LRows of young fans line Broadway. Selfies galore were taken in a crowded lobby. Wild cheers as anticipation welled up inside, followed by intermittent 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 else do you expect when the festival, now in its 20th year, decides to welcome the newly minted Dr. Pulling Taylor Swift out to reflect on filmmaking in honor of her music video slash short, which was aptly dubbed All too good: the short film? Released in November and directed by Swift himself, it fit the festival like a glove, as part of the production took place in the actual Tribeca neighborhood of New York.
Swift herself chose the host: Mike Mills, a director who works closely with Swift’s The National colleagues, including her 2019 short film I Am Easy to Find. “I’ve seen it so many times, but every time I looking at it, I go through every single range of the most intense types of emotion,” Swift gushed about her reasoning, proving that even in events like this, the artist intrigues all the detail.
After a screening of the 15-minute short starring Stranger Things actress Sadie Sink, with the audience singing along to the key lyrics (“Fuck the Patriarchy!”) and clapping along with each and every credits frame, Swift and Mills had a lively discussion of their approach Detail; one artist a fan of the other and vice versa.
“(This is) me stepping out of what I normally do, which is writing songs and singing them,” Swift explained, noting that she first decided to direct after trying to be a director for her 2020 music video for The Man, except for the fact that all of her top choices were booked. So Swift just directed it himself.
“It was a vulnerable moment where you’re on the verge of finding something new and really hoping that you’ll do everything perfectly,” said Swift, who approached the craft with trepidation and laid out such a detailed plan for her video Mills said he had never seen anything like it. “It’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t do everything perfectly because you have to learn and grow.”
Swift’s initial reluctance to put on her director’s hat became a recurring theme. “I had this impostor syndrome in my head and I was like, ‘No, you’re not doing that. Other people who went to school do that,” to which Mills interjected, “I didn’t go to school for that.” “Oh, that’s awesome to hear,” Swift replied. “It makes me feel better.” Swift also noted that a life on set led her to try directing. “In my head, I’d be like, ‘I think it’s great they did it,’ or ‘I would have done it differently.’ The list of things I picked up got so long that I finally thought, ‘I really want to do this.’”
However, Swift’s inherent power when it comes to making and executing that decision is not lost on her. “I’m very aware of my privilege as a filmmaker because I was able to finance this film myself,” she remarked. “I constantly have to keep in mind that while it’s an exciting challenge for women to make films, I also understand that it’s extremely difficult for women to make films and to always keep this reality in mind, it’s very fortunate to even get close to a camera.”
Meanwhile, the story of the song itself is an oft-repeated legend, said to have had everything ripped from the true life story of her and actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s turbulent age gap romance, red scarf and all. Would Swift bring up the reality behind what she came up with? “The kind of journey Sadie’s character is on in the video is very reminiscent of some experiences I’ve had,” she said with a wink. “I think one thing I’ve learned through this whole process is to really rely on people who believe in you.” Meanwhile, it was All Too Well star Dylan O’Brien who surprised audiences while answering some of the questions that Gyllenhal, whose character he presumably portrays, perhaps most attacked Gyllenhal alongside co-star Sink: “My character[in the video]is not a monster. He’s a narcissistic, egomaniacal kid.”
There was of course a nod to another Swift villain, Scooter Braun, who was known to sell Swift’s catalogue, prompting Swift to re-record the entire catalogue. Swift took it as a devastating blow, explaining the brouhaha, “I lost all my job… It was a very rough time for me,” she explained to a hushed crowd while carefully choosing her words. “Many of my toughest moments or moments of extreme sadness or loss have been transformed into what my life is now and I am very happy where my life is now.”
As for the music industry itself, Swift welcomed the resurgence of vinyl and the democratizing impact of apps like TikTok on the industry. “The fans kind of undermined the label model of, ‘We sit in a conference room and we pick the songs that you’re going to like.’ And you say, ‘Um, no!’ I think it’s so radical and wonderful.’”
As the conversation ended, before Swift found herself alone on stage and strumming a red guitar for something other than a live performance of All Too Well, she reflected on the longevity of her 16-year career.
“I’m just trying to listen to the heartbeat of what the fans want,” she said. “It’s so exciting to be doing this for so long and to have so many memories. I just listen and have fun and do stuff. It’s very cool that they want me to continue.”