Editors Lindsay Utz, ACE and Greg Finton, ACE got together for the first time and added to their credentials the recently nominated Emmy in the Outstanding Image Editing category for a non-fiction program about the force of Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy (Apple TV +), directed, written and produced by RJ Cutler.
Last year Utz won the Emmy for cutting the acclaimed documentary American factory. Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy marks the second career editing nomination for Utz and Finton, his first coming in 2016 for He named me Malala (shared with editors Brian Johnson and Brad Fuller).
Cutler reunited the editors of the documentary Eilish, after seeing Utz’s work on American factory and having previously worked with Finton dating back to the docuseries American high.
Finton claimed that Cutler was one of the main reasons for his decision to only work on documentaries after starting in television and scripted films. Finton found the documentary experience so engaging and creatively rewarding with Cutler that the editor focused on non-fiction. Finton is known for his editing on documentaries such as Shenandoah, Waiting for Superman and Robin Williams: Come on my mind. These last two, with He named me Malala earned Finton three ACE Eddie Award nominations. He shared Eddie’s nod in 2011 for I’m waiting for Superman with Jay Cassidy and Kim Roberts; in 2016 for He Named Me Malala with Brian Johnson and Brad Fuller; and in 2019 for Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind which won the Eddie, which he shared with Poppy Das.
Utz first met Cutler ten years ago in New York City at a film festival. The two became quick friends, then lost touch. They hadn’t worked together until Cutler asked him Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy.
Utz and Finton felt simpatico from the start, building rapport around a first collaboration that resulted in a two-hour, 20-minute documentary that, in true style, delves deep into the author’s life- singer-songwriter Eilish, her home, her concerts, her fertility creative process with her brother Finneas O’Connell (writer, producer, performer, sound engineer), and even her diary covering the year she reached fame. The film is raw, filled with music – so much music that it’s hard to believe Eilish is an artist who in many ways has just started her career. Over 20 songs are played during the film. Music and intimate moments are mixed in such a way that the audience feels like they have the opportunity to watch Eilish through an unfiltered lens. The editors explained that Eilish is not a topic that could be explored in a standard hour-long biographical documentary. Like his music, which is not sung at a high decibel level – the lyrics and meaning instead needing their space to be appreciated – life, moods, sense of humor, humility and soul. Eilish’s leap to glory also need to be examined with plenty of room to reflect and observe.
When initially contacted by Cutler to work on the documentary Eilish, Finton didn’t know much about the singer-songwriter. Cutler showed him footage already captured in the field, then invited the editor to a concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Finton recalled that “two songs in this show” he knew he had to take on the project.
Utz was not convinced from the start that she wanted Eilish’s concert. The editor was one of many who made a recent film about Taylor Swift (Miss American directed by Lana Wilson) and therefore feared being labeled as the go-to person for documentaries on female pop stars. But when she saw the depth of Cutler’s access to Eilish, including her integration with her on tour, Utz seized on what she saw as a golden opportunity to explore the artist’s life.
In addition to American factory and Americana, Utz’s credits include Quest, Tyrant and the short film, Contaminated memories.
Finton and Utz spent the first few weeks projecting footage for the documentary Eilish. This was before the pandemic hit, meaning the editors were in the same room together, sharing their observations. Utz said, “It was clear to us how rich the material was… how authentic the characters were.”
Finton added that he and Utz “respond to the material in the same way,” pointing out their resemblance as collaborators.
One of the main challenges was trying to strike the right balance between performance and personal sequences, musical scenes versus intimate moments, allowing viewers to get a glimpse of both.
Utz noted that in order to find this balance, the transition from one to the other and back again is important. She observed that when the action went to a concert, it was essential to ensure that it did not represent “a detour from the narrative thread of the film”. They wanted to avoid doing this in a way that felt “on the nose” to them, not wanting a song to speak directly to what you just saw or what you were about to see in real life. . It was more, she continued, about the tone of the film, the emotional dynamics, staying on track in that regard when moving from the gig to the personal moments and back again. The concert material is vital, Utz said, noting that “you can’t understand Billie unless you watch her play and see her connection to the fans.”
The first cup assembled by Finton and Utz lasted 25 hours. Obviously, there was some good material that ultimately couldn’t be included, meaning Utz and Finton had to keep a keen and astute eye on what was really important to the story being told. And luckily, Utz noted, they had a director at Cutler and a company at Apple who were willing to commit to a longer film run. A quick 90-minute haircut wouldn’t have looked like Eilish, Utz observed. Letting the movie be a little raw and loose, maintaining “that kind of raw DIY feel” that reflects Eilish, her life, her family, her process, and who she is.
Finton said he admired Eilish on different levels, but perhaps most of all for her “amazing” “knowing when she’s right about something”. She doesn’t let others deter her from doing something she feels is right. This is something Finton wants to embrace more for himself, being more confident in what he thinks is right. Eilish and O’Connell both talked about not being quick to compromise. “You end up compromising the art,” Finton said.
Likewise, Utz said, “We were adamant about how we wanted to make this movie.” The editor shared, “We wanted this to feel honest, genuine, raw… all the things Billie is. We stayed true to our guns.
Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy won a total of four Emmy nominations – the other three being for Outstanding Music Direction, Outstanding Sound Editing, and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Non-Fiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera).
Editor’s Note: This is the 12th installment in SHOOT’s 16-part weekly reporting series, The Road To Emmy. Feature films will explore the realm of Emmy nominees and then nominees in disciplines such as directing, writing, production, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, music, effects sound and visual. The Road To Emmy series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners in September, followed by the Primetime Emmy Awards on September 19, broadcast live on CBS and streamed on Paramount +.