If Not Now, When? is the 2019 drama film centered around four black women, who each face unique struggles surrounding their love, marriage, and home lives. Starring: Meagan Holder, Mekia Cox, Tamara Bass, Lexi Underwood, and Meagan Good. Directed By Meagan Good and Tamara Bass.
Borrowing Tape writer Nace DeSanders got a chance to talk with If Not Now, When? writer/co-director Tamara Bass about her experience making the movie, which releases in select theaters, On Demand and Digital on January 8, 2021.
Listen to our podcast episode and/or read the transcript, which has been edited and condensed for clarity:
Hey everyone, this is Nace DeSanders for Borrowing Tape, and I'm here with Tamara Bass, the writer, and director of "If Not Now, When?" — the story of a group of black women who each fight battles related to love and marriage. If Not Now, When? premieres on-demand and digital on January 8th, 2021. So, be sure to check it out. Tamara, thank you so much for being here.
Oh, thank you for having me.
I'm so glad. So, let's jump right in. First, I really wanted to know what was the inspiration for each of the women's stories?
I pulled it from my life. At some point, I realized each of my friends were dealing with similar situations and I was like, wow, this is very intriguing. I wanted to write a movie that was essentially a love letter to my friends. And I was like, okay...what storylines can I touch upon? Wow, I know talking to this friend over here, they're dealing with that. Wow, this friend over here is dealing with that too. So, I just called and yanked from them and created this journey.
Oh wow. That's beautiful. So how did you go about writing these separate, but connected storylines? Was that difficult or confusing or did it just naturally come together?
It actually was a lot easier than I really thought it would be, honest. I worked, I wrote the first draft of this movie, so long ago. I want to say a good like... 16, 17 years ago. It was a story of four friends. I banged it out pretty easily, and then, it just sat, and I put it away. And then, when Meagan and I were looking for something to do, I was like, let me pull this back out. And I pulled it out, and I essentially did a page one rewrite. And I still found that it was easy to tell these stories because I felt like I was telling it from such an authentic place that it flows super easy, way easier than some of the other things that I've tackled writing, which some of them have taken me forever. This one didn't. I just think because I knew the story so vividly.
That's amazing. So, that actually touches right on my next question about how did Meagan Good come to be a part of the project as co-director, co-producer, and actor? It seems like she was involved from the start.
Yeah, Meagan and I — we've known each other since we were 16 and 19 years old. It's not a new friendship, but literally [we've] grown up together. So, we knew that we wanted to act in something together. And, we have been trying for years to get this other film made, and then was like, let's pivot. We haven't had a drama about black women that told universal stories that the storyline had nothing to do with them being black women. They just happened to be black women. That's the kind of material that I strive to write. I strive to write very representational stories of women with black women at the forefront. It's my passion. It's what I do. It's what I love. I'm a champion for black women. I am one of those that is just unapologetically proud to be one. So, when we were looking for something to do, I said, "Hey, let's, let's do this." And right away, I sent her the script and she always takes forever to read anything. And I was like, "Oh God, she hates it. I want to do this. Oh my God." I go to negative all the time. I have another friend that we're pitching a TV show together for us to star it. And to say, I do the same thing to her. I'm like, read this. "Oh my God, you hate it. You haven't read it yet." She's like, "Can you calm down?" So Meagan hits me and she was like, "Okay, I can not stop crying. We're doing this.". It was just no hustling trying to get the financing and hearing a lot of no's and hearing from studios that we're just not making these types of movies. And then hearing yes from some people, but it was like always yes, with an asterisk. Yeah, we'll make it, but can you change this? Or can you change that? And we had one person literally say to us, "Can you add like a sassy black girl moment?" And I was like, "Hey...nope, this is not that, I can't do this." So, we're like, okay, let's just go independent. And we met this guy through Meagan's sister, who was like, "You guys had me at black women, go make a movie and let me know how it turns out." So, we were able to just stay true to ourselves, not compromise our integrity and go for it.
Oh, that's wonderful. I love that. So, it sounds like you are no stranger to all the different hoops that you have to go through to get stuff made in Hollywood.
Not even a little bit.
After that pre-production phase during production, were there any other major roadblocks to getting the film made, or was it mostly smooth sailing afterward?
