The bracingly intimate feel of the documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry emerged because the pop singer at its center grew to trust the filmmakers enough to reveal her private pain on her own terms, the film’s director revealed.
“We achieved the intimacy because Billie and her family were open and available and wanted to tell their story,” R.J. Cutler said at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary awards-season event. He said he spend a year and a half building a relationship with Eilish’s inner circle. “We develop trust and we engage with them in the in the verité process, and the verité process fundamentally understands that the story belongs to the subject. Our only desire is to see what’s happening and to experience Billie’s life and to be able to tell that story when it’s done.”
“Over time, trust develops, you connect with your subjects in an increasingly deep way,” said Cutler, who honed his craft early on working with ”master” documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus on The War Room. “In my experience…the subject opens up and if you do your job properly, you’re going to really get to the heart of some real truths.”
Cutler noted that the teenage musician’s notebook, in which she penned the lyrics to her first album and developed other creative projects, emerged as “a character in the film” after Eilish revealed she’d also been using it to record darker personal experiences.
“It also was a diary, and that diary reflected on a very difficult time in her life, where she was, she was struggling,” he explained, noting that it was only after his team had earned her confidence that Eilish revealed her struggles.
“It’s not as though we were saying ‘We want to see the notebook, we want to see the notebook,’” Cutler said. “There was a day towards the end of the process where Billie said to us, ‘I want to show you this,’ and she opened up the part of the notebook that she had never revealed to anybody before. And that’s the part of the notebook that that really reflected back on her most difficult days – she was cutting herself. It was very challenging and painful.”
“But it was very much a part of who she was, who she became, who she is, and it was important to her to tell that part of her story,” he added.
The film’s cinematographer Jenna Rosher said she was deeply moved by the intense connection Eilish inspired in her young fans. “I literally would be weeping crying during the meet and greets…because they’re so they’re so intense and so emotional,” Rosher revealed. “They’re like hugging her and saying, ‘You saved my life. Billie. You don’t understand: I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.’ There was a moment of like a mother and a daughter that I remember filming – it sat with me for weeks – and it was a mother saying ‘You saved my daughter’s life.’”
Check out the panel video above.
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