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Taylor Swift, in the race for an Oscar, brings 'All Too Well' to TIFF

Toronto, Ont. - September 09: Taylor Swift greets fans before her conversation at Toronto International Film Festival 2022 outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)
Taylor Swift greets fans before her conversation at Toronto International Film Festival 2022 outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

Amid all the glitzy premieres and highly anticipated art-house fare of the Toronto International Film Festival, it took an appearance by potential Oscar aspirant Taylor Swift to generate a rock-concert atmosphere.

Fans lined up on the street for hours, hoping for a glimpse of their heroine, who is here at TIFF for a 35mm showing of and conversation about "All Too Well: The Short Film."

When she finally took the stage at the TIFF Lightbox, she did not disappoint — glamorous as all get-out in a glittering gold dress and accessorized by the short film's star, Sadie Sink (getting a break from running up that hill on "Stranger Things," one supposes).

"Hi, I'm Taylor" she said, getting an appreciative roar out of a house of jaded film journalists and regular festival-goers mixed with enthusiastic — and vocal — "Swifties."

"It's really meaningful to get to present the short film on 35mm because that's how it was originally shot and we did this print specifically for TIFF."

The mini-movie generated quite the pop-culture splash when it dropped in November of last year (due to a different calendar for short films that more closely aligns to the festivals needed to qualify for Oscars, the movie is eligible for the 2023 awards). Google searches related to "Taylor Swift scarf" skyrocketed. Dionne Warwick insisted the ex-beau in the song — let's be honest, it's Jake Gyllenhaal — return the scarf immortalized in the lyrics to her: "Box it up and I will pay the cost of postage, Jake," she said in a tweet. Even BTS weighed in, saying at the AMAs that she probably doesn't need it back because she might have "a million" scarves.

And the song, which despite not having been released as a single in its original, 5:28 version on her album "Red," streamed in its full 10-minute glory from her re-recorded "Red (Taylor's Version)" and went gold.

After the screening, Swift and moderator Cameron Bailey (the festival's CEO), got into details such as the meanings of the title cards in the short (they're the titles of chapters in the book the protagonist turns out to be writing, said Swift) and the movie's colors.

"It's just a different experience" seeing it in 35mm as opposed to digital projection or watching it online, she said. "I'm just very grateful to share that with you guys."

Bailey asked her how much of her songwriting process was visual, considering the many music videos she has made and the handful she had directed before this short.

"It was always visual because whenever I'd write a song, I'd immediately start thinking, 'How do I want to represent this on stage or in a music video?'" She said she'd think in terms of color schemes for her albums. "From a very early point in my career, I wanted to establish each album as its own era, of sorts."

When asked about films and filmmakers that inspired her, the list was long. Among those she cited were Chloe Zhao, Greta Gerwig, Nora Ephron and pal Lena Dunham (she and Bailey then got a plug in for "Catherine Called Birdy," Dunham's new film at the festival). She said after watching Guillermo Del Toro's "Devil's Backbone" and "Pan's Labyrinth," "My whole world turned into folk tales and forests and mythical creatures. 'Shape of Water' is one of my favorite films ever."

To capture the disintegrating relationship and heartbreak of "All Too Well," she drew inspiration from John Cassavetes and Noah Baumbach, especially the latter's "Marriage Story" to capture the realism of the couple's strife: "I think you can tell a lot about people from the way they fight."

She praised lead actor Dylan O'Brien's performance as "Charismatic-problematic." Bailey said, "Charismatic-problematic — definition of a boyfriend, maybe?"

She shot back, "Ex-boyfriend," to cheers.

She went on to call O'Brien not problematic in person, but "dangerously charming — that's a power he has."

Swift said she recruited her actors with "a novel" of a text to O'Brien and heartfelt texts and calls to Sink: "I wasn't trying to be cool at all," she said, to laughter.

Bailey asked a question sent in by a fan on Twitter about "the lighting — what was the significance in the difference between warm and cold?" Swift detailed the cool blues she wanted for the boyfriend's home and their contrast with the warm tones for the couple together when falling in love — and how the cool returns to the protagonist during the breakup.

"I had a few overarching goals with the lighting and the coloring. I really wanted this short film to feel like autumn. Not the entire time you're watching it, but in your memory."

Contemplating a question about other film genres she'd like to explore, she said, "I could see it going in a more comedic, irreverent place. I don't always see myself telling stories about extreme, guttural heartbreak at your most formative age that really ... debilitates you emotionally for years and then you have to develop the scar tissue to move on with your life," the crowd laughing with each very specific detail added. "... I think I've done that."

When Bailey broached the topic of The Scarf, she said, coyly, "What can I tell you about it?"

A fan shouted out, "Did you get it back?"

Through gritted teeth in mock admonishment, Swift hissed, "You stop it. You stop it."

And the TIFF crowd went wild.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.