Tribeca Festival: Interview with Director Tiffany Paulsen on Winter Spring Summer or Fall

Tribeca Festival: Interview with Director Tiffany Paulsen on Winter Spring Summer or Fall

Minimalistic, but incredibly nuanced, long scenes that allow the protagonists to fearlessly simmer in their authentic, genuine emotions are the pinnacle of the romantic drama movie genre. Up-and-coming filmmaker, Tiffany Paulsen, who’s known for writing such Emma Roberts-starring romance features as About Fate and Holidate, is fulfilling her dream of helming such a project with Winter Spring Summer or Fall.

Paulsen, who made her feature film directional debut on the new drama, created a Gen Z love story that’s driven by heartfelt emotions that transcend age. Loaded with classic tropes that are reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s acclaimed romantic drama, Before Sunrise the new helmer’s first feature is a reminder why the genre endures over the years.

Scribed by Dan Schoffer, Winter Spring Summer or Fall tells the story of two teens told over four days – one in each season – over a full year. Following a chance encounter, wunderkind Remy (Jenna Ortega) and music-obsessed slacker Barnes (Percy Hynes White) become inexorably entwined in each other’s lives. As winter turns to spring and spring turns to summer, the two find themselves falling in love. But with Remy heading to Harvard in the fall, the young couple are forced to reevaluate what’s truly important to them.

Winter Spring Summer or Fall made its World Premiere in the Spotlight Narrative section of this year’s Tribeca Festival. Paulsen generously took the time to talk about helming the movie during an exclusive interview over Zoom the day of the project’s premiere.

Q: You made your feature film directorial debut on the new romantic drama, Winter Spring Summer or Fall, which was written by Dan Schoffer. How did you become involved in helming the movie? What was your overall approach to directing the film?

Tiffany Paulsen: I had been thinking about directing for quite some time. As a writer, I’ve been lucky enough to have had some success getting movies made. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some great directors who were happy to have me on set. So I had spent a lot of time on the movies I had written getting made, and getting experience on that side of things.

As far as this script, it was the first thing that was sent to me that I hadn’t written that when I read it, I instantly felt like it was something that I could have written. It felt very personal and familiar to me, and I really connected to it right away.

As soon as I sat down with our producer, Josh Shader, and the writer, Dan Schoffer, we started talking through it and my ideas and visions for the story. It really clicked and connected, and we became a very cohesive unit working together to further develop the story. So it was a really great fit.

Q: The drama stars Jenna Ortega, Percy Hynes-White, Marisol Nichols, Adam Rodriguez, Elias Kacavas and Evangeline Barrosse. What was the casting process like for the movie?

Tiffany Paulsen: Well, Jenna was always our first choice for the lead. She was our dream team. So when we were able to get the script to her manager and agent and get them to read it, they really responded and got it to Jenna.

You get lucky – you cross your fingers and hope your first choice is going to fall in love with it and want to do it. She ended up loving the script and wanted to jump on right away, at least as far as attaching to it. She was getting ready when I first met her to take off to Romania to start shooting Wednesday, as she hadn’t yet shot it. So Wednesday and Scream had not happened.

But she loved the project and wanted to do it. Luckily in the two years that passed since she expressed interest in the role and we started to shoot, we were still able to make it work with her schedule.

Q: Once Jenna and the rest of the actors signed on to star in Winter Spring Summer or Fall, how did you approach working with them to building their characters?

Tiffany Paulsen: It was a really wonderful experience, in that we at least had a little bit of time to work with Jenna and Percy, once he came on board to go through the script. We didn’t have a lot of time, but at least enough to get to read through it together.

We were so lucky to get Adam Rodriguez and Marcel Nichols. To have actors of their caliber and experience, and to have the levity that they bring to the roles of the parents, was such a nice balance.

Our young cast is also phenomenal. Elias Kacavas is fantastic. He was somebody I actually was initially considering for Barnes. But it just worked out for him to play PJ. I was so thrilled that he wanted to do that role, even that was a smaller role. He really just committed to it and made it his own.

We shot the movie in Utah, so we were also able to have a lot of really wonderful local actors come on board. It’s a pretty small cast, so everyone really had to roll up their sleeves and jump in and fully commit. It definitely felt like a family when we were all working together.

Q: Speaking of filming the project in Utah, how did the location influence the shoot? How did you collaborate with Gabriel Jessop, who served as the production designer on Winter Spring Summer or Fall?

