I was able to interview Tiffany Paulsen, writer and Executive Producer of Holidate. She has made many great movies and is working on many more! Learn more about her below:
Lisa Niver (LN): Hello! I’m so excited to be here today with Tiffany Paulsen, oh my goodness, your career is just exploding! Congratulations on Holidate!
Tiffany Paulsen (TP) Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here to talk to you.
LN: How does it feel, you’ve had so many successes with the ABC writing fellowship with the Film Academy, but how does it feel of the number one film on Netflix?
TP: Well, It feels flipping amazing! It feels exciting. We all thought we had a little gem there, something really special, but it has really exploded. The reaction has been just overwhelming. We’re all pleasantly surprised, and so thankful that the movie has just done so well.
LN: It’s incredible. I read that it’s number one in 87 countries.
LN: I know you said you were lucky, but I have the feeling that a lot of what’s gone on for you this year has been a lot of preparation. You came to Los Angeles from Seattle to start in acting, and then moved to writing and, and you’ve done a lot of work getting fellowships and being part of this Sony Diverse Directors program. I think you said you were an overnight success but not exactly overnight.
TP: A fifteen year overnight success!
LN: Can you speak to that a little bit for people about having such a big dream to come to California to Los Angeles and make it. Many people feel like —I gave it three months, and it’s not really working out like so you’ve obviously been very tenacious.
TP: I have. I kind of didn’t really have a backup plan and from a really tiny town in Washington State. My plan was always to get out and be an actor and that was kind of it for me. So if it didn’t work out, I would be making coffee at Starbucks, which would be a lovely career as well, but not quite as exciting, perhaps.
But I set out to be an actor and I started in Seattle and then got to LA as soon as I possibly could. I’m a really good example of how the dream can change. I knew I was going to do something in entertainment. I had a lot of small parts in a lot of big movies. I got to dip my toe in the acting world for a while and then I just decided if nobody ever cast me again, I will write my own movies.
I will direct my own movies and started writing. I got so lucky that one of the, I think the first or second thing that I had written ended up winning that ABC fellowship and that really changed my career path.
I started taking this writing thing a little more seriously and that’s the path ever since.
LN: I think that’d be great and I know that you’ve done a lot of work with some of the other people that are trying to grow themselves in the industry, judging competitions and mentoring. Is there anything you would recommend to people that hope someday, that they have a number one film on Netflix. Obviously, persistence, but are there specific things that you recommend that people could do?
TP: I always recommend, I mean I’m sitting here talking to you today because I, at one of the lowest points in my life, I had a wedding canceled and I’ve mean multiple things going on.
I popped a script in the mail with 24 hours left before the Disney ABC writing fellowships deadline. And I ended up winning that fellowship and it changed my life.
Prior to that, I had been a finalist in the Nicholl’s fellowships, which is put on by the Academy Awards. It’s one of the most prestigious writing competitions, and getting in the top 25 or Top 50 as a finalist—I had so many calls. People reaching out to me for meetings and to talk about ideas. That’s what prompted me to pitch the idea and write my second script which won this fellowship.
I’m always an advocate for sending your work out to competitions. There’s so many of them that are really quality competitions. With some of them, they will even give you feedback and notes.
If you are lucky enough to even become a finalist in those or win them. People want to read your work, managers want to sign you. My number one thing I always say is competitions.
I also not a big proponent of putting limits on your career like if I don’t get to this goal in three months or in five years… then I will… if I had put limits on my career, again, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.
I also had early success. And then I had a long where I was working but I was not getting films made. Putting deadlines. It’s just a big dead end that’s working its way towards you. I say, keep it open-ended, be open to what the universe brings you and be open to changing paths if that shows up.
LN: I think that is always good advice but during COVID and coming into the holidays, many people feel anxious and depressed. So that’s very good advice to never give up! Sign up for competitions.
What about —you’ve gone to a lot of different programs like where you studied at the New York Film Academy. What do you think about people making the time to go to school?
TP: Absolutely. Find programs to go to or I do a lot of master classes. I’m a big proponent of master classes. I’ve been watching Ron Howard. He is an icon of mine. He probably wouldn’t have 22 hours to spend with me but I can watch his class. I have taken Master Class with Jodie Foster how she breaks down a scene and class with Martin Scorsese. I love Master Class.
I did a very short program at the New York Film Academy because I needed somebody to kick me in the butt and force me to make my first short film.
Being a single mom, working non-stop, it was really challenging to go to a longer program. For me, the quick evening filmmaking program where they forced you to make something. From getting that done, I had a short that won some competitions. We were officially entered into Palm Springs International and from that then people started taking me seriously as a director.
All of those little baby steps are just building blocks on opening up your career. I’m definitely an advocate of anything you can do to continue educating yourself no matter what level you are in your career.
LN: Well, hopefully soon you’ll be the one teaching the Master Class.
It’s been a big focus lately See-it, be-it from the Cannes Film Festival and the SeeHer project from the Gina Davis foundation how we’ve really focused on how many women are behind the camera and how many women are in the writer’s room. It’s a really great thing to see you, having so much success.
TP: Thank you. Yes, and I have been really blessed to be surrounded by incredible women incredible producers, incredible women executives, so hopefully I will just continue to participate and create opportunities for other women coming up.
LN: Your success is impressive. And I really appreciate that you say that you’re a 15-year overnight success. People forget that there’s a lot of hard work and like you said, it’s kind of a roller coaster— there was a time when you were working but you weren’t getting films made and it sounds like you never gave up.
TP: No. It wasn’t an option.
LN: Is there anything like a specific mantra or book you read on the days when you think this is the day to quit. Is there something that helps keep you motivated?
TP: I like to clean a lot! When I cannot do it anymore, I will find something to clean and organize.
The messaging that I’ve had, and maybe this doesn’t work early on in your career but I would tell myself, you’ve always worked. You’ve always worked as a writer, you will get that job. You will come up with that great idea that’s going to inspire you to want to work when nobody’s paying you to do it and write that original spec.
And that’s kind of the messaging. Push past this fear, put that fear on the backburner as it’s not serving you. As my grandma always said, it’s not time to worry yet. And keep going.
LN: Thank you so much for making the time to talk with me. I hope the rest of this year is very fruitful for you, and I can’t wait to watch your next movie.
TP: Thank you so much for having me and taking the time to chat with me. This was super fun. It was so great to meet you.