I mean there's always roadblocks when you're doing an independent film on a tight budget. When you're doing an independent film that you don't want to look bad or shitty, or you want to make a film that you can be proud of and that you can stand behind. They're always going to be hiccups. You know, it's never enough money. It's always trying to figure it out. But my motto is, there's always a way. How can we get it done, if the answer is "No", what are the options? And, I take that with me on everything. I recently directed something over the summer, that's gonna come out I think at the beginning of the year right after, "If Not Now, When?" I have another project coming out and even with that, it was the same mentality. Okay, if it doesn't work, what are my options? And when you're making a movie in the indie space, which I absolutely love, I know it's infuriating to some people, but I love it. It's a game of problem-solving. It's a game of how do we make this work? How do we get all of these locations shot in this 19-day window? How do we do it? What's the best way? And to me, that's where I feed off of. I feed off of problem-solving. So, during production, we're shooting at one location on a Thursday and we're scheduled to go to this other location on Monday. So during shooting, which happened to be a heavy day for me on camera. So, I'm directing, I'm producing and I'm on camera that day! We get posed to the side at lunch. "So, that location we had locked for Monday. Yeah, that just fell through. We're trying to find another one." So it's like...um okay, so, we don't have time to go look.... like it was those kinds of things, but that's where hiring an amazing team comes in. Joyce Washington, who was our line producer was like, "Okay, I'm going to present some options within an hour. Let me huddle, let me figure this out." And, she did. And, it worked out. So, that's the game. I don't think there's ever going to be an instance where there's smooth sailing. I don't even think that happens on big-budget studio movies. It's always going to be something. So, if you can figure out how to solve these problems on this scale...My manager and I laugh because he's like, you're [the] queen of being thrown into some craziness. I'm like, what's going to happen with everything is lined up? What's going to happen with, you know, when I have a budget? I don't know how I'm gonna act. So, it's going to be great.
That's fantastic. I love that you’re just resilient, you just roll with the punches. Were you sleeping much during filming?
No. I think I slept on Saturday night because it was always something. So, if I wrap, I go home. I obviously use my drive home to decompress and to have my talks with God, cry if I have to, whatever the case may be. And, then I get home and I have to prepare for the next day. So, if I'm doing double duty where I'm on camera and directing. Okay, let me make sure all my lines are memorized and make sure all my intentions for the scenes are memorized. Let me go back over Meagan and I's shot list for tomorrow. So, it was always something. So by the time we wrapped, I went to Cabo. We wrapped on Thursday. I got my hair braided on a Friday. I flew to Cabo Saturday morning with my, then nine-year-old, who's technically my niece, but she's pretty much my child. So, we went to Cabo and I slept for 13 hours straight. I was like, "Are you good? You're locked in his hotel room. You can't go anywhere. You got all your food." She's like, "I'm good, Aunty Tam." I fell asleep about seven o'clock and then the next thing I knew it was eight O'clock the next one. And I was like, "Oh my God, I've never slept this long in my entire life." Maybe when I was a baby. So, okay, I needed it. Yeah.
Oh my gosh. So, I want to know about the energy on set. You have this big cast full of black women just doing their thing. How was the energy? I imagine it would be so much fun.
It was amazing! It was everything that we set it out to be. There's this notion that when you put a group of black women together, there's going to be cattiness, it's going to be animosity or competitiveness. It was none of that. We made sure with the casting that we tried very hard to avoid straight offers. We wanted people to come in, even if they didn't necessarily read, we wanted it to feel their energy. We knew going in energy was important. Mekia actually came in and read and the moment she walked in. I just felt it. I was like, I hope this first line is good because she's it in my mind. As soon as she opened her mouth, it was like, "Oh, that's a no-brainer." And we saw Meagan Holder via tape. As soon as I watched her tape, I was [to] Meagan, "Watch Holders tape"— because we had to start referring to them by last name. I was like, "Watch Holders tape." So, she goes and she clicks at Holder's tape and she's like, "That's it." We just felt it when they showed up to the table read, it was like, "Oh yeah, this is exactly what we were setting out to do." And Mekia was really pregnant when we shot. I'm a mama bear. I am like, "Make sure she has her water. Make sure she has her fan, make sure she had like all these things." And she was like, "I felt it. You know, the moment that I stepped on set, I felt the love." And I'm like, that's what we wanted it to be. Same with Holder. Like she had a sex scene in her first week and she's like, "This is the first time that I felt comfortable enough to say what it is that I was comfortable doing and not comfortable. And pulling you guys to the side." I'm like, that's important. And that's the tone we want it to set.
