Taylor Swift made a rare public appearance at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, in conversation with independent director Mike Mills to discuss her short film “All Too Well.” She spoke with Mills for an hour at New York’s Bacon Theater, and got a fascinating look at her creative process. This was a whole new aspect of Dr. Swift – Meet the Geek movie (Taylor version).
Taylor has been silent on social media all year long. She gave her New York University opening speech last month, but it’s getting more personal here, revealing how her filmmaking has been influenced by John Cassavetes and Barbara Stanwyck. (Her Mind!) She screened and directed the film, which stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. On top of it all, she concluded with a solo vocal performance of All Too Well, All the Heartbreaking Ten Minutes.
Taylor went to a scandalous cinematic pose, suitable for a prestigious film festival. She summed up her goals with a quote from Cassavetes: “I’ve never seen an exploding helicopter. I’ve never seen anyone go and blow someone’s head off. So why would I make films about them? But I You have I’ve seen people destroy themselves in the smallest way.” Swift added, “Stop—I Poetry which – which.”
Mills was a totally sympathetic host – like the father in the song, he was fascinated by her jokes that speak for themselves. He has directed videos for The National, as Swift explained, “We’re both in Aaron Desner’s cinematic world, and it’s a nice place to be.” She talked about her inspiration for the 2019 Mills short film I’m easy to find. They had a perfect relationship – when he praised her narration style, he said, “You’re really good at…”
They also joked about her very insistence on doing things her own way. She had one of the event’s biggest laughs when she said, “People often underestimate me too much about how much I bother to prove a point.”
Mills is an artist who is clearly not used to hearing a stage full of screaming. As he said sarcastically, “So All Questions and answers about me.” He was visibly shocked by the enthusiasm of the fans. There was a touching moment when Mills joked that he would be depressed when he mentioned his films and no one screamed. Swift said, “I’ll show you. From here watch a movie called accept accept? After a huge roar from the crowd, she told him, “They are really nice. Not just for me.”
I went into the nuts and bolts of the ejection process, right down to the lines and the camera lenses. “This is not a music video,” she explained. “We handled everything differently.” In the kitchen scene, she said, “I wanted to be so close that we could count the freckles.” She initially took an interest in making films on the sets of her music videos. As she joked, “It started to interfere.” The first time she directed was her video for “The Man” in 2019. “Once I started directing music videos, I didn’t want to Not Do it.”
She talked about introducing her to the heroine played by Sadie Sink. “I write a lot about childhood,” she said. “I am very intrigued and have always been at this point of becoming a young woman where you are at this very fragile and vulnerable age. I think 19 and 20 is a profound age for young women.” She described the heroine as “a curious and chaotic young woman who ends up completely over her head.”
Swift noted that the Easter eggs are buried deeply in the film, like the red typewriter the heroine uses to write her novel that first appeared in the man’s apartment. As Swift sees the story, the typewriter is a gift he gave her, to encourage her as a writer, because he saw her creative spark early on. It was surprising to hear her discuss getting to know the male character, which she sees as positive as well as negative. Mills added, “It’s a bad journey being a man, let’s be honest. It’s swimming in the man.”
In one of my most surprising revelations, I discuss how the ending of “All Too Well” was influenced by a classic movie from the 1930s. This scene of the ex-lover standing outside reading the heroine’s book, in the cold? Swift was inspired by the final scene of the 1937 movie King Vidor Stella Dallas When Stanwyck has to watch her daughter’s wedding through the window.
(Swift/Stanwyck’s connections go deeper—one of Barbara’s most underrated crying machines. audio. FWIW, the movie legend was born in Brooklyn, where the song is based, and died in 1989. I could go on, but let’s just say now is a great time for Swiftie to be a Stanwick fan.)
I brought in Sink and O’Brien to talk more about the characters. (“She called them He and He,” Swift said.) They reveal that the pivotal scenes—the kitchen argument, the final breakup—were pre-written, but when it came time for the kitchen dialogue, they got rid of the script. Swift said, “What you guys have mostly seen is an improvement.”
They also discussed the song’s strange journey, which is unlike anything else in pop history – a deep cut that was reduced to number one in its extended 10-minute version. As Swift pointed out, it was never a single song, “because the label would never pick it up.” However, the 10-minute missing version has become an obsession for fans. “I’ve promoted many albums, done many tours, done many meet and greets. And every single time, I get, ‘When are you going to release a 10-minute version of ‘All Too Well?’ You guys just won’t let it go.”
I went on to quote Pablo Neruda that serves as an epigraph for the short film: “Love is too short, forgetting is too long.” She described it as “a streak that has been haunting and still haunting me. It’s violent to read something touching.” (The great Chilean poet was a world legend in his lifetime, but even Neruda probably never imagined how future generations would literally scream at the sight of his name. One of the cheerleaders in the house: Jim Jarmusch, one of the planet’s most legendary directors. Let’s pray for ‘Stranger’ Than Paradise (Taylor version).”)
But the highlight of the event happened at the end, when Swift grabbed her acoustic guitar and asked the audience, “Do you guys have an extra 10 minutes?” Unsurprisingly, everyone did. Swift performed the full version of the song, strictly as a solo, which she had only managed to do once before at the movie’s premiere last November. (Which was also on Broadway, just a few blocks away.) As in the screening of the film, the loudest moment was the audience shouting, “Damn the patriarchy!”
The main line in the extended phrase “All Too Well” is when you ask, “Only between us, you have distorted your love affair too.” One of the things that has always distinguished her as a songwriter is her unique talent for making even the largest pitch-size gestures sound like “just between us.” Her appearance on Tribeca was a rare in-depth look at how she does it in film, just as she does in music.