TAYLOR SWIFT | In Conversation With… | TIFF 2022

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Summary Notes


Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, hosts a conversation with Taylor Swift, an accomplished singer-songwriter turned director, discussing her transition to filmmaking and the significance of her short film "All Too Well." Swift reflects on her creative process, from songwriting to visual storytelling, and the importance of owning her music, tying it to her filmmaking journey. She delves into the technical and emotional aspects of directing, particularly the use of color and lighting to convey emotion, and praises her actors, Sadie Sink and Dylan O'Brien, for their natural and powerful performances. Swift also acknowledges her privilege in filmmaking and expresses a desire to continue exploring human stories in future projects, potentially in a more comedic or irreverent vein, while still balancing her music career.

Summary Notes

Introduction of Cameron Bailey and TIFF

  • Cameron Bailey is the CEO of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).
  • TIFF is located on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the traditional territory of the Anishinabe, the Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee.
  • TIFF operates on land protected by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant and is home to many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.
  • TIFF is grateful for working on this land and supports the work of indigenous filmmakers.

"My name is Cameron Bailey, I'm the CEO of TIFF."

Cameron Bailey introduces himself and his role at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Acknowledgments and Sponsors

  • TIFF thanks its members, donors, and supporters for helping to transform the way people see the world through film.
  • Major sponsors include Bell, RBC, Bulgari, and Visa, with Bell as the lead sponsor.
  • Public supporters are the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, Telefilm Canada, and the City of Toronto.

"First, thank you to our members, our donors, and supporters for championing TIFF all year round through our mission to transform the way people see the world through film."

Cameron Bailey expresses gratitude to the members and supporters of TIFF for their year-round support.

Taylor Swift's Accomplishments

  • Taylor Swift is a creative powerhouse known for her work as a singer, songwriter, producer, actor, and director.
  • She is the only woman in history to win the Grammy award for Album of the Year three times.
  • Swift has a distinct style on screen that draws from her songwriting.
  • In 2021, she released re-recordings of "Fearless (Taylor's Version)" and "Red (Taylor's Version)" as an act of reclamation and creative empowerment.
  • Swift directed, wrote, produced, and appeared in the short film "All Too Well," which is presented in 35mm film.

"Taylor Swift is a creative powerhouse... the only woman in history to win the Grammy award for Album of the Year three times."

This quote highlights Taylor Swift's unique achievements in the music industry.

Transition from Music to Film

  • Taylor Swift has successfully transitioned from music to film directing.
  • She won Video of the Year three times at the MTV Video Music Awards and announced her forthcoming album "Midnights."

"While some have made the transition from music to film before, very few have done so to film directing."

Cameron Bailey notes the rarity of musicians successfully transitioning to film directing, highlighting Swift's unique accomplishment.

Introduction of Sadie Sink

  • Sadie Sink is the star of the short film "All Too Well."
  • She is introduced as a special guest at the Toronto International Film Festival alongside Taylor Swift.

"Please join me in welcoming to the Toronto International Film Festival, Taylor Swift and the star of 'All Too Well' the short film, Sadie Sink."

Cameron Bailey welcomes Taylor Swift and Sadie Sink to TIFF, indicating Sadie's significant role in the short film.

Taylor Swift's Gratitude and Presentation of "All Too Well"

  • Taylor Swift expresses gratitude for TIFF and the opportunity to present her short film.
  • The film is special to her because it was shot on 35mm and the TIFF presentation is its first showing in this format.
  • Swift acknowledges Sadie Sink's pivotal role in the film as its "heartbeat" and "heartbreak."

"It's really meaningful to get to present this short film on 35 millimeter because that was how it was originally shot."

Taylor Swift conveys the significance of presenting the short film in its original 35mm format, emphasizing the authenticity of the experience.

The Impact of 35mm Film

  • Taylor Swift notices a depth and contrast in the 35mm film that differs from its digitized form.
  • The 35mm presentation offers a unique viewing experience.

"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."

Taylor Swift describes the visual impact of watching the film in 35mm, suggesting a richer and more detailed experience than digital.

Taylor Swift as a Songwriter

  • Taylor Swift's songwriting process has always included visual elements.
  • She considers how to present songs on stage and in music videos, and conceptualizes each album as its own era with specific colors, themes, and aesthetics.
  • Swift attributes the ability to create distinct album eras to the attention and care of her fans.

"When I would write a song, I would immediately start thinking of how do I want to present this on stage... what do I want this to symbolize."

Taylor Swift explains that visual presentation and symbolism are integral parts of her songwriting process.

