‘Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry’ is a new documentary tracing the teenage star’s journey from writing songs in her bedroom with her brother Finneas to touring the world, conquering Coachella and taking home an armful of Grammys. Director RJ Cutler explains what he learned along the way.
RJ Cutler: “Near the start of my film, Billie says: ‘I don’t think of them as fans… ever. They’re part of me.’ One of the things that’s interesting about that line to me is that it’s certainly born of her experience. She’s speaking her truth, which is how she feels about her fans. I think it also connects very much to her own experiences as a girl who was a fan, and what that experience meant to her.
My conceptual approach to this film was that Billie is half-human and half-something else. As she’s emerging, the voice that’s been calling to her her whole life is this deity figure: Justin Bieber. That’s why it’s such a critical moment when he arrives in her life. She’s about to cross the line, and there’s Katy Perry backstage at Coachella to say: ‘I see you’re about to cross the line. Good luck, it’s gonna be 10 years of a wild ride!’ Then she crosses the line, and the first person there to greet her and take her in his arms and thank her is Justin Bieber. That’s an astounding moment, and that’s how I understood it narratively. At the end of the movie, when Billie wins all her Grammys, Justin Bieber is there again to say, essentially: ‘One day, I’d like to be like you!’ That’s an amazing journey.
My own journey with this film began when I met the family in the summer of 2018, but we didn’t begin filming until February of 2019. We shot well over 1000 hours of footage in the year that we were with Billie, and we were also the grateful beneficiaries of several dozen hours of raw footage shot during their creative work sessions. I believe the GoPro in Billie’s bedroom was her mum Maggie’s idea. The fact that you’re in the room witnessing these moments of creative genius is amazing, but it’s also revelatory in terms of character and in terms of the movie’s themes. You’re getting to know these two kids who are also two siblings, and also two artists. There’s so much going on all at once.
One of the very first questions I asked myself when I met Billie and Finneas was: ‘What on earth is it?’ What makes them so special? Clearly they work together very well. It’s not in the film, but Billie told me that one of the great things about working with Finneas is that when he has an idea she doesn’t like, it doesn’t take her 30 minutes of being nice to say so. She can just say: ‘I don’t like that.’ When she has an idea that he doesn’t like, she doesn’t have to wonder if he likes it or not because if he doesn’t like it, he’s gonna tell her right away. The talent the two of them have is so striking. Of course, they have the same parents, they have the same or similar nurture experiences and they come from the same home, but also I don’t think one can ignore the fact that they both gestated next to Maggie’s beating drum of a heart. These things seem cosmic, but of course they’re molecular. It’s where the cosmic and the molecular meet.
One day while we were filming Billie showed me footage of her directing her mum to demonstrate her idea for the ‘When The Party’s Over’ video. Maggie asked me: ‘What do you think? Do you think she’s a little bratty?’ and I said: ‘No, I think she’s a frickin’ genius.’ What 16 year old has that vision and that confidence and that certainty and that specificity, and can communicate it with strength and humour? You can’t teach that. Then you see the video, and you see Maggie try to convince Billie that the video will be distracting at Coachella, but Billie is so certain that that video is exactly what ‘When The Party’s Over’ needs at Coachella. Then you see it at Coachella and you’re like: ‘Holy shit, she was right!’ You’ve seen it from vision to a performance with audience and… that’s directing, man, that’s directing. It’s thrilling to witness.
There are some who think that Billie’s career will eventually involve directing as well as writing and performing, because it’s a passion that she has. The one thing she never wanted to direct – or if she did, she was kind enough not to mention – was this film. I loved hearing her response, because she felt that it captured her honestly in a way that she didn’t think it was going to. She was very moved by it, which was very gratifying because she’s super-duper smart. I think that’s the bottom line about Billie Eilish.”
As told to Kevin EG Perry