To help get in the spirit of the holidays, we chatted with Tiffany Paulsen, the screenwriter behind Netflix’s newest seasonal hit, HOLIDATE. Tiffany shares her advice for how she got started as a screenwriter, what it takes to write an unpredictable rom-com, and why now is such an amazing time to be a screenwriter. Here’s some expert screenwriting advice to help kickstart your next holiday script.
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What got you interested in writing a script about the holidays?
Tiffany Paulsen: Honestly, I never set out to write a ‘holiday’ movie per se. But when I came up with the hook of following a relationship over the course of a years’ worth of holidays – I realized by starting and ending at Christmas – it could be both a traditional ‘holiday’ movie – and still work just as well playing all year long!
Why do you think we’ve seen such an explosion of Holiday (and other seasonal) movies on Netflix and other streaming channels?
Well, I think holiday movies have ALWAYS been an audience go-to for warm fuzzy comfort viewing; which is why we tend to watch the same ones over and over again. (ELF anyone?) With the popularity of streamers and people now having the luxury to watch movies at home (and well, no choice now with covid) it’s that same cozy comfort food. Holiday movies are the macaroni and cheese of film. Everyone loves them and they never get old – so we want more more more! They also tend to attract great talent because who doesn’t want to do a holiday movie???
You’re a former ABC/DISNEY Fellowship winner. What role do you think fellowships and screenwriting competitions, in general, have had in your career?
I absolutely credit competitions for my career! The first script I ever wrote was a finalist in the Nicholl’s Fellowships ( put on by the Academy). From that success, I was contacted by producers and managers wanting to read my script. From those meetings, I ended up with a manager and the idea for my second script – which went on to win the Disney fellowship.
That competition relocated me to L.A. for a year, paid my expenses for a year, got me my first agent, and totally changed the trajectory of my career (as my focus had been acting). I always encourage people to enter competitions, as without them I’m not sure I’d be where I am today!
What’s the best part about writing a romantic comedy?
Being a fly on the wall as two people fall in love… and wishing it was happening to me.
How do you write a compelling movie when the audience essentially “knows” how it ends before they watch it? Or do they?
I call this out in HOLIDATE – we know they’re getting together from the poster! But the fun is making the inevitable as messy and complicated and as unexpected as possible – for the characters as well as the audience. I think that’s why you’re finding so many creative ways to tell a rom/com these days. Are plot twists important for you or gimmicky? I think humans are inherently messy and funny – especially in relationships.
If you’re telling a story about authentic characters on an authentic journey, I think the plot twists will make themselves known.
I would use the term ‘conflict’ more than twists. Stories need conflict or every movie would be; girl meets boy; they live happily ever after. You have to have the “girl loses boy” at some point – however, you define that – or you don’t really have a story. So the long answer is – “No! I don’t think conflict is gimmicky – I think it’s necessary!”
What’s your one piece of advice for writers who want to write a holiday feature?
Don’t just think of CHRISTMAS when you think of holidays! As we showed in HOLIDATE – there is an entire calendar year full of celebrations that can set the stage for fresh stories. And more and more, buyers are looking for ‘holiday’ stories that can air year-round – spring, summer, and fall!
What’s the best way for new and emerging writers to get their holiday or rom-com scripts into the right hands?
As I mentioned above – screenwriting contests!! Even placing or getting an honorable mention in a respected competition can open doors. Either with interested producers and managers finding you directly – or – it gives new writers a specific talking point when reaching out to potential reps and buyers.
“Hello, Ms. Smith. Attached below is my award-winning holiday script for your consideration,” might be just the thing that gets someone to stop and read your logline as opposed to hitting delete.
How to write a great holiday film
The market for seasonal movies has exploded over the past five years. Streaming platforms, Hallmark movies, and even big-budget blockbusters are embracing the genre and themes of holiday movies. And studios are looking for great stories to invest in.
For more screenwriting tips and holiday fun, follow Tiffany on Instagram @TheTiffanyPaulsen.
And if you have a great seasonal or four-quadrant script, take the next step in your screenwriting career and enter the ScreenCraft Family Screenwriting Competition. Get your story in front of writers, judges, agents, and managers that know how to spot the next big script. You might like where your career is at next holiday season.