Taylor Swift's Path Through Movies

  • Taylor Swift's film influences vary depending on her musical phases.
  • During the creation of "1989," she was inspired by John Hughes movies.
  • The pandemic led her to films like "Devil's Backbone," "Pan's Labyrinth," and "Rear Window," which influenced her album "Folklore."
  • For "Evermore," she was inspired by "Sense and Sensibility" by Ang Lee.
  • The short film "All Too Well" draws inspiration from 1970s romantic films that depict intimate relationships unraveling.

"I think my obsession with... these romantic films where they... unravel the braid right in front of you... like 'The Way We Were' and 'Love Story'."

Swift shares her fascination with 1970s films that showcase the disintegration of intimate relationships, which influenced her short film.

Taylor Swift's Cinematic Inspirations

  • Taylor Swift admires John Cassavetes for allowing despair and human emotion to unfold naturally in his films.
  • She crafted a fight scene in "All Too Well" that feels reminiscent of the raw emotion seen in 1970s movies.
  • Swift believes that the way people fight reveals much about them and wanted to showcase a detailed argument in her film.

"You can tell a lot about people based on how they fight or argue."

Swift reflects on the significance of arguments in revealing character traits, which she aimed to capture in her film.

The Filming of "All Too Well"

  • The breakup scene in "All Too Well" was mostly shot in a single take to capture the raw emotion of the actors.
  • Swift and her producer were intensely invested in the performance, highlighting the trust they had in the actors to convey the story authentically.

"We filmed them breaking up... we filmed them falling in love... but I kind of as we got closer to it... it's gonna be the fight."

Swift discusses her decision to focus on the fight scene in the short film, emphasizing its importance in the narrative.

Feeling Unseen in Relationships

  • The short film explores the theme of feeling unseen within intimate relationships.
  • Sadie's character feels unnoticed, particularly in the context of her partner's social circle.
  • There is a powerful disconnect between the couple, despite their closeness.

"She does not feel seen in that relationship. And she's trying to tell him about an instance where she did not feel seen in the company of his friends. And he's not really getting it."

This quote highlights the core issue in the relationship depicted in the short film: a lack of understanding and acknowledgment from Sadie's partner about her feelings of invisibility.

The Precarious Age of Transition

  • The film delves into the transitional and uncertain age of the character played by Sadie.
  • The character is caught between fitting in at her family home and an adult's independent life.
  • This in-between state contributes to her feelings of belonging nowhere and everywhere.

"You could fit back at your family home sort of but you sort of don't. You could fit in an adult's cultivated apartment where they have like a French press and they have all the things that adults have. But you kind of don't. So you kind of fit everywhere. But you kind of fit nowhere."

Taylor Swift articulates the liminal space the character occupies, not fully belonging to her past as a child nor to the adult world, underscoring the character's internal conflict.

Charismatic Yet Problematic Partners

  • The character played by Dylan is acknowledged as both charming and gaslighting.
  • The charisma of the character makes the audience root for the relationship despite its flaws.
  • The term "charismatic problematic" is introduced as a descriptor for a certain type of partner, often an ex.

"He is so charismatic, he is charismatic problematic. And I am still sort of rooting for them to work through this because he makes some charming points."

Taylor Swift describes Dylan's character as both appealing and troubling, which adds complexity to the audience's perception of the relationship.

Evolution into Directing

  • Taylor Swift's increasing creative control in her music videos led to her directing.
  • She learned from being on set and developed a close creative relationship with director Joseph Kahn.
  • Co-directing music videos was a step towards writing in-depth treatments and shot listing.

"It was a baby steps process, it wasn't like I woke up one day and I was like, you know what I want to do direct."

Taylor Swift explains her gradual progression from observing on music video sets to taking on the role of a director, emphasizing the incremental nature of her creative evolution.

Directing "The Man" and Learning from Experience

  • Directing "The Man" was Taylor Swift's first solo directing experience.
  • She faced unique challenges directing while in prosthetic makeup to appear as a man.
  • Working with acclaimed cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto was a highlight for her.

"This was the first video I ever directed on my own so if you can imagine me trying to direct child actors while I'm dressed prosthetically as a man."

Taylor Swift recounts the unusual circumstances of her directorial debut, which involved directing while in character, illustrating the hands-on learning experience it provided.

Drawing Inspiration from Cinema

  • Taylor Swift incorporates movie references into her work, such as "The Wolf of Wall Street" and spy thrillers.
  • She enjoys paying homage to films she loves and creating videos with a cinematic feel.

"The man reminded me at the beginning and he have wolf of Wolf of Wall Street thank you honestly deeply on purpose I love I love that film."

Cameron Bailey notes the cinematic influences in Taylor Swift's work, and she confirms her intentional references to films she admires, like "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Technical Aspects of Filmmaking

  • Taylor Swift made intentional decisions about shooting on 35mm film and choosing a 1.33 aspect ratio.
  • Collaborations with trusted professionals, like DP Rina Yang, were crucial in making technical choices.
  • Decisions about film stock, color, and lighting were made to enhance the storytelling.

