Llines of young fans line Broadway. Selfies galore in a crowded lobby. Wild cheering as anticipation builds inside, followed by intermittent shouting during a keynote speech by Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal. A screening of short films that turned into a pop concert, accompanied by songs.
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, decided to introduce new Dr. Taylor Swift to ponder making films in honor of her short video-slash rightly nicknamed Too good: the short film? Released in November and directed by Swift herself, it fits like a glove into the festival since production took place in part in what is now New York’s Tribeca neighborhood.
Swift herself chose the moderator: Mike Mills, a director close to other Swift collaborators The National, including their short film, 2019’s I Am Easy to Find. “I’ve watched it so many times, but every time as I watch it, I go through every gamut of the most intense types of emotions,” Swift said of her reasoning, proving that even for events like this, the artist was plotting about every detail.
After a screening of the 15-minute short featuring Stranger Things actor Sadie Sink, during which the audience sang key lyrics (“fuck the patriarchy!”) and clapped for each individual frame of the credits, Swift and Mills vividly discussed his approach. detail; one artist fan of the other, and vice versa.
“(It’s) me stepping out of what I usually do, which is writing songs and singing them,” explained Swift who noted that she first decided to direct after trying to find a female director for her 2020 music video for The Man, except for the fact that all of her top picks were booked. So Swift just realized it herself.
“It was a vulnerable time where you’re kind of on the verge of finding something new and you’re really hoping to do everything perfectly,” said Swift, who approached the craft with trepidation and concocted such a detailed plan for his video that Mills said he had never seen anything like it. “It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to do everything perfectly because you have to learn and grow.”
Swift’s initial reluctance to put on her director’s hat has become a recurring theme. “I had this impostor syndrome in my head going, ‘No, you don’t do that. Other people who went to school do that,” to which Mills replied, “I didn’t go to school for that. “Oh, that’s fantastic to hear that,” Swift replied. “It makes me feel better.” Swift also noted that a life of filming prompted her to try her hand at directing. “In my head, I was like, ‘I love that they did this’ or ‘I would have done this differently.’ So the list of things I was absorbing became so long that finally I thought, “I really want to do this.”
However, Swift’s inherent power when it comes to making that decision and executing it is not lost on her. “I am extremely aware of my privilege when it comes to being a female filmmaker, as I was able to finance this film myself,” she noted. “I have to constantly be aware that while it’s an exciting challenge to do this, I also understand that it’s extremely difficult for women to make films and to always keep an eye on that reality, it’s lucky that I even have to be able to approach a camera.”
Meanwhile, the story of the song itself is an oft-repeated legend, believed to be drawn from the real-life story of her tumultuous romance and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, red scarf and all. Would Swift conjure up the reality behind what she concocted? “Sadie’s character’s kind of journey 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 process is to really lean on supportive people who believe in you.” Meanwhile, it was All Too Well star Dylan O’Brien, who surprised the audience by answering a few questions alongside co-star Sink, who had perhaps the biggest dig at Gyllenhal, whose character he is supposed to play: “My character (in the video) is not a monster. He is a narcissistic and selfish child.
There was, of course, a nod to another Swift villain, Scooter Braun, who sold Swift’s catalog, leading Swift to re-record it in its entirety. Swift considered it a devastating blow, explaining the hubbub: “I lost all my work… It was a very difficult time for me,” she told a hushed crowd while choosing her words with care. “A lot of my toughest times, or times of extreme grief or loss, have been galvanized into what my life looks like now and I’m very happy where my life is now.”
As for where the music industry itself stands, Swift hailed the resurgence of vinyl and the democratizing effect of apps like TikTok on the industry. “Fans kind of flipped the label model: ‘We sit in a boardroom and we pick the songs you’re going to like.’ And you’re like, ‘Uh, no!’ I find it so radical and wonderful.’”
As the conversation wound down, before Swift found herself on stage alone strumming a red guitar for anything other than a live rendition of All Too Well, she reflected on the longevity of what has become a career of 16 year.
“I just try to listen to the heartbeat of what the fans want,” she said. “It’s so exciting to have been able to do this for so long and have so many memories. I’m just listening and having fun and doing stuff. It’s very cool that they want me to keep doing it.