Yeah. Again, I mean, that seems like for every black girl in film, that seemed like a dream scenario. Just having a bunch of other black women that you can really talk to. Especially like you said, for the sex scene. Like the way, I imagine the sex scenes is like... there’s the two people who are having sex on camera and then like 47 men standing around her with cameras and stuff. I'm like, "Oh my God, that seems awful."
It is. But the great thing is... I let you in on a secret. First of all, you ask for a closed set. That means that the only people on the set are those who are essential to being there. Usually the DP, maybe a sound person, and that's it. And then you clear video village as well. So, the only people at video village tend to be your script supervisor, your director, and then usually one person that the actors will deem okay. Like me, when I shot mine, I was like obviously I want my script supervisor. I want Meagan, she has to be there, but I wanted my costume designer who I grew very close to. And I'm like, can we have Janelle [Nicole] onset too? Because she'll make sure the pastie is covered and she'll tell me different things. Everyone has the person that they trust. Then, you establish a respect and a boundary with the performers. So, that they know at any moment, if they're uncomfortable, you say cut.
I've now directed my follow-up project is this movie called "Don't Waste Your Pretty" and I had to direct a sex scene between Deborah Joy Winans and Redaric Williams. It was Deborah Joy's first sex scene. So, we spent the weekend before, at my apartment going through and looking at all the sex scenes on TV, and basically choreographing. I was going to go like, "Okay, he's going to take off your shirt here. And then he's going to be...you're going to lift his arm." Those kinds of things. You do that so that the actor is comfortable.
Yeah, that's good. That's good. That sounds a lot better than what I had in my head.
[Laughs] You have in mind, I'm sure is what the sets of pornos are like. Nowadays even SAG (Screen Actors Guild) has what's called "Intimacy Coordinators". You can have someone on set that basically is there to help with any of your intimate scenes if you want one.
Oh, wow. They sound fantastic. Yeah, so, there's some bonus film tips for listeners. That's so funny.
It's crazy. It's all those kind of, all those little things that people know, they just see a beautiful, sex scene on TV. But, it's like, no... it's so technical and it's so, like not fun.
Exactly. So could you tell us a little bit about the title? Where does the title come from? Could you tell us about its relevance in the film?
Yes. I started out with actually one of the characters in the film actually said it. My love interest Walter says it to Patrice. He says it in their vulnerable scene. Even as the rewrites went, the line got taken out, but it's still stuck with me. I felt like it was an appropriate title and it represented each of these women where they are in their life. If we don't make a decision now, when are we going to make it? Be it love, a decision about taking a chance in a new relationship, about ending a relationship about anything. If you don't get help with your addiction problems now, when are you going to do it? And as it progressed, it just felt like, this is it. And now it's the first thing everyone asks about. They're like the title, I love it. And I was like, "Oh, thanks. Happy you like that." It felt appropriate.
Oh, absolutely. It's very to the point and yeah, I like it. So, could you tell us, how did you find the experience of working with the Cinematographer Craig Dean Levine?
Oh, it was great. He came into our first meeting when we were still hiring DP's. He came into his meeting and he just got it. He got what we were trying to do. He understood our budgetary limitations. He just was a team player so he made it easy for us. Neither one of us are technical directors. We can explain to you exactly what it is that we want, but we might not have the correct film school terminology — because I went to film school for writing and I was also a theater major. So I'm like, I didn't learn all the different lenses...I'm a photographer, so I have a little bit of knowledge when it comes to the lens, but for the most part, the technical stuff, we didn't know. So, he was able to translate for us, like, "Hey Craig, we want this." And he was like, "Okay, I got it. I got it. How about this?" And he would show us and like, "Yep, that's exactly what we were talking about." It was a very synergetic relationship.
That sounds fantastic. Like yeah, an ideal pairing.
Yes, very much.
So, which films or directors have influenced you as a filmmaker and your film "If Not Now, When?"
