90210 Vixen Tiffani Thiessen Goes From Short Skirts to Short Films
By: Scott Huver of Hollywood.com
How exciting is it to get your film Just Pray out there and finally have people see it in the theater?
Thiessen: "The first time was really quite amazing—to have an audience react to it for me and [screenwriter] Dean [Johnson]. To see it come to life on the big screen first of all, and then to have people react to certain scenes and the characters and the writing for Dean—that is the most rewarding aspect of it. We've been at eight festivals and it just doesn't get old at all. It's different being behind the camera. It's a whole different type of reward."
What motivated you to want to get behind the camera and direct?
Thiessen: "Well, the weird thing is Dean had written this on a weird dare I had given him a long time ago, but we had been working separately for a while. He actually went off to write a book, which actually is being re-released this weekend, and in the process of him going back to South Carolina to write his book, I had watched a movie that reminded me of the short film he had written a couple of years back and I called him. 'Do you still have that?" I asked. 'We need to make this movie. We just have to. I have this feeling.' So he came back to Los Angeles and we opened up the production company together, but I actually had another director to do it and I was actually going to be in it, and me and Dean we're going to produce it together. But the director fell out and kind of left us hanging, but weirdly enough, both of us are firm believers that everything happens for a reason. Then Dean said, 'Why aren't you directing this?' I think Dean and I are such close friends—he's my best friend—and I guess he was just like, 'You know better than anyone. You know my words and you should put it to life.' So we brought it to life together. It was a great challenge and I enjoyed it immensely. I was nervous at first because I put his words and his storytelling in such high regard because he is so good at it, but I think we did a good job."
What was the hardest part of directing for you to master, and what did you take to right away?
Thiessen: "Wow. I think the hardest part was trying to get everything you want done in one day, because being the person who's running it, I try and always do everything. I'm definitely a huge multitasker, which also in the aspect of producing it as well. People were like, once the hat came off with that, people said, 'Okay. Now you need to put the hat of directing on and not even worry about producing right now.' That was a little hard to do, and then I really had to just focus on directing. When we really started getting down to shooting, to be able to do everything visually that I wanted to do on such a low budget and time constraints—because we shot this in only six days—that's definitely a challenge. When you're doing a normal feature film you can always go, 'I'll do it the next day. I'll do it on this day.' We didn't really have that. So that was a big challenge, and especially for my first time—I didn't really know the time constraints. Probably the biggest one was Zac [Gardener], the kid who played Cyrus. We only had him for a certain amount of hours because he's a kid, and he's our main character. He is in every scene. So that was a very, very big time restraint for us and very hard to make sure we got everything we needed, being that he was in every scene."
Do you think starting off as a young actress gave you a particularly good rapport with a child actor in the lead role?
Thiessen: "Since I started out very young, I definitely knew where he was coming from, and I knew his attention span was probably a lot shorter than us adults. I had to play with that and work with that, but he really did give a beautiful performance. I mean, his face in general—you can just have the camera on him and he doesn't have to say anything and he's got such a face and an expression that was so amazing. I think the one thing I probably enjoyed the most—and was probably the easiest—was working with the actors, because I am an actress, and a couple of people like Constance [Zimmer] and Brady [Smith]—who's my husband now. I had close relationships with those people and a lot of the crew was so generous about giving their time. A lot of them were people that I had worked with in the past on different shows and movies, and they really believed in the project, Dean's script and in me directing. They were really so supportive of what we were doing that it meant the world to both of us."
Are there any directors whose styles influenced your approach to filmmaking?
Thiessen: "Steven Spielberg is probably one of my favorites. Definitely him. It was a big thing for me that when scenes were very intimate, you always feel the person that you are talking to, you feel them in that close up. That was always really important to me, and I know that was really big in how Steven Spielberg would direct. So I would take a lot from how he did things. But someone I worked with that I definitely learned a lot from, just in the brief moment I worked with him, was Woody Allen. It was really interesting because he's the type of director who doesn't over-rehearse, which I definitely agree a lot with. I think over-rehearsing hinders a lot of performances. I also don't believe in over-shooting something, which he doesn't do. He doesn't over-cover anything, and I believe in that as well. I like things that are simply done and that are about the characters."
Have you any experiences as an actress working with a director where you've thought, "Well, that's not how I would do things."
Thiessen: "[Laughs] Yeah. I think any director who is impatient with their actors, that's a big no-no. I've worked with directors who were like that and, especially when you are working with children, you just can't have that. What's really nice is to see more women becoming producers and directors because I think we do tend to have little bit more patience in our personalities. I think it can probably set a nice tone on a lot of sets, and I hope I can say that about the set that we had. I know people walked away and said they had a really great time and a really wonderful experience, and I hope they were honest about that. I can only hope that I continue that with Dean and do it more often."
Just how ambitious are you? Are you looking to direct a feature film next?
Thiessen: "We actually do have a full length feature that we are packaging together right now and we're actually packaging the TV show as well. The movie I would actually produce with Dean and direct it, I would not be in that. And then the TV show, I would actually be in that. We've been busy! Dean and I are actually writing a series of children's books. The first draft of the first book is finished—we just have to get all of the illustrations done."
And will you be in front of the camera for other projects any time soon?
Thiessen: "As of right now, no. We've been really busy with our production company, which is really great and very exciting, and I am hoping all this is going to happen and that people will be able to see it next year. That's what the goal is."
You're not just a new director—You're a newlywed. How' s it been, balancing the professional and personal lives right now?
Thiessen: "Oh, it's been overwhelming because we've had so much going on and then planning a wedding, which happened about eleven weeks ago. But it was such a perfect day and a perfect weekend. We had such an amazing time with our friends and our family and seriously, not one thing went wrong. We were very blessed to have everything go so beautifully. Every time I think about it, I get giddy."
And will you be hitting any fabulous desert spas while you're at the short film festival in Palm Springs?
Thiessen: "We actually have a place out here in La Quinta. So we're just hanging out here and it's actually quite an easy thing to just stay at my place, which is right in the resort and spa. It's Dean's birthday on Sunday, so maybe we'll head over to the spa then."