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Rising Star Paulina Lagudi: I’d love to start a “listen, then talk” movement where people start a spontaneous conversation with someone that is alone asking them simply, “how are you?”

Wow, there’s so many things I’d love for all of us to do! Hmm…if it comes down to bringing the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I have to think about what all of us are striving for and that’s to be heard, seen, and respected. I believe most of us, […]


Wow, there’s so many things I’d love for all of us to do! Hmm…if it comes down to bringing the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I have to think about what all of us are striving for and that’s to be heard, seen, and respected. I believe most of us, especially today, are in a major identity and community crisis. We are very alone. I also have a huge soft spot and frustration around the homeless problem in the United States today.

So, with all that being said, I’d love to start a “listen, then talk” movement where people start a spontaneous conversation with someone that is alone asking them simply, “how are you?” Whether you are speaking to a stranger on the bus, a homeless person on the street, or someone in line at your coffee shop, most people will respond with a simple one word answer. Your job is to be radically transparent and honest with your answer about how you are doing providing a non-judgmental and comfortable space for the other person to do the same.

Ray Dalio says it best when he says “happiness is meaningful work with meaningful relationships.” He is so right. We could all use more empathy and community.


As a part of my series about the rising stars in popular culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paulina Lagudi. Paulina is director, producer, and writer best known for her family feature film, Mail Order Monster (SHOWTIME). She currently resides in Los Angeles with her fiancé, Cooper Ulrich (also her cinematographer), and two dogs Jax and Waffles.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My fiancé, Cooper Ulrich, is really to blame. We met on the set of his movie, Billy Boy. He quickly realized I have a lot of ideas and am a little bossy, so he suggested I look into directing and producing.

But in all seriousness, my whole life brought me to this career path. I was a competitive dancer growing up, so I always had a keen sense of storytelling without words. My life’s experiences and the household I grew up in, for better or worse, introduced me to the complexities of human psychology and relationships. I became quite fascinated with this.

Once I opened myself up to the idea of telling visual stories on camera, then it all sort of made sense. This is what I’m meant to do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Hmm, this is a hard one because I feel like I’ve had so many interesting interactions that the interesting and weird almost seem normal now. Most crazy experiences I’ve had happened during the filming of “Mail Order Monster”. The second to last day of the shoot, we were filming the climax of the film in a forest in Kentucky.

All of a sudden in the middle of our shoot day a thunderstorm comes down on us. Lightening, thunder, and buckets of rain. So, of course, we have to shut everything down. I’m sopping wet standing under the tent rewriting the climax of the film while also on the phone with my insurance agent figuring out how force major is defined in my insurance policy. Thankfully, the rain stopped, but we only had 2 hours to shoot. We didn’t power up the generator for safety reasons, so we had no lights. We just picked up the camera and everyone rallied to get the scene in the can. It was pretty crazy.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I can’t say many of the mistakes I’ve made have been funny. They caused quite a bit of pain lol. I will recall a pretty cliche mistake that many first timers make. My first short film was a silly little comedy. It was very cute and wasn’t too bad, but at the time, I had no idea how to leverage a project after it was completed other than submitting to festivals. Also, my ignorance led me to only know of the top 5 film festivals in the world. When we didn’t get into those top 5 (shocker), I dropped the film. I kicked myself a few years later for not submitting that film to so many other festivals that would’ve been great networking opportunities even though they were at a lower tier.

Another novice mistake I made that is a little less light-hearted was not being prepared AT ALL for a meeting I was set up on based on a connection I had. A friend of a friend stuck their neck out to set me up on a meeting with a pretty high profile executive. At the time, I was working three jobs and in a couple productions so I was very sleep deprived. This is no excuse, though, for the level of ill preparation I had for the meeting. I didn’t know who the man was, what he had done, anything. He called me out on it. It was a HUGE bite of humble pie I had to eat in front of him. I’ve never made that mistake again.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’ve been hired to write a family feature film based on a true story for a production company. The company saw “Mail Order Monster”, and I got the job from that film, which I have to say is pretty rewarding in and of itself. I’ve never written a script based on someone else’s life or true-story before so it has been challenging, but very rewarding.

Simultaneously, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with a dear friend of mine who is a co-writer on another feature film we’ve written together and I will be directing. It also tackles the family dynamic, but in a way we haven’t seen done before. I don’t want to dive too much into the details and give major aspects of it away, but what I can say is writing two feature films at the same time REALLY stretches you as a storyteller.

Cooper and I also consistently practice our craft by shooting short projects specifically for Instagram. I love the under 2 minute micro-short film format, so we’ve shot 3 projects in less than a year simply for sharing on our social media pages.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’ve learned more about the complexities and tumultuous nature of the human mind from my family than anyone else. However, there are a few people that I’ve interacted with in life that make me take pause and tilt my head.

