Composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson have worked with Director Eric Appell for years. During all that time, Appell had told the two frequently about his dream project: a feature-length version of a sketch he’d made for Funny or Die. So, when Appell got the green light, he called the composing duo in.
“‘Appel was always like ‘Yeah one day it’ll be a movie,’ ‘Oh I’ve been talking to Al and it could be a movie.’ One day, it was a movie,” Leo Birenberg said in an interview with The Mary Sue.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story would finally become a real movie, and the composing duo behind Cobra Kai was going to be bringing his music to the big screen.
It may seem simple at first: The most important songs are already written, but Weird is not your average biopic, but a masterful parody of biopics, action movies, romances, and a host of other genres of movie, all of which had to be reflected in the music.
As such, they told me they drew inspiration from many other movie scores, citing early–mid ’90s “Americana-style” scores like Forest Gump and Rudy, the Predator soundtrack, and John Wick for the action scenes—even a bit of Star Wars in the LSD sequence.
Appell took notice of it, highlighting it in his “Anatomy of a Scene” segment for the New York Times’ YouTube channel, calling one major music cue a “John Williams-like moment.”
“We were very proud of that queue and were very happy with the shoutout,” Zach Robinson stated in our interview.
“Our concept for the film was to score it like it was a Great American Hero story from the ’90s,” Birenberg said.
According to Birenberg and Robinson, there was another simple trick to covering a wide array of genres and making it all come together: use the accordion, Yankovic’s signature instrument.
“We found ways to sneak the accordion in there,” Birenberg said. “One of our favorites is the diner fight, which is very kind of John Wick, intense modern action movie music, but uses the palming of the accordion in some bits.”
Of course, who better to show them the ropes, or keys, of the accordion, than Weird Al himself? “There’s a few covers of like famous Polka tunes for the scene where young Al goes to the Polka party,” Birenberg said. “We got a private lesson in Polka from Weird Al.”
I asked the admittedly silly question of whether they were fans of Weird Al prior to working with him. “Who’s not a fan of Weird Al?” Zach Robinson asked. “He was my first concert when I was 9 years old so it was very nice to come full circle on that. But everyone loves him … the universal appeal is unrivaled.”
I asked about the potential for a sequel with “Zombie Yankovic,” as teased in the credits. “I would love Zombie Yankovic,” Birenberg said. “Based on how great the first movie was, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be amazing.”
The duo put their all into the series, recording with an 80-piece orchestra and producing some of their favorite works they’ve ever scored. (They suggested fans take a look at “The Accordion,” “Epiphany,” “Write Your Own Songs,” “The Factory,” and “Dad Apologizes” in particular.)
I also asked them about their other most recent project, scoring the TV series Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin, a spinoff about a minor antagonist from the original movies transplanting himself into the German a cappella scene.
Of course, the thing about Pitch Perfect is that it’s a series about a cappella singers, meaning no score during the performances. When I asked about the unique aspects about writing a soundtrack for a series where the climax has no orchestra, they said they enjoyed the break. “The hard part’s done for us!”
They compared it especially to working on Cobra Kai: “It’s funny because when we do a finale where there’s wall-to-wall action, most epic fight you’ve ever seen and heard, it’s so maximalist. Going into the season finale of Bumper, our brains are primed for big set pieces, but it’s all been done already, all we have to do is the score in-between, which is still important,” Zach Robinson said.
That doesn’t mean they slacked off on the job—they still had a lot of work to do to make the soundtrack shine. “We pulled in a lot of influences from German musical tropes: ’70s craft work, German opera, industrial music, polka,” they said. They also worked in vocals throughout, which they rarely get to do as composers. The irony of both projects featuring polka was not lost on them, especially considering they’d worked as interns on the original Pitch Perfect.
I asked the duo about their words of advice to others who are seeking to break into the business. “I’m a big proponent of just being enthusiastic in approaching everything you do,” Birenberg stated. “Put energy into it, that’s the kind of energy Hollywood likes connecting with. That being said, you don’t necessarily have a lot of control over the projects you do, so focus on learning something from everything you do.”
Robinson concurred and added, “Be as authentic as you can because I think that will get you far.”