After directing the short film for the 10-minute version of All Too Well last year, Taylor Swift gave fans a glimpse into her film-making process at a special screening and Q&A at the Tribeca Festival on Saturday (June 11). Interviewed onstage at New York City’s Beacon Theatre by writer-director Mike Mills, Swift engaged in a thoughtful conversation about entering the directing world, while also saving a few surprises for the audience — including a special appearance by All Too Well stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, as well as an acoustic performance of “All Too Well” to conclude the afternoon event.
Swift touched upon a wide range of topics during the conversation, from how she got behind the camera to some of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it minutiae of the short film. Here are 10 fascinating takeaways from Swift’s Tribeca Q&A:
1. Swift and Mike Mills share a mutual (famous) friend.
Mills, the director behind films like C’mon C’mon and Beginners, also helmed the 2019 short film I Am Easy to Find for indie-rock stalwarts The National, which starred Alicia Vikander. “It really inspired me in ways I can’t possibly overstate,” Swift said of the project. Of course, the National is also home to Aaron Dessner, a close collaborator of Swift’s since 2020’s Folklore, and Swift joked that she and Mills are now “both members of the Aaron Dessner Cinematic Universe!”
2. Swift wasn’t originally supposed to make her directorial debut in 2020 with “The Man.”
Prior to her All Too Well short film, Swift had directed the eye-popping clip for the Lover single, in which she dons prosthetics and makeup to become her fictional male counterpart as a satire on gender norms. “I wanted a female director,” Swift explained of music video, which premiered in February 2020, “but all of my favorite female directors were booked,” adding, “which is great! We love that!”
Once she decided to helm the video herself, Swift said that she found the entire experience — from making shot lists to the actual filming — “incredibly fulfilling,” setting up a longer project like All Too Well. “This is not a music video — we approached everything differently,” Swift said of All Too Well, describing the process of directing as an “interesting exercise in trusting your gut instinct.”
3. All Too Well is partly a meditation on girlhood.
In describing the struggle of Sadie Sink’s character in the short film, Swift pointed out that “19 and 20 is such an interesting and profound age” for a young woman, with “one foot still in girlhood but society telling you that you’re an adult.” Different shots in the short film were meant to capture Sink’s character falling for an older male, struggling to fit in with his friends, and then feeling isolated from her childhood friends when they break up, as “an effervescent, curious young woman who ends up completely out of her depth … I wanted it to feel like them falling together was inevitable and like them falling apart was inevitable,” Swift pointed out.
4. The red typewriter is an Easter egg.
Swift filled in the audience on some subtle dramatic cues within the short film, starting with the opening line — in which Sink’s character asks O’Brien’s love interest, “Are you for real?” — which is designed to foreshadow her fictionalization of their romance at the end of the film. Swift also pointed out that the red typewriter that Sink’s character uses to write her story is originally seen amongst his things, suggesting that he gifted her the typewriter and “galvanized her into finding her life and her career,” as Swift put it.
As for the final shot of the film? Swift sees the man glimpsing into the store window and turning away as his character becoming something of a protagonist. “We can all relate to being on the outside looking in,” Swift said.
5. Swift wants to direct more…
When Mills asked Swift if she would consider directing something longer than All Too Well, and potentially even a feature film, the superstar responded enthusiastically. “I would love to,” she said. “It would be so fantastic to write and direct something.”
6. …but it probably wouldn’t be something enormous.
“I don’t see it being bigger in terms of scale,” Swift continued, explaining how much she valued the “intimate” feel of All Too Well as a character study. So, don’t expect a Swift-directed Star Wars film anytime soon.
7. Swift always wanted Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien as her All Too Well leads.
When she finished writing her treatment for the short film, Swift immediately had both actors in mind, and said she felt nervous to approach them with the project. When they signed on, Swift said she was blown away by Sink’s “versatility,” as her character oscillated between love and isolation. “The dinner party scene just kills me,” Swift said, her voice cracking a bit, “because she’s so talented. These little micro-expressions!” Meanwhile, she said that O’Brien possessed “this electric charisma that this character needed to get away with all the gaslighting!”
8. The argument scene wasn’t a sure thing at first.
In the middle of All Too Well, the song cuts out for an extended sequence in which the two main characters argue in the kitchen post-dinner, which becomes the short film’s main showcase for character-building dialogue. The scene is an outlier in the short film, and wasn’t a lock to make the final cut.
“I didn’t think it was gonna make it,” Sink said onstage of the sequence. After Sink and O’Brien filmed the argument in an unbroken shot, however, Swift knew it had to be included as something of a centerpiece. “You guys absolutely blew me away,” she told her two stars.
9. Taylor related to the loss that Sink’s character experiences in the film.
In All Too Well, Sink’s character turns devastating heartbreak into a story to be told to the masses in a way to regain control of her journey. Swift said that the narrative arc is “very reminiscent” of the loss of control she felt when she was denied the opportunity to purchase her master recordings in 2019, which then led to her Taylor’s Version re-recordings and projects like the All Too Well short film.
“It was a very hard time for me,” Swift said of the inability to buy back her recordings, before adding that, in the middle of the re-recording process, she’s in a much better place today. “A lot of my hardest moments, and moments of extreme grief or loss, were galvanized into what my life looks like now.”
10. All Too Well is, of course, for the fans.
Nearly a decade after releasing the original version of “All Too Well” on Red, Swift said that the 10-minute version of the non-single finally saw the light of day because her dedicated fans got wind of it, kept asking about it, and created a special moment just for themselves. “You guys just wouldn’t let it go!” Swift said lovingly, to rapturous applause.
That type of interest, enthusiasm and support helped the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” debut atop the Hot 100 chart upon its November release, and helped Swift herself during trying moments. As she put it before performing “All Too Well” following the Q&A, “It’s the belief in people who fiercely care about you that will get you through losing things.”