TORONTO – Taylor Swift, Oscar nominee?
A potential run at an Academy Awards run started for the music superstar Friday when she stopped by for a conversation about her cinematic “culprits” plus a screening of “All Too Well: The Short Film” at the Toronto International Film Festival. The fest is seen annually as a high-profile launching pad for the upcoming awards season, and “All Too Well” is eligible for best live-action short consideration at the 2023 Oscars.
“Hi, I’m Taylor,” Swift, 32, greeted an audience full of cheering fans who sang through the screening. (The singer-songwriter shot “All Too Well” on 35mm and presented it for the first time in that original form at TIFF.)
The 15-minute film, written and directed by Swift – which won video of the year at the recent MTV Video Music Awards – stars Sadie Sink (“Stranger Things”) as a young writer swept up in a seemingly fairy-tale romance with a charismatic but controlling older man (Dylan O’Brien). Midway through the film, Swift cuts to a particularly gut-wrenching argument between Sink’s and O’Brien’s characters in a kitchen, a scene that was almost entirely improvised and shot in one take.
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“I think you can tell a lot about people how they fight or argue,” Swift said. She talked a lot to both Sink and O’Brien about the “catalyst” that leads their characters to a volatile disagreement: “It’s about this entire molecular structure where she feels out of place and he feels unequipped to handle that. It all comes back to being in different places in their lives, having this huge gap of age difference between them: She’s still got one foot in girlhood, one foot in this very adult world. His life is very cultivated.”
Some of the filmmaking influences for “All Too Well” came out of her love for 1970s romantic films like “The Way We Were,” “Love Story” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” in which “these two characters are so beautifully, intimately woven together, and then they just unravel the braid right in front of you.” More modern films that also were a help: “The Souvenir” and its sequel, plus “Marriage Story.” (After seeing that, Swift said, she was “really upset for months. I wasn’t right.”)
Because of the film-festival setting, Swift went deep on what she calls her “cinematic culprits”: Filmmakers and movies that have been inspiring her songs and her music videos her entire career.
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John Hughes’ movies “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles” stayed with her as she watched them over and over crafting her 2014 album “1989.” More recently, during the pandemic, she watched Guillermo del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” back to back, “so my whole world turned into folk tales and forests and mythical creatures.”
She also became obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”: “It was very voyeuristic. He is watching his neighbors and sees a murder. I haven’t experienced that, but I did experience combining some of those cinematic inspirations and films that I loved , so you end up with an album that is me telling stories from other people’s perspectives.”
Swift has always been creative when it comes to her music videos. “All Too Well” is the culmination of coming up with concepts to give to the director when she was 16 to helm “The Man” by herself for the first time two years ago. She recalled directing small children while wearing the prosthetics that would turn her into a man in the video.
“I’m trying to talk to little kids about what their action is, and they know something’s not quite right,” Swift said. “Their mom told them that this is Taylor Swift, but they don’t really understand how that could be possible.”
Swift has a new album, “Midnights,” coming out Oct. 21 – she describes it as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” It’s her first album of all-original songs since 2020’s “evermore.”
She wants to expand her filmmaking efforts, likening it to “a natural extension of my (song)writing,” but she’s still very committed to the music.
“I have a lot of bandwidth to put into creative things and I get exhausted by things in life, but they’re never creative things,” Swift said. “I just love making stuff. So I just hope that that keeps going. I’m gonna keep working hard, trying my best, all of that.”
Contributing: Patrick Ryan