Below is an interview I did with Tiffani Thiessen, originally written for Events Quarterly.
Ryan: I understand that you have started a production company, working closely with Dean Johnson. What can you tell us about him and the production company?
Tiffani: Dean and I have worked together for almost ten years. But it was in 2003 that we re-connected professionally and partnered to form Tit 4 Tat Productions — a full scale production company that would allow us to identify, develop, and produce a range of projects across diverse mediums, whether it be a televison series, a film or even a collaborative effort on a children’s book.
At the time we formed the production company, Dean had just released his first book, “Life. Be There at 10 ‘Til.” And with that momentum, we jumped in and decided to not only start the company but produce our first project, the film “Just Pray,” which Dean also wrote and I directed. Interestingly enough, now on the verge of our children’s book series and the release of the film, Dean’s book is being re-released this month.
Ryan: Does your production company work on “Indie” type films or is your aim straight for Hollywood?
Tiffani: Independent films are Hollywood as much as studio or mainstream films. They (independent) very much define the path that Hollywood has taken over the past few years. Look at the OSCAR winners over the past decade.
Independent films, many times, celebrate the true essence of film making. The labor of love behind these projects represents the same pioneering spirit that started Hollywood. Naturally, every director or writer would love to have their project set up at a major studio. Being able to say that you have a project at Paramount or Dreamworks is significant and powerful. But, the ability to tell a story despite limited budgets, zero marketing dollars, scale wages and very little pomp and circumstance can also be equally empowering. Movies such as Monster, Good Will Hunting, and Sideways are all Hollywood . They’re also very much of the independent geneaology.
Ryan: What made you decide you wanted to start a production company?
Tiffani: It’s not uncommon for actors to get involved in the development and production side of the camera.
Look at Drew Barrymore and her Flower Films or Sandra Bullock and Fortis Films. The list goes on. Having spent so many years on sets, working with different levels of material and building so many relationships with people, I felt capable and prepared to create a business entity that would allow me to direct and produce while complimenting my acting career. To remain stagnate and only focus on acting would be short sighted. And since I love the business and it’s all I’ve ever known, it was a natural progression to start such a company.
The pursuit of good material, making beautiful films while growing and evolving as a well-rounded talent can never be the wrong thing to do.
Ryan: I had heard that you were working on children’s books. Is this a side project or something you intend to get more involved with?
Tiffani: It is our plan to develop and write an entire series of children’s books. The series, titled, Fins & Tales, is designed to offer life lessons for the young at heart. Our stories are told through the voices of my pets which include two dogs, two cats, and a fish — hence, the title of the book. I don’t consider it a side project at all. It is a significant collaboration between Dean and me. Writing for children is a responsibility.
There is great care taken to fashion words, messages, and instructional values so that there is learning in addition to entertaining.
Ryan: Do you write for your films as well?
Tiffani: At this time in my career, I have not added screenwriter to my professional resume. Working on the children’s book with Dean is my first writing initiative. While I enjoy reading a really good script, directing has held a far greater interest for me than writing a screenplay. With my first directing project under my belt (The film, “Just Pray”), I am eager to direct again. The process of transferring words on paper to live action cinema is a wonderful opportunity to contribute and share my storytelling abilities.
Ryan: So, now you are a director and producer; have you made a transition away from acting, a sort of career evolution, or will you continue to act?
Tiffani: I think my entire career has been a deliberate process of reinvention the past two years — especially with the incorporation of Tit 4 Tat Productions. The entertainment profession, most notably acting, is not so generous to women as they grow older. The roles are fewer and consequently, competition increases over the dwindling number of roles. It would only be in my best interest to diversify just like any company or organization who desires several profitable lines of business. Pursuing other interests doesn’t mean I’m transitioning away from acting. Acting is my first love. But to better craft my own path and create opportunities for myself, I want to use what I’ve learned over the past twenty plus years in this business — it’s a very valuable education I’ve received, and it’s only appropriate that I put this education to use.
Ryan: There were two shows that I remember you most for, “Saved by the Bell” and ” Beverly Hills 90210.” Were these shows like families to you or just jobs?
Tiffani: Both shows ran for a number of years. Each respective cast spent a great deal of time together and shared so many memories. For that period of time you spend together, there is definitely a familial sense of belonging.
Ryan: Do you still speak with any of the cast of the old shows, maintain friendships?
Tiffani: Yes I do.
And the best surprises are when I run into someone who I haven’t seen or spoken to in so long. I was thrilled to have Jason Priestley, Tori Spelling and Lindsay Price at my wedding as I stay in touch with them rather closely.
Ryan: I understand you have a film, entitled “Just Pray,” that is finished production. Are there any exclusives you can give us about this film?
Tiffani: The film is currently exhibiting on the 2005 film festival circuit. We are very proud of its success and the audience response. The film was accepted into the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival. Most recently we were accepted into the Academy qualifying festivals, Rhode Island International (the film won Best Score), Palm Springs, and Los Angeles International Short Film Festival.
These films are recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as qualifying festivals for the Oscar nomination consideration, should you win the Jury Award of “Best Short.” The film itself is a coming of age story about a young boy in the rural South who is asking some pretty tough questions of God. He wants answers to these very grown up questions. You can log on to www.justpraythemovie.com and you’ll see pictures of the cast, the sets and the behind the scenes action. There’s also a press link that gives you an idea of the film’s activity this past year.