of doing extensive coverage, but watching the film you’d never cite that as a deficit. Such is the benefit of sticking to the script and excellent planning. “Eric is such a talented director that we were never for want of anything,” Jamie says. “He knew exactly what to get and how to shoot efficiently so we were never missing anything in the cutting room.”
“And our actors gave it 110 percent on every take, so there were no blown takes and plenty of choices even when there were only two or three takes of a set up—everyone was on their A-game.” Which, honestly, is a little surprising. Given that the performances are so intensely hilarious, you’d imagine that everyone would have been cracking each other up regularly.
“He [Eric Appel] knew exactly what to get and how to shoot efficiently so we were never missing anything in the cutting room.”
During production, Jamie worked from home on the previous day’s dailies. But with a schedule that tight, Eric had to stay focused on the shoot. “There were a couple of big scenes I sent to Eric as I got them done just so he could see that he had enough coverage and that it was all basically working,” she says. “He was concerned about one of the first musical numbers they shot, but they weren’t able to go back to that location again.”
“So at the end of the shoot they put up some curtains in the Yankovic family home set and put Dan in front of it and had him do that musical number again, close on his face. They matched the lighting and you can’t even tell they’re two different locations, and it makes all the difference because you really need the closeups in that scene.”
Once production wrapped, Jamie had 10 days to get her first cut done, which she delivered on March 18, 2022. “At that point, we stopped working remotely and we moved into Eric’s personal office for the director’s cut process,” Jamie says. “It was just three of us with tiny little workstations—we even used his personal TV as our client monitor! But being my first time back in an office since Covid started it was very chill and safe, and you can’t beat working with a director in the same room while you craft a film. We had a little under six weeks to deliver the director’s cut and locked the film at the end of June. It was a whirlwind!”
Jamie is quick to give credit to her friend and assistant editor, Peter Dudgeon. “I was very fortunate to have Peter on this film. He comes from the features world and is very talented with temp sound design, so I knew every scene I handed over to him would be in good hands as he built entire soundscapes that varied from scene to scene, and made our rough cuts far from rough. That said, 99 percent of our sound work was ultimately replaced by the professionals at the Formosa Group—shout out to Anthony Vanchure, Mike James Gallagher, and Tony Solis—who really made this movie sing, pun intended.”
Peter also served as an additional editor on Weird, taking a few scenes in the movie from dailies to lock. “He did such an amazing job that I even regretted handing over one of the scenes because it’s one of the best in the movie and I’m jealous of how good he made it—but I’d have regretted handing any scenes over because you could say that about every scene,” Jamie jokes. “I was just so grateful for his help in every capacity, because you don’t turn around a movie like this on the timetable we had without everyone giving it their all. And we did.”
Cutting a feature in a short amount of time is one thing. But cutting one that encompasses almost every possible genre from comedy to action, from musical numbers to acid trips to love scenes in that amount of time—while hitting all the right notes—is quite another. Especially when it’s your first full feature as lead editor.
“I usually work in television, and one of the aspects of TV I like the most is that things are always changing—you don’t stay on one thing for too long because you’re onto the next episode, the next show, you’re always moving,” Jamie says. “I loved what Weird was doing. I think a lot of the time editors are kind of pigeonholed into the genres they work most in, but this movie proves you can bounce around anywhere and those skills are transferable and malleable. Comedy and action share a lot of DNA; it’s all timing, keeping things moving briskly, and being on the action when punches are delivered, even if they’re verbal punches in the way of jokes.”
“And then action sequences and musical numbers share a lot of DNA. They’re both working with choreography, rhythm, and staying wide long enough that you can keep track of the geography of the scene. Drama and comedy both thrive when they work in tandem. I think the film works because even though every scene feels completely different, as a whole they harmoniously come together. And part of that is understanding that different genres really aren’t that different from one another. It was all so much fun!”
“Comedy and action share a lot of DNA; it’s all timing, keeping things moving briskly, and being on the action when punches are delivered.”
No spoilers here, but there are some very specific references to other movies. For the viewer, Weird is full of Easter-Eggy goodness, and it’s a credit to Eric and Jamie that they so faithfully parodied them. How did they do it?
“I was already a huge Weird Al fan prior to ever working on this film, so I didn’t have to do much prep or research there,” she says. “I’ve seen all the music videos, I’ve watched UHF a handful of times, I’ve been to so many concerts. But, Weird is also kind of unlike any of those things. I didn’t rewatch UHF because I knew this script was so different from that style of humor, so I didn’t want to be influenced by that when I started cutting. The bigger amount of prep actually was in all the parody work the film does.”
