Thank you to Thrive Global for publishing my article, “How Did She Do it? Learning about Writer and Executive Producer, Tiffany Paulsen!”
I was able to interview Tiffany Paulsen, writer and Executive Producer of the #1 film on NETFLIX, 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.
TP: It was number one in 87 countries and we were number one for about the first 10 days we came out with Netflix. They are bringing out their new projects, especially around the holiday time. We continue to stay number one and continue to stay in the top 10 so that was really exciting. I don’t know if you can quote that we’re still number one now because we’ve been out for almost 28 days now.
LN: Congratulations. I still know that we have a screenshot of you being number one! What did you do to celebrate?
TP: I had a glass of wine and toasted myself. Sadly, to have such a big success in COVID, it hasn’t been the group celebration that we all would have liked to have enjoy. We do have a group text with Emma and Luke and Kristin and Francis and our amazing cast and John Whitesell, our unbelievably fantastic director. We’re constantly in touch and sharing those screenshots. We have that with our little family and we get to stay in touch but it’s unfortunately through text and zoom.
LN: It is a strange COVID time but even though it’s a time of people feeling so alone and uncertain, obviously your movie struck such a great chord that people are sharing it It’s kind of has a bit of Wedding Crashers feeling and I read an interview where you said it was an anti-Hallmark.
TP: It has the “hallmarks: of the hallmark movies, with the warm fuzzies we look for in those Christmas movies but it has some edges to it and some unexpected moments so it’s definitely not the family and kids holiday movie.
LN: The music with the Easter egg hunt was amazing.
TP: That’s one of my favorites.
LN: I love that and I also loved all the cultural references like when they change dresses and they talk about Carrie. And their dirty dancing moment — it’s this big scene and then they fall. So there’s such good surprises.
TP: It was great that we were able to get the music. I think that was probably 95% of our music budget but that scene only works if you have the actual time of your life. We were so lucky to get that, I think that’s one of my favorite moments in the movie do.
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: It’s really incredible and I think it speaks a lot to being willing to take risks, and what you said about changing your dream. Before COVID, I was a travel journalist and now I’m more of a lifestyle journalist and maybe that’s not such a big shift, but it’s a mental shift. Being on set, now you’re also executive producing
TP: Yes, producing and moving into directing as well. I’m writing and directing a movie for Netflix. It’s not announced yet but all our deals are done! That’s really exciting and the next steps in my career I am really moving into. I’ve been so fortunate to have many movies made and now I would like to be on the other side of the camera for those movies. I am really looking forward to that.
LN: That’s very exciting. I know you can’t announce that one but you have announced some other ones. You’re going to be working with Kenny Ortega.
TP: I’m working with Kenny right now, it is such a dream of mine. I have been such a fan of his work since I was at Disney. I worked a lot at Disney Channel and I’ve always followed his career. He’s such an icon. He’s such a legend. He is the one that choreographed the original Dirty Dancing and that Dirty Dancing move.
It’s an honor and a thrill for me to be working with him. We are doing a big holiday Christmas musical which is based on the best selling children’s books, Auntie Claus. It is a really fun journey into the North Pole. It’s going to be fantasy and great original Christmas music with lots of dancing elves and a North Pole unlike any we’ve ever seen! We have rolled up our sleeves and are deep into that one! It’s going to be really exciting and is for Netflix as well.
LN: That’s incredible that in this time where a lot of people feel like nothing’s happening that you’re really experiencing a lot of things are happening!!
TP: I have been so lucky to be so busy. Yes.
LN: At the end of Holidate, which I again I just loved. There were some snippets of the different relationships. I love that it wasn’t just the two main characters. I loved the doctor and how he would show up at different holidays. He was always working and he was so funny. Do you think there might be hope that we might see some of those characters again?
TP: I am hopeful we will! The movie has been so successful. I’m getting emails and DM’s every day asking about a sequel. I have spoken to this before— I do have some fun ideas of where that story would go. I remain optimistic and hopeful. But, we have an extraordinary cast and everybody is very very busy and Emma is about to have a baby, which is so exciting. So we’ll see, I am cautiously optimistic.
LN: I would love to see that! It would be great if you can travel with them! I know you had mentioned in the past that you were looking for more traveling. After COVID if things start opening up, do you have a favorite destination where you want to go?
TP: For first of all, I am dying to get to Hawaii. I was supposed to go to Kauai in March. It got canceled and so I would be really excited to get to Hawaii.
My not so secret dream would be to shoot a Holidate sequel in Australia and take everybody down under. That would be on my shortlist. And Iceland, can I say that— I’m dying to go to Iceland, if I am checking off bucket lists!
LN: You’re very good at manifesting so you should definitely say where you want to go, because it’ll probably happen!
TP: Great. I’d like to manifest my mountain cabin as well. My writer’s retreat in the mountains. I am working on that one too.
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: Absolutely. Is there one specific film that inspired you to want to be an actress which evolved into I want to be a writer to I want to be a director? Did you always love film or were you more from the book side? Because I know you, you did the Nancy Drew stories too.
TP: We took the Nancy Drew character and we brought her to Los Angeles. That was my first studio movie with Warner Brothers. I was really writing from a young age. I wrote my first play in the third grade. I remember it very specifically. So writing early on and acting early. I don’t remember not having those goals in my life.
I always looked at and aspire to— I’m such a child of john Hughes, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink—those movies really shaped me as a writer.
I aspire to hopefully write something as great as John Hughes and Nora Ephron. When Harry Met Sally to me is the epitome of the perfect romantic comedy and to this day, my all time favorite rom com.
It’s so brilliant, ingenious and simple and sweet and smart. Rob Reiner’s direction and Nora Ephron’s writing to me it’s just the perfect movie.
LN: I also love that movie, but I think you have some great scenes that capture a lot of that those feelings. I loved the movie and I loved how so much happened at the mall. I mean that’s a lot of the United States experience.
TP: I know aren’t we all missing the mall right now?
LN: I thought that was amazing. 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 for sharing that with us and for making all of these amazing films including turkey drop and Holidate. And I can’t wait to see what happens with Kenny Ortega and when you can tell us about the secret next project. I heard there might be something with 27 dresses.
If people want to follow you, where’s the best place to look for you? Are you on Instagram? Are you on Twitter? Where can people find more about you?
TP: I do Instagram and I’m working on being much better on my Instagram since I’ve had so much fun stuff to post from the movie.
LN: Is there one scene from Holidate, that’s your favorite? That you want to remind everybody to watch Holidate on Netflix? Was there one special moment — you probably love the whole movie!!
TP: I really genuinely love the whole movie. Emma is so brilliant in this. Like you said the mall, the finale at the mall, I think is pretty beautiful, and I have to say I really love the car scene when she is having to drive him when there is an emergency. Spoiler alert. I love the way those two interact in that scene I think it is hilarious. And so much fun. And you don’t get a car chase scene in a lot of romantic comedies.
LN: That’s true and that that was a great one. Find Tiffany Paulson on Instagram and watch the number one film on Netflix Holidate!
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.
Have you seen HOLIDATE yet? Watch the trailer: