Taylor Swift, who premiered the original 35 mm of her award-winning All Too Well: The Short Film, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Friday (Sept. 9), is open to directing a feature-length film, the superstar singer told an intimate sold-out audience of well-behaved Swifties at the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema. “I’d like to keep taking baby steps forward and I’m at a place now where the next baby step is not a baby step,” the 32-year-old said during the “In Conversation With… Taylor Swift” event. “It would be committing to making a film and I feel like I would absolutely love for the right opportunity to arise, because I absolutely adore telling stories this way.”
The 50-minute conversation also revealed Swift’s deep love of film from every era and an understanding of the filmmaking process, was conducted by TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, who was able to talk to Swift about everything from technical choices to direction and set design, and even a mention of that elusive scarf (“a metaphor”). Swift directed, wrote, produced (with Saul Germaine) and briefly appeared in the 15-minute film, which was shot by cinematographer Rina Yang, and set to her 10-minute song “All Too Well” — the “from the vault” version for 2021’s Red (Taylor’s Version), her re-rerecording of just one of the six albums whose masters were sold out from under her.
The digital version of All Too Well: The Short Film dropped in November 2021. It recently won three MTV Video Awards and is eligible for a 2023 Oscar in the best live action short category. The film co-stars 20-year-old Sadie Sink (Stranger Things) — who joined Swift at TIFF — and 31-year-old Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner). Sink and O’Brien play girlfriend and boyfriend “Her” and “Him,” as they go from both being giddy-in-love to one needy and the other gaslighter, and eventually breaking up (this isn’t really a spoiler, it’s Taylor Swift). “I think you can tell a lot about people based on how they fight or argue,” Swift later explained.
Thousands of fans gathered outside the Tiff Bell Lightbox and along the street that is closed to cars during the first part of the film festival, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pop star both before and after the ticketed appearance. Laura-Lee Singh, 24, and Erica Chau, 28, fans for half their lives, begged Chau’s aunt for tickets and she came through. “I don’t know how she did it but I’m eternally grateful,” says Erica Chau, who has watched The Short Film hundreds of times during her treadmill workouts.
Both were excited to see the film on 35 mm, even though they were born in the digital era. “To see Taylor in person, and to see her do something that her fans love so much and to see her work actually being her own and her wanting to share it with us is incredible, and to see the version that she wanted to show us originally is just even more exciting,” Singh gushes. “I love that we’re seeing the original film today,” Chau adds. “It’s so much fun and to hear her talk about it the way that she envisioned it, how she brought it to life and why she chose Sadie and Dylan to be in it, out of all the actors that she could have contacted, how she made those decisions.” Swift did talk about all that and more.
Sitting down with Bailey after the film screening, the singer said of the original 35 mm format Yang shot, “Watching it this time, there was a depth to the color. There’s a contrast that I haven’t seen when I’ve watched it before in its digitized form when we’ve screened it in theaters or when you watch it online. It’s just a different experience and I was just very grateful to get to share that with you guys.” Later, she said of Yang, “She really, really, really taught me a lot, and I never would have known any anything [about filmmaking] at all without her.” Swift said she never could have made All Too Well: The Short Film back in 2012 for two reasons, neither of which was technical.
“It was a song that I loved so much, but it was never chosen by an A&R team in a conference room as being a single. Nobody saw the potential in it, except for the fans who loved it so much that they made it their favorite song on the album.” But the other, more significant reason, is “the song was so tough” because Swift was dealing with the situation at the time. “I would have a really hard time performing it at the time,” she says. “I needed 10 years of retrospect in order to know what I would even make to tell a version of that story visually.” Naturally, Bailey asked Swift about her love of film and throughout the conversation she talked about so many. John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club; Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Shape of Water (“one of my favorite films ever”); Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, and more. But the ones that influenced All Too Well: The Short Film were couple’s dramas.
“I don’t know if it’s something people talk about but in my mind, there’s this period of time in the ’70s where you started seeing these romantic films where these two characters are so beautifully intimately woven together, and then they just unravel the braid right in front of you and you just can’t believe it,” Swift says, noting The Way We Were, Love Story and Kramer vs. Kramer. “Modern films that probably lent themselves to making this film, I would say Marriage Story [was] really upsetting for months and The Souvenir parts one and two.” So what’s next for Swift, who just announced that her 10th album, Midnights, is dropping Oct. 21? “It was really beautiful that we’re in a place where hearing the idea of a female filmmaker doesn’t make you roll your eyes or think as skeptically as it once was, and we have so many incredible female filmmakers to thank for that,” she said, plugging inspirations Nora Ephron, Chloe Zhao, Greta Gerwig, and her friend Lena Dunham.
“I think I will always want to tell human stories about human emotion. I never say never, but I can’t imagine myself filming an action sequence. If it happens one day, that will be funny character growth. Could see it going in a more comedic, irreverent place. I don’t always see myself telling stories about extreme guttural heartbreak at your most formative age,” she says with characteristic deadpan humor and self-awareness.
She adds, “It really just debilitates you emotionally for years and you have to develop the scar tissue in order to be able to move on and then limp your way to your typewriter and write a novel about it.” What would her fan Laura-Lee Singh like to see from Swift next? “I’d like to see the switch to where she is now from Reputation to Lover to Folklore to Midnights. I’d like to see her thought process and how she creates the videos she creates or the albums she creates because she says she plans things three years in advance so I’d like to see that.”