On July 13, 2021, music director Aron Forbes woke up to his first-ever Emmy nominations (one for sound mixing, one for music direction) for AppleTV+’s frank, in-depth music documentary “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry.” It’s probably the most revealing behind-the-scenes superstar doc since “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” except this one is about massive success filtered through the prism of someone who is barely old enough to drive (Note: you actually see Eilish score her driver’s license over the course of the movie), and told over several impactful, sometimes awkwardly raw years.
“It’s just mind-blowing, you know, the people in those categories, some of them I’ve looked up to my whole life,” says Forbes, referring to his category mates who chronicled music legends as diverse as Tina Turner, David Byrne and the Bee Gees. “It’s beyond unexpected.” But there’s one major thing that separates Forbes from his competition: he was literally arranging music – in real-time and after the fact — for an experience he completely lived through nearly moment for moment.
“I’ve known Billie since she was 13. So having somebody come in and tell this story and, and being able to remove myself from that and say, ‘How do I help?’ It was just an unbelievable experience working with the talent on this documentary,” says Forbes, who also works closely with high-profile performers such as Halsey and Banks.
“Being so close to a story and then having [“Belushi” director R.J. Cutler and editor Lindsay Utz] come in and pore over thousands of hours of footage, and then put together a story that they saw that I couldn’t see is the movie magic. I’m a music guy, right?” Forbes added. “It’s no different than when you have a bank of demos for an artist and you’re producing an album. And then you think about the final album, and it’s pretty crazy that it went from there to there.”
And there is a lot of “there” there, as the filmmakers had no interest in making a puff piece doc but instead a hard-hitting look at superstardom’s ups and downs, chronicling a prodigious teenager trying to balance growing pains (literally in Eilish’s case, with an eye on her concert leg injuries) with an ever-amassing pile of disappointments and triumphs, sometimes even at the same time, such as a revered Coachella performance that the artist herself immediately expresses regret about due to a few flubs. But as the film sensitively depicts, family is everything, and Eilish’s relationship with her parents and her producer brother Finneas O’Connell is as important as needle-dropping her Billboard hits like “Bad Guy” and “Everything I Wanted” and portraying the literal armful of Grammys she’s shown winning.
“Maggie, Billie’s mom, had her cell phone out endlessly, and much of the footage in the doc is probably right from her; She was always trying to capture as much as possible,” says Forbes, referring to the off-the-cuff, confessional nature of the home scenes. “The story that was being told was one of honesty and vulnerability, and a lot of us have never seen what it’s like to go through that process of being a superstar so intimately, with massive success over an accelerated period of time.”
But regarding Forbes’ actual duties: what is the difference between a music supervisor and a music director? “Music supervisors are kind of the DJs of the film world, they really know how to tell a great story through deep cuts and finding really interesting stuff, it’s what they’re mind-blowing at. But the role of a music director has changed exponentially over the past five to ten years”, says Forbes, adding that music organization and production have a large hand in it. “You see the contribution that [music direction] is having now, and it’s much larger and different than ever before. R.J. said something super nice to me, which I’m paraphrasing, but how my sonics for the film heightened and elevated the film, which is just the nicest compliment you could ever get from somebody that is as talented as he is. That was really special.”