lInsens of young fans stretch across Broadway. Selfies galore in a crowded lobby. Wild cheers as anticipation built up inside, followed by interrupted screams during an opening speech by Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal. A short film screening that turned into a pop concert, complete with sing-alongs.
It’s safe to say this wasn’t your standard film festival event. But what more do you expect when the festival, now in its 20th year, decided to bring the newly minted Dr. Taylor Swift to muse on filmmaking in honor of her music video slash short that was aptly named All too good: the short film? Released in November and directed by Swift himself, it fit the festival like a glove, as production partly took place in New York’s actual Tribeca neighborhood.
Swift chose the moderator himself: Mike Mills, a director close to other Swift contributors to The National, including their 2019 short film I Am Easy to Find. “I’ve seen it so many times, but every time I look at it , I go through every range of the most intense kinds of emotions,” Swift gushed from her reasoning, proving that even for events like these, the artist plans on every detail.
After a screening of the 15-minute short film starring Stranger Things actor Sadie Sink, in which the audience chanted the key phrases (“fuck the patriarchy!”) and applauded each individual frame of the credits, Swift and Mills discussed her approach in lively detail; one artist is a fan of another, and vice versa.
“(This is) I’m getting out of what I usually do, which is writing songs and singing,” explains Swift, who noted that she first decided to direct after trying to find a female director for her 2020 music video for The Man, except for the fact that all of her top picks were booked. So Swift just directed it himself.
“It was a vulnerable moment where you’re about to find something new and you really hope you’re doing everything perfectly,” said Swift, who approached the craft with trepidation and came up with such a detailed plan for her video that Mills said. he’d never seen anything like it. “It’s also important to remind yourself that you don’t have to do everything perfectly, because you have to learn and grow.”
Swift’s initial reluctance to put on her director’s cap became a recurring theme. “I had this impostor syndrome in my head and I said, ‘No, you don’t. Other people who went to school do that,’ to which Mills intervened: “I didn’t go to school for it.” “Oh that’s great to hear that,” Swift replied. “It makes me feel better.” Swift also noted that a life on sets prompted her to try her hand at directing. “In my head I would say, ‘I love that they did that’ or ‘I would have done that differently.’ So the list of things I was absorbing got so long that I ended up thinking, ‘I really want to do this.’”
Swift’s inherent strength when it comes to making that decision and executing it has not escaped her notice. “I am very aware of my privilege when it comes to being a female filmmaker because I was able to finance this film myself,” she noted. “I have to constantly be aware that it is an exciting challenge to do this, but I also understand that it is extremely difficult for women to make films and always keep that reality in mind, it is how lucky I am to even get close to a camera.”
Meanwhile, the story of the song itself is an oft-repeated legend, all supposedly ripped from the real story of her and actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s tumultuous age difference romance, red scarf and all. Would Swift bring out the reality behind what she made up? “The kind of journey that Sadie’s character takes in the video is very reminiscent of some of the experiences I’ve had,” she said with a wink. “I think one thing I’ve learned through this whole process is to really lean on supportive people who believe in you.” Meanwhile, it was All Too Well star Dylan O’Brien, who surprised the audience by asking some questions alongside co-star Sink, who had arguably the biggest dig at Gyllenhal, whose character he would portray: “My character (in the video ) is not a monster, he is a narcissist, selfish child.”
There was, of course, a nod to another Swift villain, Scooter Braun, who sold the famed Swift catalog, prompting Swift to re-record it entirely. Taking it as a devastating blow, Swift explained to the brouhaha, “I lost all my work…It was a really hard time for me,” she explained to a hushed crowd, choosing her words carefully. “Many of my most difficult moments, or moments of extreme grief or loss, were sunk into what my life is like now and I am very happy where my life is now.”
As for where the music industry itself is now, Swift praised the revival of vinyl and the democratizing effect apps like TikTok are having on the industry. “The fans have kind of undermined the label model of ‘We’re in a conference room and we pick the songs you’re going to like’. And you’re like, ‘Um, no!’ I think it’s so radical and wonderful.’”
When the conversation ended, before Swift took the stage alone and strummed a red guitar for something other than a live performance of All Too Well, she reflected on the longevity of what has become a 16-year career.
“I just try to listen to the heartbeat of what the fans want,” she said. “It’s so exciting to be able to do this for so long and have so many memories. I just listen in a bit, have fun and make things. It’s really cool that they want me to keep doing it.”