Margot Hayes and Griffin Reed may well be the perfect couple. The only trouble is they’ve never met and they’re both about to tie the knot with someone else. But all that is about to change when fate places them in each other’s lives and opens their eyes to true love.
Tiffany Paulsen, the screenwriter behind About Fate, knows a thing or two about writing seemingly outlandish romantic comedies. Her latest creative endeavor is an adaptation of a beloved 70s Russian holiday film The Irony of Fate. Tiffany shares with Script how the project was brought to her, the task of reenvisioning the concept and conceit, her filmmaking journey and what's next for her. Plus, she shares invaluable insight on how her acting career has helped the business side of screenwriting.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: How did the play initially come across your desk to adapt?
Tiffany Paulsen: Well, actually, the producer and director Marius Vaysberg came to me. He had a four-hour Russian musical from the 70s, it's the craziest thing you've ever seen or tried to sit through. I'm told it's like considered Russia's It's a Wonderful Life. It's a much beloved New Year's movie. He had been trying to get the rights to forever and that movie was based on the play. Most of the movie plays in one room and I still don't know how they squeezed four hours out of it. [laughs] So needless to say, there was a lot of reenvision when it got to me. [laughs]
Sadie: Was the play or movie translated for you?
Tiffany: There were subtitles. The core idea was two people with the wrong people. The guy goes out with his buddies, he gets wasted in the 1970s and he actually gets on a plane. And he gets into the wrong town and stumbles into a cab [laughs] and just happens to have the same address. So that's how the conceit happened. We knew that we wanted to keep the conceit and from then it was up for grabs; so how I got to the conceit and got out of it and where they went was completely up to me - completely fresh.
Sadie: Oh wow. Now it makes sense for that drinking scene that he has with his buddies drinking vodka or something there of - that makes total sense now. [laughs]
Tiffany: [laughs] And at noon! That's the one scene in the movie, like why is it broad daylight? Could we have gotten a little bit of a sunset there? But yes, definitely. [laughs]
Sadie: I'm curious about parallel character development between these two characters and that process for you tackling that story wise?
Tiffany: It's always my favorite thing to do. I know where I'm building to…take the audience on a fresh ride. I love the idea of people starting on a path that they know instinctually is the wrong path. And meeting the wrong person that you're on this train with and how do you get off of it and you're hoping for someone to come on and stop the train. [laughs] I just looked it as, I have these two characters, where are each of them heading when you meet them and how do I derail their train or put them on the same train, so to speak?
And I'm always excited about opposites. Whether the character like Thomas - I think his character is not the guy that generally you're going to expect is going to swoop in and take someone off their feet. I had a lot of fun with the guy that you feel like, he's totally committed to the wrong girl and you can see that his life is not going to be his own decision-making anymore.
Sadie: Totally. I couldn't see anyone else in these two roles. Once they came on board, did you have any additional opportunities to work with them and hone those characters voices?
Tiffany: This is my third movie with Emma. So, I think one of the reasons they came to me is that they were hopeful that that would be exciting to Emma. They really wanted Emma for the part. I feel like she is my muse and that her my voice is inherently hers and in so many of these roles and hers is mine, so that was kind of the perfect pairing. And when I know that I'm envisioning her in a role, it's much easier for me to write.
And Thomas was somebody that actually Emma had done a movie with when they were much younger actors. And honestly, I think we were all like, 'Is that going to work? Are they going to have chemistry together?' And the first time when I saw a daily of them kissing, I was like, ‘Oh my God. These are the perfect people together. They have such great chemistry.’ So, the script was pretty much done when Thomas came on. I was in Boston when we were shooting and so there were definitely some tweaks here and there once we had the cast in place as there always is, but not so much in the initial state of writing.
Sadie: It just seems so natural for the two of them in these roles.
Tiffany: Right? It's always a little bit of fate, how that happens. You have your heart set on somebody and you think, 'Oh my gosh, if we don't get this actor, it's not going to work.' And then it just seems inevitably whoever you get kind of ends up working - when you get lucky. And I can't see anybody else doing that either.
Sadie: What inspired you to get into this business?
Tiffany: Well, small town girl [from] Washington State. Acting was always my first goal. And I like to say I had a had a lot of small parts in big movies and you get a taste of that and then you go, ‘Well, if nobody's ever gonna give me my big break, I'm gonna write it myself.’ And so, that was kind of always the initial idea when I started writing was that I would write things for myself and I had a little detour out of LA into Chicago, for the wrong boy. [laughs] And I started writing. And I ended up being a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship with the first thing out and I thought maybe I should take this writing thing a little more seriously. And in my second script, I was fortunate enough to win the ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship.
