‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’ producers Joe Farrell and Whitney Hodack on Roku coming through after ‘everyone passed’ on the parody film [Exclusive Video Interview]

In 2010, Funny or Die produced a parody trailer for a “Weird Al” Yankovic biopic, featuring Aaron Paul as the accordionist. For years, Yankovic played the trailer at his concerts and fans would inquire about a real film. He never wanted to do one until “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) and “Rocketman” (2019) opened within months of each other to great success. Yankovic teamed with Eric Appel to write the script for “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” which they then took to Funny or Die.

“I think that’s the pressure we feel with everything, like the first line of every review is, ‘This should’ve stayed a short!'” executive producer Joe Farrell tells Gold Derby at our Producers Guild of America Awards nominees panel (watch above). “Creatives are always cursed with something and our curse is always that first paragraph of, ‘It should’ve stayed three minutes.’ It wasn’t that we didn’t wanna work with Eric and Al, but the bar when they came in was, ‘Everyone will say this was already very successful. Why does this need to be a movie?’ And so when they pitched us the movie and showed us the script, it was very clear that if it was executed properly — and we knew Eric could do it — that our hope was the audience would say it was worth the journey to see it come to life.”

Farrell and his Funny or Die producing partner Whitney Hodack then went around town pitching “Weird” to “many, many outlets and everyone passed.” “They said that no one would get that it was fake and they would be confused, and that they just didn’t think people would understand the joke,” Farrell shares. “They liked Al, they liked the script, but they just didn’t feel the audience would get it.” They finally heard that three-letter word from Roku, which was looking to get into original content. “The old Hollywood cliché of it just takes one ‘yes’ is literally true in this case. And Roku were incredible partners. They had never done a movie before. They were just starting to do original content and so we told them we would be their house of cards. We knew from the very beginning that it would go well,” Farrell quips.

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Roku approved a “right-sized” $8 million budget and a tight 18-day shoot. Complicating matters was that Daniel Radcliffe, Yankovic and Appel’s top choice to play the parodist, had a small window in his schedule into which he could fit the shoot. “The movie was greenlit right up against a window where Daniel was actually available, so our prep was also very fast. And Dan had a hard out, so our schedule was a little longer initially, but we were fighting time and we were fighting budget,” Hodack reveals. “I will say, at Funny or Die, we are very nimble. We are very efficient producers. There was some nervousness, but also it was in our wheelhouse of what we do, so we were able to figure it out.”

Hodack credits the entire production from top down for being on board and committed to making the production work in a professional and safe manner. “When we had the conversation with [Appel] about doing this in 18 days, I remember he didn’t freak out, but he took a pause and Al took a pause. I was like, ‘You guys, we can do this if everybody gets on board with this.’ And he thought about it and was like, ‘Yes, we can figure this out,'” she continues. “In conjunction with every department head and every player, Dan included, they embraced the challenge and they figured it out. And that’s not to say we were doing insane, long shoot days either. We didn’t have money for that kind of overtime. I feel like it was an ethical shoot. I feel like our crew was not worked to the bone, driving around at night with no sleep and stuff. And that was just in part to everyone getting on board and trying to make it work.”

“Weird,” which won the Critics Choice Award for Best TV Movie and Best Limited/TV Movie Actor for Radcliffe, features a mid-credits scene that offers ample sequel opportunities. But the duo has nothing to report yet. “No sequel yet, but there are sequel inklings,” Farrell teases.

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