Early in the three-hour set that comprised the April 15 stop of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour in Tampa, Florida — the final show in a three-night stand that saw more than 200,000 ticket buyers at Raymond James stadium — the “All Too Well” director spoke to the massive assembly as if they were intimate friends.
“These songs maybe started out being about something that happened to me or my life,” she said. “Maybe it’s something I wrote about a fictional character I created one day when I was bored. But my dream is that when they go into your world, they become about your life.”
It’s a smart hook for the world’s best self-mythologizer — and it’s also a powerful sales pitch for her next aspiration of being a feature filmmaker. Ignore the record sales, the ticket sales, the paramours who can inspire her work — more than anything, Swift loves being in control and is a human master class in storytelling. If David Fincher can do it, why not her?
Late last year, Searchlight announced that Swift would make her (unnamed, undated) feature-directing debut for the Disney division, based on her original screenplay. “Taylor is a once in a generation artist and storyteller,” said Searchlight presidents David Greenbaum and Matthew Greenfield. “It is a genuine joy and privilege to collaborate with her as she embarks on this exciting and new creative journey.”
Swift has already been the subject of a feature with the 2020 Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” directed by Lana Wilson. “I think the biggest misconception is that there’s a giant machine behind her, or like a big factory or massive team of people,” Wilson told IndieWire at the 2020 Sundance Studio. “What I was so struck by is that she’s the sole creative force behind everything in a way that I found incredibly inspiring.”
Already she wields creative control over her tours; in 2021, she wrote and directed the 15-minute short film “All Too Well” — shot on 35mm, no less. She also directed or co-directed about 10 of her music videos; her first solo credit went to the 2020 music video for “The Man,” which featured Swift as a (convincing!) bearded, cigar-smoking businessman manspreading on the subway and a wedding scene between a very young woman and a decrepit grandpa. (She already received her first award as a director; the MTV VMAs awarded Swift as Best Director for both “The Man” and “All Too Well.”)
That music video was all she needed to confirm that filmmaking offered something beyond what she’d experienced across her 17-year music career. As she told Martin McDonaugh last year during a segment of Variety’s “Directors on Directors,” when “All Too Well” was gunning for a shot as a Best Short Film nominee, “I just thought, ‘This is actually more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined.’”
Neither Swift nor Searchlight has given any indication as to when that unnamed feature debut might happen. In the meantime, the Eras tour (which runs through August in the U.S., international dates likely to follow) has leveled up Swift’s cinema. It’s a 44-song, 10-act storytelling extravaganza that translates 17 years of lyrical confessions into a highly choreographed production that is both bombastic and expertly paced.
There’s plenty of melancholic guitar and piano playing, but there are also scenescapes that bring literal, vivid intensity to the tales she constructed. “The Last Great American Dynasty,” a song from Swift’s 2020 release “folklore,” is based on the woman who owned Swift’s Rhode Island beach house decades ago. It’s an evocative song already, but on stage it’s a full-fledged musical with a performing ensemble, elaborate costumes, screen projections of a giant train, and ballroom dancing, all creating suspenseful emotional heft. (Frankly, many fans already hope she turns this story into a movie. If so, this performance is a terrific trial run.)
Swift also brings big-screen appeal when she lays out a lonely dinner scene at a long wooden table while performing “Tolerate It,” a dysfunctional marriage tableau that wouldn’t be out of place in a Noah Baumbach film.
We don’t know if Swift would also star in her directing debut; over the years she’s taken film and TV roles ranging from “Amsterdam” and “Cats” to “New Girl” and “Valentine’s Day.” However, it would be intriguing to see Swift direct if she wasn’t also in front of the cameras. There’s something Swiftian in everything she creates, even when she is not explicitly discussing herself. Her works reflect emotional honesty, specificity, and a desire to be seen. Obviously people care deeply about seeing her, but she knows how to channel that energy into creating a compelling story.
“I’m going to infuse my emotions into these characters, let’s be honest,” she cracked with a laugh on stage Saturday night.
Spoken like a true director.