Variety’s headline reads: “Taylor Swift, director, In Conversation…”. Swift, the 11-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter? Swift, whose upcoming “Eras” tour broke the record for the most concert tickets ever sold in a single day, launching a pre-sale so poorly managed that Ticketmaster was the subject of an antitrust investigation at the Department of Justice ? Swift is a director NOW?
Swift has been a director for a long time, but the brief announcement on December 9 that she will direct a feature film for Projector imagesbased on its own script, sent the internet into a spiral. Vulture joke tweeted that she would helm a “Twilight” movie while others in the industry or were frustrated that the already famous Swift might get a deal.
News of her feature film debut comes hot on the heels of yet another Swift controversy, the timing of which now seems impeccably intentional. The Variety headline was attached to her interview this week with Martin McDonagh for a series called “Directors on Directors.” In the annual series, the directors who have both had a project released with the year meet to discuss. Many balked at Swift’s inclusion, with Buzzfeed voicing detractors’ concerns including “that Taylor could deprive other directors of much-needed exposure.”
Does she know what she’s doing? What East she does? What in Swift’s past has prepared her for this? What can we expect from the feature, and is there any precedent for musicians like Swift occupying a director’s chair and actually succeeding?
One of the best-selling musical artists of all time began in Nashville, where Swift and her family moved when she was 14 to advance her music career. Her debut studio album reached number five on the Billboard 200, and she was gone. There have been multiple reinventions along the way, as with most artists with any stamina. She started out as a country singer, found a solid foothold in pop, but albums like “Reputation” have a more gritty, experimental feel.
Past leadership experience
One of her transformations was playing a male character with numerous prosthetics for the video for her 2019 song “The Man” — a video she made, according to Swift in her Variety chat with McDonagh, “out of necessity.” . Swift wanted a director for the video, but everyone she contacted was busy. “I was like, ‘I could do it, maybe,'” she told McDonagh. “And when I realized, I just thought, ‘This is actually more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. “”
While some took offense to Swift saying she just couldn’t find female directors, so she had to become one, stepping behind the camera has become a familiar and welcoming place for Swift. She writes all of her music videos, and has directed or co-directed nearly a dozen. Swift directed both videos released for her latest album ‘Midnights’ – and there are plans to create a music video for each song.
As a director, Swift’s style is playful and eccentric. Videos like the one for her song “Me!”, which she co-directed with Dave Meyers, showcase candy-colored pastel visuals that delve into surrealism. A unicorn has a cascading pink mane that is also Swift’s voluminous tulle skirt falling from a building. In the kitschy “You Need to Calm Down,” set in an epic trailer park, she plays with shapes: a round pool, a round float, a crown that dissolves into a bowl of shrimp dip. Her cuts are quick, as befits a music video, and she says she rides them on set, sometimes in one take, though she was quick to assure McDonagh that “I wouldn’t come near now to make a feature film”.
She doesn’t always focus on herself in her videos. “Lover,” co-directed with Drew Kirsch, who also co-directed “You Need to Calm Down,” is more about the stage than the star. She’s also not afraid to make fun of herself, look monstrous or silly, scream in French, have mascara running down her face, or vomit all over herself (blue glitter) in “Anti-hero”. Persistent shots of minor characters in videos like “The Man” may indicate his propensity for an ensemble piece. She is interested in the reaction of others.
His storytelling was born out of his journey.
She also seems interested in the weather. “Lover” is all about accumulation, the accumulation of a life story. Time and memory painfully happen (and continue to happen) in “All Too Well,” his most ambitious directorial project to date: the 2022 short produced in conjunction with Swift’s re-recording of a 10-minute version of his song of the same name. The short stars Sadie Sink of “Stranger Things” and Dylan O’Brien in a romance gone wrong.
Swift loves reminders, guidelines; at the end of “All Too Well”, Swift plays the character of Sink, an adult and apparently a successful novelist while the character of O’Brien observes her reading through a window in the snow, at the “Stella Dallas”, wearing that infamous scarf. Swift’s short is character-centric, laser-focused on the female character. O’Brien starts the film but the camera quickly cuts to Sink’s reaction. We take it all through her eyes. In the film’s only scene with audible dialogue, O’Brien speaks largely unseen. The camera stays with Sink, hunched over the dishes, staying with her stunned response as her male partner explodes in anger.
It’s a lush and romantic film, despite the emotional denouement that occurs. The Swift aesthetic is that of nostalgia, the pain of childhood. Many of her directed videos have clear narratives, but with highly stylized magical elements, such as the shiny golden rope in “Cardigan” and “Willow,” tie-in videos that show, like “All Too Well,” how she might connect with a story extension.
His narration was born from his background: country music, that emphasizes telling a story and is people-oriented. She has always been a character in her songs, even if the character is a past version or a character of herself (although in later albums that doesn’t seem to be the case).
The film industry
What Swift is doing isn’t an entirely clear path, but it’s been mapped out before. From Spike Jonze to Daniels – the directing duo behind this year’s hit “Everything Everywhere All At Once” – music video makers have taken their experiences to bigger screens and longer stories. ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ director Michel Gondry started by directing music videos for Björk, Radiohead, The White Stripes, Daft Punk and many more. Hiro Murai went on to direct episodes of “Atlanta”. Mark Romanek (“Never Let Me Go”) first made his mark with music videos like “Closer” for Nine Inch Nails.
What sets Swift apart from this group is that the music video directors who went on to find success in film are mostly male.
The musician-to-filmmaker pipeline is also popular, for acting (like David Bowie), writing, directing and composing. Nick Cave and Wayne Coyne are among the musical artists who have contributed to or directed films. Rob Zombie embarked on a second career as a filmmaker, directing such now-classic horror films as ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, ‘The Devil’s Rejects’, the 2007 remake ‘Halloween’ and its sequel, ‘Halloween II”.
“I don’t think I would jump headlong into another heartbreaking story…I just did this, it takes you a long time. »
The list of musical artists who lead their possess videos, if nothing else, include more women, especially in recent years. Madonna and Beyoncé are among the leading musicians, as are FKA Twigs and Grimes, shaping the visuals as well as the songs. MIA and Azealia Banks made their videos. In 2011, Lana Del Rey launched herself worldwide through the aptly titled “Video Games”, a collage of vintage film clips and webcam performances that she herself had directed and edited.
Swift’s movie history
As for what could Swift’s film be about? Details have yet to be released, but audiences shouldn’t necessarily expect a heartbreaking examination of love like “All Too Well” or some of its stated influences like “Marriage Story.” As she told McDonagh, “I don’t think I would go headlong into another heartbreak story…I just did this, it takes a lot out of you.”
Clues to the subject matter and tone of Swift’s feature debut can be found in her past videos, many of which show a surprising side to the singer of often serious and heartbreaking songs: humor.
Inside me!” she describes her cats as her “two daughters.” “Bejeweled” muddles the story of Cinderella and the notion of happily ever after. “Anti-Hero” includes a fight at a funeral and a portrait of Swift as an elderly woman surrounded by felines (she frequently makes fun of her catwoman tendencies.) In a fall 2022 conversation with TIFF, she said of one of her (then hypothetical) feature films ): “I could see it taking place in a more comedic and irreverent place. I don’t always see myself telling stories about extreme, guttural heartache at your most formative age…I think I did that.”
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One thing is certain, regardless of what his movie is about and whether it’s a hit or not (given his fan base, it’s likely going to be popular), Swift is the kind of creative guy who keeps going, keeps moving and to change not only to survive as an artist but to survive in general. As she told McDonagh, “The more I do, the more I do, the happier I am.”
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