The Woman Behind The Accomplishments

By Beryl Hall Bray of WOW! Women On Writing

We decided on 'Author's Staircase' as this issue's theme, and knew we would be spotlighting a set of steps like no other. There is no inheriting this staircase and no one could casually walk up them either; it would take deliberate action and courage to tread up these steps.

When we interviewed Tiffani, our expectations were met and more. We found a woman that made us feel like close friends — she opened her heart and shared what went into making her successful. You'll find that everything wasn't always easy. She's talented, a very hard worker, has a great ability to focus, and feeds her spirit by engaging in helping others. This certainly qualifies her to become an author. Which, of course, is how we found her gracefully setting foot on the Author's Staircase.

WOW: Tiffani, when did being in the entertainment industry become your conscious choice?

TIFFANI: I'm not so sure that it was ever a conscious choice to be in the business as I was just eight years old when I first started modeling. Everything just happened and I was extremely fortunate to have been in the position I was and to have had the opportunities I had (and still have). To remain in the business has been a conscious choice. Being a part of the entertainment business is all I've ever known. I wanted to contribute to a craft that I really love. However, in the past couple of years, my conscious choices have been to expand my opportunities and self-create my options beyond acting. Directing, producing and now writing children's books give you an idea of what I want to do within this business. I've learned so much over the years. I would be remiss if I didn't apply this knowledge to redefine and reinvent myself.

WOW: Every avenue of work you've chosen requires a constant accessing of your emotions, has this contributed to your personal growth, and how so?

TIFFANI: Working in this business, not just as an actor, does require a constant accessing of one's emotions! This can be a rewarding business, a frustrating business, a benevolent business and a brutal business. I have to be aware of the environment, be able to respond, be proactive and be prepared. I absolutely am in a perpetual state of accessing my emotions and keeping them in check!

WOW: All of your conscientiousness, coupled with hard work, has paid off. You've had many successful, satisfying avenues of expression in your life (model, actor, producer and director), what drew you to authoring Fins and Tales, a series of children's picture books?

TIFFANI: First, I've always been a fan of wonderful animated features and stories. You would always see me in line at the theatres the minute any Disney or Pixar movie came out. "Finding Nemo" happens to be one of my favorite films. Secondly, I admire the art of storytelling and I love the fun and magic that illustrated images lend to words on the page. Consequently, the basis for my interest in children's books comes rather easily.

What started as a comic strip for my website where my producing partner was telling my life through the characters and voices of my pets soon became the basis for the children's' book. The vignettes we were attempting to create in six small cartoon blocks didn't allow us to say all that we wanted to say. The life lessons I wanted to share had to be told through stories. So, we graduated to the next level and left the cartoons behind, while developing life lessons and stories that my pets would share with the young at heart.

WOW: How does writing differ from your other work?

TIFFANI: Writing the Fins & Tales series has required that I look very closely at the concept, characters and storylines we're creating and how these must interrelate, be consistent, be realistic, inspire and entertain. I'm constantly considering each and every word for its significance on so many levels. Even the most simple and unassuming of word choices or character lines impact every level of the book series concept.

As an actress, I try and embrace and accept the storylines and dialogue I'm given from writers. As a writer, I now try and honor the characters in the story by weaving a tale that is justifiable and lends itself to building a long running popular children's book series, as well as the foundation for a possible animated television series spin off. So, from a writing standpoint, I really look at the possibilities that words can offer on an immediate and long-term basis.

WOW: What do you want children to gain from your Fins and Tales?

TIFFANI: I want these books to offer children a better chance to understand and know the people and the world around them. In this day and time, children are exposed to so many fast paced things, ideas, notions and circumstances. I want to share messages with children that will help them be able to find clarity and vision within this changing, fast paced world. Simple stories of kindness, love and life can provide tools for learning to value themselves, others and humanity.

WOW: It takes a lot of courage to step out of one successful field into an unknown one. That requires confidence. When did you realize you could be successful--if you set your mind to it?

TIFFANI: "Success" is a relative term. There are so many standards by which success is measured. I prefer to relegate success in a more practical manner by seeing my life in a series of accomplishments.

My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me as a child and encouraged me to pursue the things in life that would make me happy. They taught me that hard work would be necessary to obtain these things. As a result, I've taken risks, made leaps of faith and followed my heart by pursuing both life and career interests that inspired and excited me.

But, my pursuit has always been driven and fueled by a high-level work ethic and commitment to my many dreams. I've accomplished many things in my life because of this approach. There are still more things, interests, projects and creative outlets I want to explore. Hard work and a lot of heart will continue to be the cornerstones of my life's accomplishments - whatever they may be.

WOW: But, we know as vital as hard work is, it takes more. Do you set goals? How do you approach those goals?

TIFFANI, hand in air, ready to enumerate: I'm more accustomed to keeping my goals, both long term and short term, in my head rather than formally writing them down.