One of which is a dear friend and chef Christophe Bonnegrace who I had the pleasure of making a short documentary on titled “CHEF”. Christophe was a paratrooper for the French Foreign Legion SAS before becoming a chef. He’s a man who truly walks to the beat of his own drum while also demonstrating how the sacrifices one makes when pursuing their goals can often result in irreparable damage to their closest relationships.

Another interesting person is my seamstress for my wedding dress, Janick. A 78 year old widow of 40 years from Iran who has more vitality and curiosity for life than most young people I know. She’s a Christian woman who has such a progressive view of religion, race, community and culture that she taught me that a faith in each other is what matters. We are all infinitely exchanging energies as we temporarily occupy this Earth. Be mindful of the energy you give and receive.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Fall in love with the process. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. You have to realize that you are already here. We are lucky beyond belief to live a life that allows us to struggle in this industry. Our lives could be so much more about survival, but we’ve been granted a lucky ticket. Never forget the fragility of life. Never stop having fun. You will get down sometimes. We all do. But remember that the process is it. You’ve already made it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wow, there’s so many things I’d love for all of us to do! Hmm…if it comes down to bringing the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I have to think about what all of us are striving for and that’s to be heard, seen, and respected. I believe most of us, especially today, are in a major identity and community crisis. We are very alone. I also have a huge soft spot and frustration around the homeless problem in the United States today.

So, with all that being said, I’d love to start a “listen, then talk” movement where people start a spontaneous conversation with someone that is alone asking them simply, “how are you?” Whether you are speaking to a stranger on the bus, a homeless person on the street, or someone in line at your coffee shop, most people will respond with a simple one word answer. Your job is to be radically transparent and honest with your answer about how you are doing providing a non-judgmental and comfortable space for the other person to do the same.

Ray Dalio says it best when he says “happiness is meaningful work with meaningful relationships.” He is so right. We could all use more empathy and community.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Art is commerce so practice both. Our industry often has a meme of “art vs. commerce” which creates an unhelpful and limiting group thought around our own entrepreneurial capabilities as artists. I wasted a lot of time, money and opportunities separating my art from commerce. I wish someone would’ve told me practical ways to build my audience and take control over my value and career instead of leaving it up to the “luck” mentality of “when one of your projects does well at a festival then your career will go to the next level.”
  2. Get a side hustle. I spent a long time not having a side hustle because I thought it would take away from focusing on my craft. Not having consistent money come in negatively effected my productivity and confidence. Once I got my finances in check, I was able to take control over my life and, of course, more opportunities happened to appear.
  3. F**k budgets. Be flexible. There are times I turned down projects or projects ended up dying because the budgets weren’t there or big enough. Big mistake. I know, today, I could’ve made it work and those budgetary limitations would’ve allowed me to grow more creatively. Granted, there is an exception here, which is if the project doesn’t excite you creatively AND there’s no money, you’re better off walking away. Those situations I do not regret.
  4. Make friends. Much of the advice we’re given is “network, network, network.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but I find it taints many interactions with an expectation of “how can you help me now?” My dad, who is a great salesman, always says “I don’t make sales, I make friends.” Making friends not only forces you to play the long game, but it builds meaningful relationships that make this journey and process so much more enjoyable.
  5. Please, for the love of God, embrace your failures. Man, the amount of time wasted crying and agonizing over my failures. Failure is inevitable. Embrace it. It really is the only way you grow. In fact, try and fail. This is the time where you have nothing to lose, so stop thinking you do. Go big and fail big. You will grow faster that way than trying to go after major success when you’re just starting out. You’re not there yet. Fail. Please.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a whole album full of these. Pretty much anything Ryan Holiday writes down is a quote I try to live by. The most impactful one is from his book “Ego is the Enemy” that I had tattooed on my wrists: “Say little. Do much.”

I actually recently renamed my production company to “Say Little Productions” because of how grounding this quote is for me. Ego really is the enemy. It has been my enemy always. “Say little. Do much” is the daily reminder I need to keep my head down and keep working.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father. I owe everything to him.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Well, I’ve already mentioned Ryan Holiday and Ray Dalio, so besides them I’d have to say Miki Agrawal or Esther Perel. Miki’s book Disrupt Her has been pretty influential for me. The way she takes life by the balls, shatters glass ceilings, and has fun in the process is inspiring to say the least. She’s an incredible storyteller in all of her entrepreneurial endeavors, which is inspiring as a filmmaker. I always go back to her book or any podcasts she’s been on when I need that “you can do it” pep talk.

Esther is beyond captivating to listen to and her work is so influential. Being a storyteller, understanding relationships and the dynamics between marriages and sexuality is so valuable. I could listen to Esther speak all day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram:

@paulinalagudi @saylittleproductions @mailordermonster

Twitter:

@saylittleprods

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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