Eric Appel interview: ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’ director
After working with “Weird” Al Yankovic on a Funny or Die spoof trailer 10 years ago, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” director and co-writer Eric Appel had more than enough time to think about what a feature version of the satirical take on Yankovic’s life might look like on screen. But when it finally came time to make that dream a reality, Appel didn’t even have a full month to shoot. The film’s whirlwind production lasted just 18 days and required discipline, planning, and a little luck to pull off.
“It was a bit of a miracle,” Appel, a Directors Guild Award nominee for “Weird,” tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview as part of our Meet the Experts: Directors panel. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al, and featuring numerous celebrity cameos – including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Conan O’Brien, and more – “Weird” is a comedy satire of musical biopics that’s more “MAD Magazine” than “Naked Gun.” It imagines a world where Yankovic rises to fame and fortune while singing original songs like “Eat It,” only to see other artists spoof his work. (So “Eat It” becomes “Beat It” for Michael Jackson.)
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“We just had no wiggle room in our schedule,” Appel says of the frantic shoot. “We were operating under serious COVID protocols and we couldn’t afford for anyone to get sick. If Daniel Radcliffe got sick, we were sunk. He was contractually obligated to go do press for ‘The Lost City’ one week after we wrapped him, so we couldn’t lose him.”
One scene that left Appel and the team juggling a lot of balls was a cameo-filled pool party early in the film, where Weird Al meets numerous “weird” celebrities like O’Brien as Andy Warhol, Jorma Taccone as Pee-wee Herman, Akiva Schaffer as Alice Cooper, Paul F. Tompkins as Gallagher, and Emo Philips as Salvador Dali. As Appel remembers, the stress of scheduling the sequence was compounded by the weather forecast.
“We have all these comedians coming by. Conan O’Brien is dropping by – but we have to try to get him out in one hour. He’s kind of doing us a favor and coming by for basically no money. And then I’m watching the weather app. And it’s like, we’re gonna have rain that day. It’s supposed to be this sunny pool party scene,” Appel says. “Thankfully, when we got to that day, it sprinkled a little bit near the end but the rain held off.”
But while the rain didn’t washout the shoot, the temperatures did make it impossible for the pool to actually be utilized. “We couldn’t afford to heat the pool,” Appel says. “So we couldn’t have anybody swimming and every time I called cut in that scene, everyone’s just huddling under heat lamps.”
Appel credits the cast – Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna, and Toby Huss and Julianne Nicholson as Weird Al’s parents – for handling the quick shoot like pros. “Everybody’s sticking really close to the script because they’re trying to play all of these scenes as ridiculous and absurd as they are at the top of their emotional intelligence,” he says. “They’re really playing this like they’re in a big-budget musical biopic, even though we have what I think was less than one-tenth of ‘Elvis’’ budget.”
“Weird” is streaming on The Roku Channel.