There’s an emotional realness to singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, a disinclination to disguise experience behind euphemism or pretense.
It manifests in her music and in Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, the Oscar-contending documentary that follows her on her journey to global stardom. In the film directed by R.J. Cutler Eilish doesn’t censor dark moments from her past, occasional frustrations attendant to fame, and a major romantic disappointment—young love ultimately unrequited.
When it came time to discuss the documentary publicly for the first time, Eilish brought the realness again, admitting to an audience in Hollywood that she felt anxious as the film was about to be released on Apple TV+.
“I was excited and scared and nervous, and worried and hopeful,” she told attendees at a post-screening Q&A. “It was not acting, I wasn’t playing a character. It was real life footage of my life… It was a very real and good interpretation of my three years that you were filming it, or however long it was, and it’s really scary. It’s hard to tell anybody a lot of information about your life, let alone put it on a platform for literally anyone in the world to see.”
Millions have seen it, noted Zane Lowe, Apple Music’s creative director, who moderated the discussion. Billie was joined on stage by Cutler and by her parents, Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, who feature prominently in the film. The only family member missing (apart from dog Pepper and cat Misha) was Finneas O’Connell, Billie’s older brother and songwriting partner.
“I love movies. I love documentaries, especially,” Baird commented. “I did not actually welcome the idea of being in one. But I knew, as a viewer, that it was worth documenting. So it was kind of like for the greater good.”
Baird confessed to feeling self-conscious about some of the footage that inevitably made it into the film.
“There were so many hard parts [to watch] because our house is relatively small–it’s a two-bedroom house–and we often have, it’s just full, chock block full of suitcases, 12 suitcases that are unpacking and re-packing and boxes of things we have to look in and it’s a mess… And then Billie would have a fitting and there would be racks and racks of clothes. I mean, it’s a 1,200-square foot house. And then you’ve got a film crew in there. You have to kind of just swallow, they’re going to just see the mess in your life.”
Many candid moments in the film were shot by Maggie Baird herself.
“Maggie always had a camera and still does, really. And so much of the footage was hers,” O’Connell said. “I was really struck by all of that, by the intimacy and the availability of Billie to you and to us, it was wonderful to see. Billie was so young, she was living at home, we were her parents. It wasn’t like we stepped in–she had to have parents, and there we were. It was an amazing thing to live through and it’s still an amazing thing to live through, every day… It’s wonderful that it’s been documented.”
Cutler has told Deadline that all parties to the film agreed upfront that he had final cut. Their collaboration, he said, became a profound one.
“The relationship between the filmmaking team and subjects grows over time,” Cutler said at the Q&A. “You get to know each other more and more and become more open to each other. And that’s both in the filming and what the subjects are willing to show you, quite literally, and where they’re willing to take you and that connection, which is based on trust, develops over time… Billie and Maggie and Patrick and Finneas were so available from the beginning that the material is incredibly rich from the beginning. But it gets even deeper as the film goes.”
“There was such a good [relationship] we all had,” Eilish agreed. “Nobody was trying to make me feel invaded. It’s not like I would say, ‘Get out, I can’t be here.’ Every time I said, ‘Can I have some space?’ [They replied], ‘Yeah, we’re leaving.’ And that was really important to feel like I was not being exploited, and I felt like I was in control and I felt like I had a say… It wasn’t like I was forced to do it.”
In a previous interview with Lowe produced by Apple TV+, Eilish spoke of harboring reservations about some moments included in the film.
“My instinct was to say, like, ‘Ohmgod, I need this out,’” she recalled. “’This, this, this, this, I want it—I need to protect myself. I don’t want anyone to know this…’ I really had to tell myself, ‘Don’t be selfish. Let this movie be the movie that it is.’”
She expanded on those sentiments during the Q&A.
“With this kind of thing you have to think not as yourself,” she said, “because yourself wants to go, ‘I don’t want anyone to see me in bad moments, I don’t want anyone to see me vulnerable or look weird or have a weird outfit on or just out of bed. I don’t want people to see me like that. You have to literally cede yourself out of it. I don’t want to see a horrible situation I was in; it’s embarrassing. But I just had to look at it from an audience’s perspective. And it worked for me.”
Woven throughout the film are performances by Eilish and Finneas filmed around the world. But the musical touchstones aren’t limited to concert footage.
“We talked about that from moment one,” Cutler said, “that the music was going to communicate emotion and narrative and tone. And that it would function that way throughout. This whole film is scored by Billie and Finneas. It’s all their music. The underscoring of each scene are the stems that they trusted us to work with.”
“About the scoring, I love it so much because all of the underlying music is instrumentals and different parts of our songs,” Eilish said. She cited one example that particularly touched her, a moment where she is returning from Coachella, feeling deeply embarrassed that she had forgotten some of the lyrics to a new song. Music she and Finneas composed plays underneath.
“There’s that scene of me driving home from Coachella, which is one of the most horrible experiences of my life,” Eilish noted, “and I was in a very deep, dark limbo of headspace, [and the scene plays] to a thing that me and Finneas created… And when we watched the doc, I was bawling my eyes out because it was so in time with the music, it was so like rhythmic.”
She likened participating in the documentary to the TV series The Office, where the conceit was that everyone in the Dunder Mifflin workplace was being filmed, vérité style. Eilish said the first time she saw a rough cut of the doc, she had to pause it “17,000 times” to avoid missing anything.
“I don’t know how many people watched The Office in here,” Eilish said, “At the end they’re all like, ‘We showed our lives. And you never get something like that where you get to re-watch your life.’ And I was, ‘I want that!’ And then I got that, and it’s really crazy. I kind of want to make like eight more.”