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Taylor Swift talks directing ‘All Too Well: The Short Film’ at New York Q&A

The singer discussed the film, which stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend

By Rachel Felder

Taylor Swift (Picture: Beth Garrabrant)

On Saturday, Taylor Swift treated an audience at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival to something they hadn’t expected: an acoustic version of ‘All Too Well’, performed as the surprise finale at a screening of Swift’s short film that’s based on the song, which she wrote and directed.

Strictly speaking, All Too Well: The Short Film, which dropped online this weekend, isn’t Taylor Swift’s directorial debut – she directed a few of her standard-length videos, like ‘Cardigan’ and ‘Willow’. But All Too Well: The Short Film is a mini-movie, with dialogue interspersed with the music, and a narrative flow that has more in common with a feature film than a promotional clip.

“I gave myself permission to completely make that jump into making a narrative short film, because this is not a music video,” Swift said in an on-stage Q&A session, before she picked up her guitar. “We approached everything differently.” That included shooting the self-financed film in 35mm, she said, and working closely with the cast, which stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, who also appeared at the Q&A.

The storyline of All Too Well: The Short Film follows a young woman and her relationship with an older boyfriend, including that romance’s painful implosion. “I wanted to make was a film about an effervescent, curious young woman who ends up completely out of her depth.” Fans on social media have speculated that the storyline is based on Swift’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal about 12 years ago, though she has never confirmed this.

Swift said she began thinking about directing as she watched others create her music videos. “I always sort of thought that it was something that other people did,” she said. “I just would be around and, in my head, I’d think, ‘I love when they did that’, or ‘I would have done that differently.’ The lists of the things that I was absorbing became so long that eventually I thought, ‘I really want to do this.’”

“And,” she added, “I think I had this imposter syndrome in my head saying, ‘No you don’t do that, other people do that who went to school to do that.”

The event’s questions were posed by Mike Mills, the Oscar-nominated film director who directed a music-driven short film of The National’s ‘I Am Easy to Find’. Swift, who collaborated with members of The National on her Folklore album, called the film “one of the most influential things I’ve watched.”

“It really inspired me that way I can’t possibly overstate,” she continued. “I’ve watched it so many times, but every time I watch it, I go through every single range of the most intense types of emotions.”

Future full-length film projects from Swift are definitely not out of the question. As she put it, “It would so fantastic to write and direct something, a feature.”

It might well be a possibility. In the audience was the director Jim Jarmusch, who was there with his daughter and impressed by Swift. “I just think she’s capable of probably doing anything she puts her mind to,” he said.

Still, Swift finds herself invigorated by working in music.

“There’ s so much happening in the music industry that’s so exciting,” she said. “Don’t get me started on vinyl! I think TikTok’s really cool: it’s kind of subverted the label model of ‘We sit in a conference room and we pick the song that you’re going to like.’ It’s like ‘No – no we don’t want to do that anymore.’ I find it so radical and wonderful.”

 “Really,” she added, “I’m just trying to listen to the heartbeat of what fans want.”

Watch All Too Well: The Short Film below.