Re-recording mixer Tony Solis recently worked on the new Roku original film Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Evan Rachel Wood. The film is a satirical biopic that looks at the life of parody singer "Weird Al" Yankovic, and recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Solis (pictured, lower right) took some time to share with Post his experience working on the feature.
Tony, can you talk about the tools you used to mix Weird: The Al Yankovic Story?
“I mixed Weird: The Al Yankovic Story on Dolby Atmos mix stages running ProTools on an S6 and a D-Control. I have been mixing features in Atmos for years now, so it was a real pleasure to get to mix such a sonically-dense and exciting movie in an immersive format. I used every single channel at my disposal to creatively mix ambiances, sound effects and most of all, the music.
“My go to plug-ins for Weird included an assortment of FabFilter plug-ins for dialogue, effects and music (Pro-Q3, Pro-C2, Pro-MB, Pro-DS), Exponential Audio reverbs (Stratus 3D, Symphony 3D), Slapper 2, McDSP SA-2 and a few Sound Toys modules for the real crazy sections. I also made great use of Waves Clarity Vx and Izotope RX modules for any dialogue cleanup work. I am completely fascinated by how well Clarity Vx has been working on my recent mixes.
“As a re-recording mixer, my main focus is to keep all dialogue clear and balanced, all while keeping the world alive with a rich soundtrack that will immerse you into the story. It’s an astounding art form that I am thrilled to be able to do every day.”
Did the film have any challenging scenes or moments?
“Every single reel of Weird had its amazingly fun challenges to work on! A lot of film genres were touched upon in the movie, so fun opportunities presented themselves a lot. All of the live music performances were especially challenging, since Eric Appel and Al Yankovic wanted to keep all the performances grounded in what they would actually sound like in the space they were in. Panning and tasteful use of different reverbs and delays made a huge difference in helping to achieve this. There was a lot of volume and EQ automation on every music stem to achieve proper perspectives, volume dips and bumps for how close or far Daniel Radcliffe's mouth was from the microphone on-screen. Every performance was unique, so it was a different technical challenge each time.”
Can you explain how you used surround sound and Dolby Atmos to breathe new life into Weird Al’s music?
“Well before I started the mix, I was informed that Weird Al re-recorded the songs that were in the movie so that I would have proper stem splits for all music. Knowing this mix was going to be in Atmos, this was a best-case scenario. Having all the stem splits meant I could creatively pan, EQ, compress and process every aspect of the music separately. This way, I was effectively mixing Weird Al’s music in a way no one has ever heard before. Al went as far as to give me stem splits for the accordion (left hand/right hand), which was something I never really experimented with before. I can now say that if you see this movie in a theater or an immersive sound environment, there are moments in the movie where you will literally be sitting inside of an accordion.
“The credit song ‘Now You Know,’ which Weird Al wrote and recorded for the movie, was especially fun to mix in Atmos. The song has tons of vocals, as well as a full assortment of instrumentation, including guitars, bass, drums, keys, percussion and horns. Being that this was a brand-new song where all the stems were not processed and also not mixed, Al gave me the go ahead to creatively mix the song from scratch. Al gave me the opportunity to find what would work best in an immersive sound environment. The final song is a mix I am incredibly proud of and a real treat to stick around for.”
What was your process for crafting the sound for the LSD scene?
“The LSD-trip scene was the most densely packed sound moment in the entire movie. Sound designer Mike James Gallagher did a masterful job of crafting a sonic landscape that was both immersive and incredibly detailed. Add to that a very rich 7.1 music score and lots of dialogue, (and) you have a scene that pushes and pulls you in different directions for several minutes. This is an important story point, so we were tasked with immersing the viewer on the journey that Weird Al was on.
“I felt the main focus was the need to build a non-stop tension until the climax. As soon as Al realized what he was eating, I started to lightly introduce layered processed dialogue and a music shift to get the tension started. Every introduction of a new sound element had the purpose of building upon the polyphony and multiplying the tension. Panning in Atmos and some creative uses of multiband compression helped keep everything separated and clear, which was especially useful once I started to introduce the highly-processed dialogue throughout the sequence.”
How did you weave in and out of the film’s varying tones and genres while maintaining sonic cohesion?
“In early conversations with the supervising sound editor Anthony Vanchure, I knew that maintaining the sonic cohesion of this movie would be a demanding task as a re-recording mixer. There are several genres all over the film that would otherwise sound drastically different to each other if they were in their own movies.
“From the moment I saw a rough cut of the film, I knew my main anchor would be the dialogue. If I kept the tonality of the dialogue consistent throughout the movie, that would give me the center of gravity that I would need to push and pull the rest of the soundscape in any direction the story needed. The audience would be subconsciously centered on the dialogue and could easily be taken to a whole new genre because something still sounded familiar. We could go from comedic moments to huge action sequences then to a romantic drama moment without feeling a shift in the soundscape. I look at it as creating different shades of the same base color.
“I also relied on the live music performances to keep everything glued together. If I made all the performances feel like they were in the spaces they were being performed in, then the audience wouldn't get distracted by something feeling off. They would feel it's all real and…weird.”
How did you use sound to drive the film’s music forward?
“Weird is all about the music. As intense as the movie is as a whole, it all boils down to Weird Al Yankovic and his amazing career as a gifted musician and entertainer. I knew I needed to make all of the music shine for the fans to hear again for the first time and even for new fans to be minted. When I needed to breathe some extra love into the music, I would do so under the watchful eye of Al Yankovic himself. We would record extra little instruments or even extra backing vocals directly on the mix stage when we all felt it would be necessary.
“One great example is during the concert where ‘Like A Surgeon’ is played. During the mix I kept feeling like the crowd wasn't sitting exactly right during some of the sequence. Fortunately for us, Weird Al was in the middle of his US tour during the mix and was with us on Evercast every day before and after shows. I turned to our supervising sound editor Anthony Vanchure and director Eric Appel and asked, ‘Would it be too much to ask if Al could record his crowd doing some stuff for this scene?’ We unmuted our mic, asked Al, and without hesitation he said ‘Yes! Absolutely! What do you need?’ We explained what we needed, and a few hours later we received some files from Al with the crowd giving us several versions of what we needed, it worked perfectly. What better way to get a scene that is supposed to feel like it has thousands of people than to get a recording of thousands of people? Our thanks go out to the audience in Lincoln, Nebraska, from July 22, 2022."