"All the decisions that you make it's such a beautifully collaborative process you make decisions based on your idea as to how you want it to feel, how you want it to look."

Taylor Swift speaks to the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the importance of technical choices in achieving the desired aesthetic and emotional impact of the film.

Casting Decisions

  • The casting of Dylan O'Brien and Sadie Sink was an instinctual decision for Taylor Swift.
  • Both actors were chosen for their charisma and ability to take on roles they hadn't played before.
  • Taylor Swift had no backup plan and was thrilled that both actors trusted her vision.

"I also just really really wanted them both to say yes because I didn't I know we have to compromise in life. But I didn't have a backup plan. And I didn't want to compromise."

Taylor Swift discusses her casting choices, emphasizing her strong desire to work with both actors and her commitment to her vision, even as a first-time short film director.

Initial Reaction to Collaboration

  • Taylor Swift expresses disbelief and happiness that others wanted to collaborate with her.
  • She reached out to Dylan and Sadie Sink directly, with enthusiasm and no pretense of being cool, to involve them in her project.
  • Taylor preferred working with people who were excited about the collaboration, rather than those who were skeptical.

"I couldn't believe that they wanted to do it. I'm still I still can't believe that anybody wanted to do this with me. I'm so happy about it."

Taylor Swift is surprised and pleased that there were people excited to work with her on her project.

"I was like please please please please put like I wasn't trying to be cool at all no chill."

Taylor Swift emphasizes her eagerness and lack of pretense in reaching out for collaboration.

Taking Control of Music

  • Taylor Swift discusses taking back control of her music, referencing her journey from a teenager signed to an indie label to her desire to own her master recordings.
  • She faced despair when her music was sold to an outside party but decided to re-record her music, treating re-releases as major events.
  • This process included re-recording songs that weren't originally released, known as "From The Vault" tracks.

"It's amazing. I I really appreciate you saying that um but if you're new to this Saga um well Cameron's referencing is that basically um I started out on an indie record label I signed when I was a teenager and I had always had the Hope desire and dream of buying back my master recordings for my first six albums when it came time to when my record deal was fulfilled."

Taylor Swift explains her original intention to own her music and the disappointment when it was sold to someone else.

"I came out of that and said to myself if I made that music the first time I can make it a second time."

Taylor Swift found the motivation to re-record her music despite the initial despair of losing control over her original recordings.

The Story of "All Too Well"

  • "All Too Well" was a fan-favorite from the album "Red" but was not originally recognized as a potential single by industry professionals.
  • Taylor Swift struggled to perform the song due to its personal nature but found the ability to create a visual element for it after ten years.
  • She connects the process of creating her own images for her music to the act of reclaiming ownership of her music.

"It This was um a song that originally was released on an album called red in 2012.. and it was a song that I loved so much."

Taylor Swift shares her personal connection to "All Too Well" and its significance to her and her fans.

"I needed 10 years of sort of retrospect in order to know what I would even make right to to um tell a version of that story visually."

Taylor Swift explains the time it took for her to be ready to create a visual representation of the song.

Influence of Female Filmmakers

  • Taylor Swift acknowledges the influence of female filmmakers on her work, including Nora Ephron, Chloe Zhao, Greta Gerwig, and Lena Dunham.
  • She feels grateful for the progress in the perception of female filmmakers and sees herself as part of a lineage of creative women.

"I just feel really grateful like you think about people like Nora Ephron who you know there's people who paved the path."

Taylor Swift expresses gratitude towards female filmmakers who have paved the way for others like her.

"I love Chloe Zhao I love Greta Gerwig. [Music] um I love Lena Dunham there are so many people that I absolutely adore who are making films in such like Brave bold inspiring ways."

Taylor Swift lists female directors who have inspired her own vision for filmmaking.

Lighting in "All Too Well" Short Film

  • The lighting in "All Too Well" was designed to evoke the feeling of autumn and to reflect the warmth of falling in love and the coolness of despair.
  • The film's visual contrast symbolizes the protagonist's growth and change due to her experiences.
  • Taylor Swift wanted the audience to realize that the chapters shown are part of Sadie's character's book, indicating a meta-narrative.

"I really wanted this short film to feel like autumn um and not the entire time you're watching it but in your memory."

Taylor Swift aimed to create an autumnal atmosphere in the short film to evoke a specific emotional response.

"I wanted that to make us both happy and sad at the same time."

Taylor Swift discusses the intended emotional impact of the film's lighting and color palette.

Significance of the Red Scarf

  • The red scarf in the film is a metaphor tied to the theme of the album "Red."
  • Taylor Swift chooses not to elaborate on the specific meaning of the scarf, leaving it open to interpretation.