“Because this is a parody of biopic films, I thought it was more important to re-familiarize myself with the source material. I rewatched Walk the Line and Walk Hard, and other scenes from recent biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and films like The Doors, Boogie Nights, John Wick, etc., so I could get the cutting patterns right. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie that I didn’t even realize was a parody until we were doing the director’s cut, so I immediately went back to recut it to emulate its parody source a little more.”
Getting the right notes
Obviously, Weird Al wanted to stay involved with the post-production even though he was embarking on a nationwide tour at the time. So although he was never physically there, Jamie says that he was always available via written notes through Frame.io and Zooms.
His feedback was also vital for fine tuning the musical aspects of the film. “He was always the one to tell us if a beat was off or if a musical sound wasn’t right, or if we should fade out the vocals for a few frames because Dan moved away from the microphone. Little details like that were so important,” Jamie says.
“When we were mixing the film, Al was on Zoom all day watching the mix stream and weighing in, but sometimes we’d suddenly get a text like, ‘Gotta run on stage, my show is about to start! I’ll be back after curtain!’ and that was always such a funny reminder of the many, many hats he wears. Also, while in the mix, we were lamenting that we didn’t have bigger crowd sounds for a scene in the movie where they yell ‘NO’ a couple of times at Al on stage. Al heard that note and was like, “Oh, I’ll get a recording tonight at the concert,’ and he did! We got a video that night from the theater in Lincoln, Nebraska, giving us exactly the loop group work we needed on the scale we needed.”
In addition to Al’s notes, the team relied heavily on Frame.io to get timely notes back and forth from producers. More importantly, they needed to feel certain that they could share cuts securely, since there’s been so much buzz about the film and everyone was taking extra care to prevent leaks of the footage. “The Watermark ID also saved us so much time on the QuickTime creation front, because rather than making individual outputs with specific watermarks we could rely on Frame.io for that added security method. When it comes to a feature, so many hours are saved when you streamline the output process,” Jamie adds.
Eric was also working in Frame.io often throughout the production and post process. “We used Frame.io to host our dailies every day, which was an important tool so he could see what was shot previously. I wasn’t sending him every scene prior to the editor’s cut, so it was vital that there was a source through which he could peruse the dailies easily while he was on set,” she says.
And then there was the LSD sequence, a pivotal plot point in the movie and in movie-Al’s career.
“It’s difficult to do such a VFX-heavy scene on the timetable we had, so Frame.io was an important resource in our communications with Bruce Allen, who led that scene. He would post WIP shots and storyboards and Eric could respond quickly via the in-app notes feature,” Jamie says. “There were a lot of specifics to that scene, some of which could get lost in a verbal explanation over Zoom. Eric would write notes in the app and use the drawing feature to circle and sketch details he was talking about.”
“He’s a visual communicator, and coming from Son of Zorn he’s accustomed to the animation back-and-forth process. Prior to really taking advantage of Frame.io as a hosting platform we felt like we were spinning our wheels in the communications over that sequence, so it was an important tool to accomplish exactly the look we wanted to achieve.”
A big finish
Weird is the kind of movie that’s rewarding on so many levels. Yes, it’s hilarious. But when you consider the love, heart, and care that went into making something that could easily have taken many times as much money and time to produce, you really do have to appreciate the effort of all the filmmakers involved.
What’s also incredibly noteworthy is how much Jamie appreciates the privilege of working on this film. “Although I’ve dabbled in all the genres this movie spans, this film gave me the opportunity to really hone those skills: montage work, musical performances, action scenes, etc. The challenge of doing this breadth of work in a compressed time frame, finding solutions to limited coverage or complex notes, are skills that are important to finesse,” she states.
“There’s also the ever-important lesson that there are so many ways to make a scene. There’s one scene we really put through the wringer, a monologue from Al’s dad in the beginning of the movie. We recut it maybe more than any other scene in the movie because we had to get the humor to work just right. It drove me crazy—all I wanted was to be done with it. But it paid off, because every time I see a screening of it with an audience it gets a huge laugh.”
There are a few magical projects that come along in a career where everything comes together, and for Jamie, this is one of them. “There are so many projects I’ve been proud to have been part of, but this movie is just so special. I may never have as much of a connection to something I’ve worked on ever again. To have come into it as not only a Weird Al fan, but also a fan of Eric’s original trailer and to see this being released, I can’t even believe it. It’s the kind of thing I always dreamed of doing when I started my journey in the film industry all those years ago,” she says.
And we’re right there with her. Because if your product can help creatives achieve their career dreams, it’s a happy ending for everyone.