But one thing's for sure, I have tons of "to-do" lists everyday! Regardless of whether I'm undertaking daily errands and tasks or considering major career options and choices, there are a few things I've learned to accept, when attempting to do anything:

  1. 1) No one or nothing is perfect; hence, expectations should be realistic. Otherwise, disappointment is bound to ensue.
  2. 2) Have patience...there are so many factors that you can't control yet these uncontrollable factors will impact the goal process by adding to the time line of accomplishment.be prepared for delays. Rome wasn't built in a day!
  3. 3) Understand and know clearly the roles, the responsibilities and the value that people in your life (both personally and professionally) hold with regard to the works in process that you've set. Most things are accomplished through and with other people. It helps to really know how they may possibly impact the process.
  4. 4) Always be clear in your plans, your communication and conversations. Leave room for guessing out of the equation.

WOW: Excellent advice. As you pointed out, the unexpected can occur, not always positive. Many people quit when the going gets tough; what makes you continue until you reach your objectives?

TIFFANI: I usually don't undertake a goal, project or responsibility that I can envision not happening. So even if there are times when the light at the end of the tunnel seems dim or there just doesn't seem to be any progress, I find another way to approach the situation. Quitting just never seems to be an option. I would be disappointed in myself to walk away from something rather than trying alternate courses of action. I was told as a young girl, "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits!"

WOW: You've proven a truism accepted releases great power. It's obvious this isn't blind faith on your part. Along with all the thought you put in prior to making a decision, we're wondering if you purposely determine your strengths and recognize your weaknesses before beginning on a new venture? Or, do you factor them in as you go?

TIFFANI: I know what I'm capable of doing and I know my strengths and weaknesses. They determine the projects I take on as an actress, producer, director, writer, wife, daughter, etc. I know when to jump in feet first and I know when to tread water lightly. Even when last minute unexpected situations arise, I base my actions on what my capabilities are.

WOW: And that requires knowing yourself. Which brings up the question, how has being true to your heart and working with — various charitable organizations — benefited you, despite the time and energy involved?

TIFFANI: I've been blessed with my career and the opportunities I've been given. I'm in a position to help on levels that I may not have been otherwise. I feel strongly that if you're in a position to help, you must. There are so many unfortunate situations and people in need of assistance and care on so many levels. There are many ways to contribute, participate and help support efforts by organizations. To not lend a level of assistance would be unthinkable considering how fortunate I consider myself. At the end of the day, it's about giving of yourself and sharing what you have.

WOW: Adhering to that standard, has undoubtedly helped you maintain a balance in your life. And speaking of balance, what are your thoughts about this: Both are important, but which do you feel is most important to achieve success: is it who you know or what you're willing to do?

TIFFANI: In an ideal situation, these elements compliment each other and function together on a supply and demand basis. In reality, knowing or not knowing someone can have powerful influence over the desired outcomes you're seeking.

And for many people, knowing or not knowing someone will determine how much effort they're willing to make. For me, knowing or not knowing someone never dilutes the energy and effort I'm willing to give.

At the end of the day, I know that I'm completely responsible for what comes from me; and it's going to ultimately be what I'm willing to do that determines what I hope to accomplish. In the entertainment business, knowing someone isn't always a "sure" thing.

WOW: That said, we're curious, what's your favorite motto or quote? Do you have a motto you would suggest for women with unattained dreams?

TIFFANI: I read once where Elizabeth Taylor said, "Never buy into your own press." I had always admired her. Not only did I find her beautiful, I loved her work and admired the roles she played. When I read this comment, I found her to be even more impressive. People tend to rest on their laurels. They so often get caught up in their own egos and lose sight of their vision.

To lose touch with your authentic self will eventually derail from accomplishing what you truly want and who you truly are. As for women who feel their dreams are unattainable, I like the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: " The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

WOW: Both of those are great, and apply in and outside of the entertainment industry. Speaking of outside the industry, you have a great interest in Camp Rainbow Gold. What can you tell us about it?

TIFFANI, her eyes lighting up: Camp Rainbow Gold is a free weeklong summer camp near Ketchum, Idaho for children with all types cancer from ages 6-16. They come to us either under going treatment or in remission. We work side by side with the American Cancer Society. And Camp Rainbow Gold has been providing a camping experience to about 80 kids every August for last 23 years.

I was introduced to this place I call "The most beautiful place on Earth" by two very dear friends of mine. They have been coming to this camp for 7 years and are now helping run it. And ever since they brought me, it has changed my life. It's something I look forward to every year. And when I am there, I never want to leave.

WOW: It's obvious because you also work with Make-A-Wish Foundation. Please share how you feel about being on the Advisory Board.

TIFFANI, smiling from the heart: Make A Wish came into my life for the very first time when I was 18 years old. And since then, it has given me gifts that are hard to explain. Like Camp, to be able to give a family and 'wish child' memories that they will cherish for a lifetime is so fulfilling. It fills my heart up with so much joy knowing that they will have something to hold on to. That they can escape for a moment from all the pain and hardship and enjoy being a family and laugh and have some fun. that's what life is about. That's what Make A Wish does. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me to be involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. An absolute honor and privilege to serve on the National Advisory Council.