"Basically the scarf is a metaphor um and we turned it red because uh because red is a very important um color in this album which is called red right."

Taylor Swift confirms the red scarf is a metaphorical element and relates it to the album's theme.

Future Filmmaking Aspirations

  • Taylor Swift envisions continuing to tell human stories with emotional depth, although not necessarily focused on heartbreak.
  • She is open to exploring different genres and styles, including comedy, and looks forward to potentially committing to making a full-length film.

"I think I will always want to tell human stories about human emotion I never say never."

Taylor Swift expresses her ongoing desire to create films that explore human emotions.

"I would just absolutely love for the right opportunity to arise because I just absolutely absolutely adore telling stories this way."

Taylor Swift indicates her eagerness to find the right opportunity to direct a feature film.

Female Filmmakers and Privilege

  • Taylor Swift acknowledges the privilege she had in financing her short film independently.
  • She expresses respect for female filmmakers who struggle to secure financing for their projects.
  • Taylor Swift identifies with being a female filmmaker but is conscious of the challenges others face.

"I am one of them. but I also realize that there are people who are working so hard to get financing and to get any type of budget together to make the Productions that they and the projects that they want to make."

Taylor Swift is showing her awareness of the difficulties other female filmmakers encounter when trying to fund their projects, contrasting her situation with theirs.

TIFF's "Share Her Journey" Initiative

  • TIFF has been supporting female filmmakers through the "Share Her Journey" initiative for five years.
  • The initiative aims to open doors for women in the film industry, where there is a disparity between the number of women and men succeeding post-film school.

"We have an initiative here at Tiff called share her journey which is all about supporting female filmmakers we've been doing it for five years now."

Cameron Bailey discusses TIFF's commitment to supporting female filmmakers and the need for continued change in the industry.

Balancing Music and Film Career

  • Taylor Swift discusses her passion for creative work and her desire to balance her music career with film and other visual storytelling.
  • She emphasizes her energy for creativity and is grateful for the support she receives from her audience.

"I love making stuff. and I'm like for the last like five or six years I've just been like I just love moving. stuff. I just want to never do anything but make stuff."

Taylor Swift expresses her continuous drive for creating and her hope to maintain her creative endeavors across different mediums.

Filmmaking as an Extension of Writing

  • Taylor Swift views filmmaking and performing shows as natural extensions of her writing.
  • She aspires to expand her work in filmmaking and storytelling, driven by her passion for writing.

"I would absolutely love to expand in terms of filmmaking and storytelling and and keep you know it's a natural extension of my writing I really feel that."

Taylor Swift discusses her ambition to further explore filmmaking, linking it to her foundational love for writing.

Actor Choices for "All Too Well"

  • Taylor Swift wanted Sadie Sink and Dylan for her short film "All Too Well" and has ideas for future projects.
  • She prefers to approach potential actors personally with a unique pitch, rather than publicly stating her choices.

"I definitely do. but if I if I say you know if I say that then if I go to them and say they'll already know do you know what I mean."

Taylor Swift explains her strategy for selecting actors for her projects, highlighting a personalized approach to recruitment.

Directing Actors

  • Taylor Swift praises Sadie Sink and Dylan's performances, emphasizing their natural chemistry and contributions to the film's dialogue.
  • She believes in allowing actors to bring their own interpretations to the scenes, rather than dictating every physical detail.

"I I could not possibly take credit for all the things that they said in the ways that they said them it was just like phenomenal to watch it happen."

Taylor Swift credits Sadie Sink and Dylan for their improvisational skills and natural chemistry, which enhanced the film's authenticity.

Naturalism in Directing

  • Taylor Swift aimed for naturalism in her direction, focusing on the actors' physicality and emotional authenticity.
  • She describes a balance between giving actors freedom and providing specific direction when needed.

"We were really going for more of that just the heart throbbing naturalism because um their physicality and them being natural within those moments."

Taylor Swift discusses her directorial focus on capturing the genuine emotions and natural interactions between actors.

Editing and Performance

  • Editing is crucial in shaping a performance, and Taylor Swift worked closely with the editor to achieve the desired emotional impact.
  • Some scenes were structured to music, while others were more fluid, allowing for a dynamic editing process.

"Our editor Ted guard is absolutely incredible and Saul and I would sit in in the edit Suite every single day going through every single thing we had shot."

Taylor Swift emphasizes the importance of the editing process in filmmaking and her hands-on involvement in shaping the final performance.

Conclusion of the Interview

  • The interview concludes with Cameron Bailey thanking Taylor Swift for her insights and contributions to the film industry as an artist.

"But I just want to ask you to join me in thanking this remarkable artist. Taylor Swift."

Cameron Bailey closes the interview by expressing gratitude to Taylor Swift for her participation and for sharing her experiences as a filmmaker and musician.

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