Tiffany Paulsen: Well, it was definitely a little challenging that the movie set on the East Coast and we filmed in Utah. So there was some cheating that went into it. But for me, it was a blessing to shoot in Utah.

It all came together very quickly. We did not have a lot of time to prep, and we had Jenna’s schedule to work around. But Utah is very close to L.A., so it’s a quick flight over there.

I had a great set designer, and we were able to really tap into very unique looks for each season. The whole shoot took place in winter. So we just had to cross our fingers we would get a couple of sunny days to shoot spring and summer and not have too much breath coming out of their mouths when the story was supposed to be set in June.

Q: The drama’s hook is that the two teens fall in love over the course of four significant days in a year, with each day taking place in a different season. Why were you drawn to showcasing Remi and Barnes’ growing relationship in the four specific days?

Tiffany Paulsen: I love a hook to a movie. So leaning into that book of having one day in each season to tell a story in an entire relationship was definitely challenging. But the cool thing about this story is that it’s such an interesting and unique way to tell a love story.

So we spent a lot of time figuring out how we were going to make each one of those days not only look very unique, but also hopefully also feel very unique. So there was very specific color palette I wanted for each season.

That went into the wardrobe, set design and changing lenses and lighting. That way, everything felt very unique and different, but yet still cohesive to the story.

Q: Speaking about the lensing and lighting, Winter Spring Summer or Fall leans into the four seasons as visual guideposts. You set each season with a unique color palette, which inspired everything in the movie, including the cinematography. How did you work with the film’s director of photography, Graham Robbins, to create the feature’s visual look?

Tiffany Paulsen: Our director of photography, Graham Robbins, is amazing; he’s a genius. He was instrumental in the tech stuff.

I’m the storyteller, so I know the story, romance and acting. I can capture all of those things. But to depict between this lens and that lens? I need the guy that understands the lenses to help me with that.

But I knew how I wanted things shot in many cases. So I was looking to Graham and his team’s expertise to be able to interpret my babbling of what I wanted the movie to look like, and then have the result be something beautiful on the other end of the camera. So I give so much credit to Graham in helping craft the visuals of the movie.

Q: You also mentioned the characters’ outfits earlier. How did you work with Winter Spring Summer or Fall‘s costume designer, Alyson Hancey, to create the look for the actors?

Tiffany Paulsen: Well, I had done a sizzle reel where I pulled a lot of inspiration from a lot of movies that I felt had elements that we were hoping to be inspired by. So taking that and painting your mood boards and figuring out the colors and tones that you’re going through for a season, you can go to the wardrobe department. You can tell them, I would like looks in this palette.

I had a great wardrobe designer in Alyson Hancey. You just try on and you try on. We brought Jenna and Percy in and found things that they felt comfortable in, and that they felt like their characters in. They had a lot of thoughts and conversation about that as well. So it becomes very collaborative when you’re trying to put all those elements together.

Q: Besides the visual elements, the drama’s music is also integral to its story, as Barnes is obsessed with the Talking Heads. How did you work with the movie’s composer, Zac Rae, to create the score?

Tiffany Paulsen: I have an amazing composer in Zac Rae, who’s in Death Cab for Cutie. I knew from the start that I definitely somebody who was an authentic indie musician that could really bring that kind of acoustic sound.

I knew I wanted guitar and piano, and just very few instruments. But I wanted somebody with Zac’s level of talent and experience, so that he could take my ideas and create something really unique but very special.

There’s a limited score in our movie. So what Zac had to create had to speak volumes in the limited space that we had for it, but very subtly.

I was just over the man to get somebody like him and to have his ideas. He was so collaborative in putting the music together.

I’m so inspired by music, and we were so lucky to get somebody like Evangeline and have her original songs. We were also lucky to get David Gray and Talking Heads. Judah and the Lion’s song, Suit and Jacket, was one that I had played a lot while I was working on different elements of the movie. So to get that song was amazing.

There were a lot of those things that I hoped to get and that we were lucky enough to ultimately get in the end.

Q: Winter Spring Summer or Fall made its World Premiere at the Tribeca Festival. What does that mean to you to be able to share the film at the festival?

Tiffany Paulsen: Well, it’s such an honor, and we’re so thrilled to (have premiered at the festival). The festival has welcomed us with open arms and wanted our movie, so it’s great to build that love.

Our World Premiere (was the night of the interview). I hope that that love continues, and audiences enjoy the movie.

I’m very excited to finally be at this moment where we’re putting it out into the world. So it really is a dream come true to be at a film festival of this caliber on a stage like this. We could not be more excited!

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