There aren’t many artists out there who have put out songs that are 10 minutes long yet manage to keep an audience engaged. Even fewer who originally had no plans to put out a 10 minute version of a song, but eventually cave due to fan demand. Furthermore, it’s absurd to think that said 10 minute song would be accompanied by a nearly 15 minute short film directed by the singer/songwriter. Well, Taylor Swift did it. In 2021, Swift released a much extended version of her song All Too Well, as well as a short film for the song starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. It takes a certain star to hold this type of power, and Swift has proven to be a very powerful woman who recently took on the Tribeca Film Festival.
On June 11, 2022 not long before 3 PM, Swift arrived at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, NY for a Tribeca Film Festival discussion of her short film for All Too Well with director Mike Mills. I was lucky enough to gain entrance to this event, as were over 2,800 other attendees in the sold out event. The energy that the crowds brought with them set the stage for the afternoon as a whole. Excited teenagers, young adults, and older adults alike attended with Taylor Swift cardigans, brightly colored dresses, and bangs similar to Swift’s. An all around positive feeling filled the theater, and continued to build as the event went on.
The event began with a showing of the short film. A funny moment came when multiple commercials were shown before the short, and with each additional commercial crowds waited with bated breath for the short, only to erupt in sighs. Finally, with its opening quote of, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long,” by Pablo Neruda on a black screen, the short began. For the entire 15 minute runtime, the audience was silent. No one sang along with the song, but instead everyone absorbed the acting and storyline to its fullest. Given how popular this song is among fans, this was a remarkable thing to witness. The film truly took the spotlight, showing how impressive it is as a whole. When the screening concluded, director Mike Mills took the stage and shared a few words before welcoming Swift. As anyone can imagine, screams overtook the venue for a long chunk of time, before they dissipated to hear the singer’s thoughts on her work.
Mills was the perfect choice for a moderator for this event, and it’s clear to see why Swift chose him to be by her side. The director and filmmaker posed questions that were as deep and intuitive as Swift and her lyrics always are. Mills avoided asking basic questions and instead opted to do things such as connect Swift’s commencement speech at NYU and her film together beautifully. It was apparent that even Swift herself was processing everything Mills said with an air of wonder. It appeared that Mills and Swift share the same type of storytelling, and analytically complex mind, which was a joy to see as they bounced ideas and insight off of one another.
In a short segment of her Tribeca discussion, Swift mentions Easter eggs that may have been overlooked by viewers, further connecting them to the film and making the event feel incredibly exclusive. One of which was a red typewriter that can be seen in his apartment during a shot, and later on is seen in her apartment. Swift mentions this helps viewers assume that he gifted her the typewriter, which she used to take control of the narrative and write the story of their tumultuous relationship. This is very typical of Swift and her approach. Fans of hers know that nothing in her music videos, Instagram posts, or tweets is a coincidence, and everything means something. Another note from Swift was that the titles that began each segment of the short film are meant to be chapters for her book, and the short film is truly a reading of her book that Swift reads at the end.
Mills eventually broached the subject of Taylor Swift the director, and what she hopes to achieve next. Swift mentions how she feels so lucky to have worked with all of the talented filmmakers she has thus far, and how she feels like she’s won the lottery every time a new talent signs on to work with her. As far as ambitions in terms of directing, it’s evident how passionate she is about it. She mentioned how throughout her career, she always tried to inject her own ideas or artistic style into every music video she was a part of. She also chatted about her music video for The Man, in which Swift acted and directed, and what that experience was like for her. The All Too Well short film was a huge feat for Swift, and she talked about how much she values a small crew when directing, with whom she can be confident her works will remain private until release. This makes the possibility of Swift taking on any huge productions as a director uncertain, but certainly not impossible.
After much discussion with Mills, actors Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink were invited to join them, which was an exciting surprise for attendees. Sink and O’Brien, who portrayed the lead characters him and her, joined in on the chat regarding the film and answered Mills many questions about working with the world’s biggest pop star. Sink arrived in a cardigan reminiscent of Swift’s merchandise, with a glittery ‘5’ on it, alluding to the track number of All Too Well.
The most interesting moment with Sink was when Mills mentioned that her and Swift appeared to be so connected, and that that connection could be felt through the camera and Swift’s directing style. Sink confirmed that there was a bond between her and Swift that furthered her performance, and Swift commented on Sink’s incredible acting and her ability to move the crew as well as Swift herself when Sink has heartbroken moments where she sobs on screen.
The notable moment with O’Brien came when he mentioned how he played an older character to Sink’s, but he felt that his character was the less mature one, struggling with being a narcissistic childlike figure. O’Brien also mentioned that Swift had told him to play the villain in this story, but make him likable, which feels like such a smart move from Swift. Swift also had a brief discussion about how proud she is of today’s youth. Mentioning times where she’s heard younger generations point out injustice or gaslighting opposed to turning a blind eye, she says she has much hope for newer generations.
The penultimate moment came when Swift and Mills cryptically alluded to giving the people what they want. Shortly thereafter, her acoustic guitar, a stool, and a microphone were brought out to her. Swift then performed the 10 minute version of All Too Well as it should be heard: just Taylor and her guitar. For the duration of the song, the audience recited each line, with some being screamed, such as “Fuck the patriarchy!” This display of fandom reminded crowds of why they were here, and what a treat it is to have such a meaningful song preserved forever through film as well as sound. This also reiterated the feeling of the whole event being as personal and intimate as the song and film both are. Being allowed to have a sing along with Swift was emotional to many, myself included, and felt like a thank you from the star to everyone who has supported her thus far.
Overall, Taylor Swift being allowed a stage as large as Tribeca Film Festival to discuss her work and dreams of directing was as successful as it could have been. Both cinephiles and fans alike were treated in multiple ways, with complex conversation, star power, and a private performance of Swift’s music. It truly was, and always will be, enchanting to meet her.