NEW YORK – It was rare, she was there and we will remember it all too well.
On Saturday afternoon at the Tribeca Festival, Taylor Swift sat down with filmmaker Mike Mills (“C’mon C’mon”) for an in-depth chat about her burgeoning career behind the camera, including writing and directing a 15-minute short Fall in Love in her ballad “All Too Well”.
Operatic in emotion and scope, the short stars Sadie Sink (“Stranger Things”) as a young writer who becomes drawn into a seemingly fairytale romance with a charismatic but controlling older man (Dylan O’Brien) whose “casually “cruel” side reveals itself as the relationship progresses. Midway through the film, Swift comes to a particularly heartbreaking argument between Sink and O’Brien’s characters in a kitchen that was almost entirely improvised and shot in one take.
“It’s true that most of the time I sat behind the monitor watching Sadie perform, I physically clenched my chest,” Swift explained. “Every time I look at it I have a really hard time looking at it, especially when (she) is crying so much it’s worrying. It’s really annoying in the best sense.”
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Sink and O’Brien joined Swift onstage at the Beacon Theater for the second part of the talk, praising their director for the “freedom” and collaborative environment she created on set.
Eventually, O’Brien elicited knowing laughter from the audience as he described his character as a “narcissistic, egomaniacal child.” (The song “All Too Well,” first released in 2012, is said to be widely about Swift’s past relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal.)
“All Too Well” has long been a favorite of Swift’s devoted fans, so much so that she finally released the mythical, extended version of the track on her Red (Taylor’s Version) album last November. The singer was in the process of re-recording her first six albums after her old masters were sold twice without her knowledge.
“I’m in this situation, standing on this stage and speaking about a short film that I’m incredibly proud of because I lost all my work,” Swift said. “I haven’t been able to own my work and I’ve wanted it for as long as I can remember. It was a very difficult time for me.”
But after learning to rely on the support of people who believe in her, Swift said she was able to move past “moments of extreme sadness” and got to a place where “I’m very happy.” about where my life is now”.
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Swift continued by reflecting on the organic success of “All Too Well,” which wasn’t promoted as a single when it was first released a decade ago and originally featured more than a half-dozen extra verses. In response to fan demands to hear the full song, Swift released the 10-minute version last year, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
“You guys just didn’t want to let it go,” Swift said, adding that “there’s so much happening in the music industry that’s so exciting. The fans have kind of subverted the “we’re sitting in a conference room and choosing the songs you’re going to like” label model. You guys say, ‘No, we don’t want to do that anymore.’ I think it’s so radical and wonderful, and I’m just trying to listen to the heartbeat of what the fans want.”
As for Swift’s future aspirations as a director, she teased that she would “love” to direct a full-length film in the future.
“It would be fantastic to write and direct a feature film,” Swift said. “But I don’t see it as a bigger thing — I loved doing a film that was so intimate, with a relatively small crew and a really solid group of people that I really trusted.”
In addition to the 50-minute panel discussion, Saturday’s event included a performance of “All Too Well” and an acoustic performance of Swift’s extended version of the song.
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The Tribeca Festival runs through June 19 with virtual and in-person events.