My biggest influence I would say are...Okay, I have a couple, but for different reasons. George Tillman [Jr.] is my favorite director. Just because he has this ability to make me feel whatever it is. Like "The Hate U Give", I've seen it three times and I cry every time I see it. Russell Hornsby's character was amazing and I'm like, that's all George. As an actor, I tested for Notorious. Years ago, I tested to play Little Kim. And to this day, it's still one of the best auditions I've ever had because of him. He just has this way with actors, and he happens to be a good friend. His wife is one of my closest friends. Just knowing that I have that resource to tap into and like I'm constantly learning from him. Another one is who set this trajectory for me is Kasi Lemmons. Because "Eve's Bayou" is my favorite movie. That movie was the first time that I saw a film that represented the types of stories that I wanted to tell. Here's a story about this family, this affluent family in New Orleans. And yes, they were a black family, but this story could have been about any family. And I was like, "Oh, that's so smart. And it's so well done." I watched it recently again during quarantine and I'm like, "[gasp] It still holds up." So her. And another one is Tanya Hamilton, who was actually at one point attached to direct, "If Not Now, When?". The day before the funding came through, she booked this job and it took her completely of it and she was so bummed, but through our interaction and through our time together, she was able to give me notes on the script. She was able to set my mind on different things. And, I came away from her knowing like things don't have to end neat, in order for it to be a great story. And I'm like, Oh wow. And then she directed this movie called "Night Catches Us" with Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie, and it's one of my favorite indies ever done. And I'm like, I know what your budget was. It was so limited, yet you still took 2010 Philly and transformed it into 1976 Philly on this budget and you pulled it off and you made me believe and you made me feel. So, those I would say are three directors who were just instrumental in my evolution. And then [the] last one would be Pete Chapman, who is my best male friend. I've known him for 14 years and I've watched his hustle and he's right now killing the episodic TV game. He is my human film school. I literally ask him questions. I'm like, "Okay bro, I got questions." He's like, "All right, shoot, hit me [up], call me. Let's go through them." And he literally just answers every single question, but he makes sure that I understand. And then, he puts it back on me, like I say, "Hey, why does this movie over here look cheap, and this movie over there looks expensive, yet they're on the same budget?" He's like, "Okay, then tell me what it is that you see." And so as I pointed out and he's like, "So you do know what it is. You just don't have the terminology, here it is." So those four are pretty much why I'm here.
Wow. You can't see me, but I'm smiling like an idiot right now. It sounds like you have just the greatest network of supportive friends. Like everyone's doing their thing. Everyone's looking out for each other. It sounds fantastic.
It is. And I know it's so rare and you don't, and it's unfortunate because in the early part of my career, I was looking for that and I didn't. Maybe because everyone saw me as an actor and there's this competitive world within acting that feels like you got to pivot. And I'm like, guys, that's not how I'm wired. I'm wired where it's enough for everyone. I'm wired where if it's not my job, it's not my job. So, isn't that like, I am not... I believe that what is yours is yours? So, I've always been very open with my knowledge. And then I would encounter people who weren't. So, I was like, okay, well what's wrong? But then once I re-adjusted some of my circle and re-adjusted those that I was like, okay, this is who I can count on. I've been blessed to have the best support system, like literally any call. I recently was up for my first mini-studio movie and I had a second meeting. I ended up not getting it, but I remember being able to call George and his wife and being like, "Hey guys, what do I do in this second meeting?" And, getting invaluable lessons or getting an editor's cut from the TV one movie I did, and being like, "Guys, this isn't what I thought!" And, and you know, George is like, "Tell her to calm down. You're basically going to fix it all next week at your session." So, having people like that in my corner makes me realize like I'm not traveling in this alone. And, it also allowed me to still be me. I am famous for trying to get all my friends jobs. Each one teach one. That's just my mentality. Knowing that I have a circle that does that for me keeps me excited about still doing that for others. It's a great little circle I've built.
Yeah, it sounds awesome. So if audiences are to leave this film with only one central idea or message, what would you like it to be?
I want them to leave feeling hopeful. Feeling that no matter what your situation is, as long as you have hope, there's a way out. And as long as you have a support system, even if that support system is a support of one, recognize that you're blessed and you're lucky and that with that one person, you'll be able to make it good.
That's beautiful. I love it. So, final question. Before we leave, I do want to hear about your upcoming projects. You did briefly mention a project called, "Don't Waste Your Pretty"?
I directed this project called "Don't Waste Your Pretty" that's coming on TV One at the end of February/beginning of March — is what I was recently told. It stars Keri Hilson, Deborah Joy Winans, and Redaric Williams. It's a story about this group of friends and their romantic quandaries that they're trying to maneuver around — a nice romantic drama. I'm excited about that, I got to work with amazing talent. Currently, Deborah Joy Winans and I are pitching a TV show that I created that both of us would star in since Greenleaf is wrapped. She's like, let's do something else. And, I'm excited about that. That's what's coming up next for me.
Wow. Super exciting. So we'll be sure to look out for that. Thank you so, so much for speaking with me today!
Of course. Thank you for having me!