WOW: And complementing these endeavors, you have a bracelet that you love to show off and talk about, tell us about it?

TIFFANI, with her arm extending: The bracelet is a signature piece of jewelry from the Until There's a Cure Foundation. I was so thrilled they asked me to be a part of the campaign and wear the bracelet for them. The organization is committed to AIDS research, education and funding. It's a wonderful organization. And I am so proud to be a part of it. My website (www.tiffanithiessen.com) has more information about Until There's A Cure.

WOW: You have many fulfilling things filling your life and yet you have chosen to expand once again. This time it is forming a Production Company. You must be very proud of tit 4 tat Productions. It has to be amazing to see your dream become a reality. Your first short film Just Pray, has won several awards. What drew you to this script? And what did it feel like to win your first award?

TIFFANI: I am very proud of Tit 4 Tat because it marks a significant milestone in my career and my joint venture with my partner Dean. It's the physical start to my career re-invention. As an actress, I know that women have fewer and fewer roles to choose from, as they get older. Through this production company, I am making the conscious effort to craft my own path and shape my own future by exploring new career options as a producer and director. This production will be the vehicle for me to expand what roles and career options I can consider.

The film I directed, Just Pray, was the first project completed by Tit 4 Tat. Directing the movie was an absolute joy for me. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Winning an award was never the goal nor was it ever expected. However, such acknowledgement did reassure my instincts on some level. Dean and I both were honored to know that the project was viewed favorably from both a creative side and technical side. The award was icing on the cake!

WOW: Good analogy, Tiffani. Now, moving on from your great start, what do you envision your production company being able to accomplish over the years?

TIFFANI: The company's vision is to produce and exhibit a veritable mix of entertainment products that are commercially appealing, yet artistically distinct in creation and format. I'm drawn to the art of storytelling. And I love complex characters. Rich colorful characters are often the stories themselves.

Whether through children's books, film or television the portfolio of projects that will be created and developed will be driven by stories, messages and people that simply help us to see better and to be entertained.

Michael Barker, one of the Co-Presidents at Sony Pictures Classic was quoted as saying, "Every couple of years, there is a different part of the world that's in the forefront of quality film making." I liked reading his comment. I want Tit 4 Tat Productions to explore and identify these evolving worlds and hopefully bring them to the marketplace through our projects.

WOW: Well, you can't keep putting out and not stopping to refill your basket, as it were. What sort of activities energize, rejuvenate your soul?

TIFFANI: I love to garden and plant. I get that love from my Dad. I enjoy being outside and having my hands in the earth/soil. You can't get any closer to the earth and its energy than by digging! I'm very simple in terms of what brings me peace and contentment.

I love spending time at home with my husband and pets. We love to run together with our dogs as well as hike in our local mountains. Time together is so precious so I enjoy the moments when it's just us enjoying each other.

WOW: It's obvious that marriage is very important to you. What mindset did you bring into your marriage?

TIFFANI, looking even more radiant: Marriage is a beautiful sacred union between two people. I am one of the lucky ones to have found that with someone - and knew it the moment I meant him. My parents have been married 43 years now, as well as my Grandparents who were married 67years. I am so proud of that.

I come from a family that took pride in the fact that marriage takes work, time and effort. And my husband and I feel the same. Marriage is about communication and always remembering that we are each other's first priority.

WOW: Tiffani, you made this such a great interview. We thank you very much. But, before you go, we have a fun question for you. Since this issue's theme is Authors' Staircase, what would your fantasy staircase look like and where would it lead?

TIFFANI, giving it her customary thought, mused: I'd like a staircase that is made of a strong dark wood so that the staircase is firmly secured and strong. I would like for the staircase to be separated by a landing here or there — because any journey has moments where you need to stop, reassess and take a break from the incline. And as long as the staircase is directed upward, I'm fine with the ultimate destination.

WOW's closing comments: Tiffani is a naturally gracious woman, very aware of other's feelings. To underscore that beautiful quality, I'd like to share something that happened. After her agent, Jennifer DeChiara, said she thought Tiffani would be perfect for WOW, and we agreed she would be ideal for the Author's Staircase issue, we tried to reach Tiffani and left a couple of voice messages.

A couple of days later, I was in the middle of a crisis; I'd just answered the telephone when the doorbell rang, my visitor entered, talking...and then, my cell phone rang! My friend kept talking and I could barely hear the woman on the telephone. My frenzied state of mind must have crept into my voice, and I hear, "Is this a bad time? Would you like to give me a call at a better time?" All the while, my friend was still talking. I uttered, oh so gratefully, "Oh, thank you. Could I get your number?" As soon as I heard 818, I knew it was Tiffani, and I asked, "Is it the number that we have?" She assured me that it was. She was as kind as my best friend of thirty plus years when she sees me heading in too many directions, at the same time.

This first one-on-one contact with Tiffani is what inspired the focus of this interview. I hope everyone who reads this interview will see the woman behind the accomplishments, because who she is — is her biggest accomplishment.