And then, obviously, the boy was terrible. And it gave me a good excuse to get back to LA and I thought, seems like writing is really kind of calling to me and I wanted to really be taken seriously as a writer and so I just kind of poured all my heart and soul into that and then just was fortunate enough, out of that fellowship, to start working.
The first time, at least for me, the first time you sit in the screening room and watch your movie that somebody else directed, I know it doesn't happen to every writer, but to me, I watched someone else direct my vision and I was like, 'Oh God, I get why writers become directors, because I have to have some control here.' [laughs] So that has been my goal for the last couple of years. Really moving toward directing and I'm looking forward to directing my first feature, hopefully, there's a good chance that may happen before the end of this year, we've gotten really close on some things. I've sold the movie to Netflix to write and direct and there's so many changes there that didn't quite happen. I'm attached to three or four things now to direct and that will be the next road that I'm traveling down in the entertainment industry.
Sadie: Oh, that's so awesome. Crossing fingers for you. I’m curious, your short film, The Swan, was that intentionally made as a vehicle to show people, ‘Look, I am a director. I know what I'm doing. Hire me.’
Tiffany: 100% - if could give any advice to writers that want to direct, direct a short film that you have written; make it bite-size, small, doable, something that you can do really well, really affordably without biting off more than you can chew. A couple of simple locations but really, really good writing. I ended up winning a directing fellowship from that little eight-minute short. It has really paid for itself over and over and over again. I have to shoot another project and I'm just fortunate that I'm working so much there hasn't been time. But getting that one really strong project under your belt - it's invaluable. If that is the career goal, directing your own work or directing others work is something that writers aspire to, definitely make your little short - it can pay dividends.
Sadie: This perfectly segues into my next question about your acting background. How much do you tap into being an actor when you're writing and developing characters and their voices?
Tiffany: I think it's definitely helped me. I would actually say it's helped me more on the business side of screenwriting than it has on the page so much. So many writers - no disrespect to writers, I love them - but a lot of writers are generally introverts and I probably am even if I'm being honest with myself, like I prefer to be in the office writing on my computer and have my cat and my cup of tea, but coming from an acting background and being comfortable in rooms and now obviously it's not rooms anymore it's Zoom, but being able to pitch your project and be comfortable improvising when people are asking you questions, you are having to be a salesman in this industry when you're trying to sell a project, sell a pitch, sell an actor on why they want to be in your movie. That skill, acting, I think has really paid off for me being comfortable in rooms and being comfortable in those kind of social slash business settings. Being able to think quickly on your feet, which acting gives you those skills when you're on a set and things are thrown at you. It has served me more on that side of things as opposed to on the page.
Sadie: Writers typically don't inherently think about the business side of things as much as their craft but I think that's so valuable. Just taking an improv class just to shake of some cobwebs before you pitch.
Tiffany: I say that all the time! I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have an 11-year-old, he did an improv class this summer that he didn't want to do and he ended up loving it just because it gives you that comfort level. It gives you just a little bit of that skill, because things are thrown at you all the time. Like, ‘Well, how are you going to do that? Where do you see that character going?’ Like, ‘Oh crap, I didn't think about that, but I'll come up with something right now.’ [laughs] Yeah, I always recommend acting classes and like what you just said, improv classes are invaluable.
Sadie: And now because you are going to direct your feature, I'm putting it out there, being an actor and being able to communicate with your actors and the ability to express your vision, both as a writer and a director, I'm sure it's going to be really valuable for you too.
Tiffany: Absolutely, I always feel like know what your superpowers are, and know what they aren't. And being comfortable talking to actors, getting my idea across to actors, I think, it's definitely a strong suit of mine. I can't tell you what lens goes on what camera anyday of the week, but I know the guy that knows that. That's what I tend to be really good at is knowing what I know and knowing what I don't know, which is equally as valuable.
Sadie: What type of stories or themes are you looking forward to exploring in your upcoming projects?
Tiffany: I cannot help it - I am the romantic comedy girl. I'm always about the happy ending. I want to keep exploring fresh ways to tell a romantic story. To tell a hopeful story. I just want the boy and the girl to kiss in the end - that makes me happy. It makes me feel optimistic and hopeful. It's not that I want to keep telling the same story over and over again, but I do think Netflix was spot on and I love them for it when they really reinvigorated the romantic comedy that people want those kinds of happy, warm, fuzzy chicken soup movies, with some edge. It's not necessarily Hallmark, which I love a good Hallmark movie, who doesn't? I'm just going to continue to look for fresh ways to tell the kind of stories that make me happy, that inspire me, that all of my girlfriends and boyfriends that are looking for those kinds of stories. That's kind of my jam.
About Fate is available on September 9th in select Theaters and Digital everywhere.