Sometimes the most realistic stories are the most difficult for filmmakers to bring to the screen, as most audiences have become increasingly more intrigued by larger, action-driven blockbuster fare. But smaller, relatable indie movies are proving they’re just as relevant and important in the film landscape recently, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down or delayed the productions of many bigger studio features. The new drama, ‘If Not Now, When?,’ is an emotionally engaging indie movie that highlights how close friendships between women shape their emotional trajectories in their everyday lives.
The slice of life film is also important in the fact that it represents a shift in storytelling on screen, as it showcases an ensemble of Black women in main roles. The lead actresses, including Tamara Bass, Meagan Good, Meagan Holder and Mekia Cox, are powerfully breaking through the barriers of how women of color are being portrayed on screen, particularly through their characters’ naturally identifiable and long-lasting friendships.
Vertical Entertainment is releasing ‘If Not Now, When?’ today On Demand and Digital. The movie marks the feature film directorial debuts of actresses Tamara Bass and Meagan Good. The duo also produced the drama, which Bass made her feature film writing debut on, as well.
‘If Not Now, When?’ follows four friends-Patrice (Bass), Deidre (Holder), Suzanne (Cox) and Tyra (Good)-who met in high school 20 years ago, and are still bonded by a life-changing event that occurred to them when they were teenagers. They’re now suddenly forced to reunite when one Tyra suffers a personal crisis.
Bass, Holder and Cox generously took the time recently to talk about scribing, co-helming, producing and starring in ‘If Not Now, When?’ during exclusive individual phone interviews. Among other things, the actresses discussed how Bass was inspired to write the script because she was looking for a way to acknowledge the impact her friends have had on her life. The trio also mentioned how even though they didn’t have much rehearsal time together before production on the film began, they were still able to quickly and easily bond with each other.
The conversation with Bass began with her explaining why she was inspired to write the screenplay for the movie, and what the process was like of creating the story for the drama. “This was a way for me to acknowledge my friends and the impact they’ve had on my life. It’s a long love letter to my girlfriends,” she revealed.
The filmmaker then delved into how in addition to scribing the script, she also made her co-directorial feature film debut, along with Good, and what their helming style together was like throughout the production. “I’ve known Meagan (Good) since we were 16 and 19, so it’s more like a sister relationship than two co-directors. We’ve been there for each other through all of our firsts, and were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. So we really know each other.
“So this film was our way to make film history and honor our friendship. There weren’t any two actors that we could find that also co-directed a movie that one of them also wrote, and they both also produced,” Bass added.
“Directing is my second love after acting. It fulfills me, and it’s an amazing way for me to tell a story,” the helmer continued. “When started this process, we were originally set to direct it, but then we thought we’d get someone else to do it. So there was another director-Tanya Hamilton-who was attached. But once all of the financing came through, she had just gotten another job. So we were like, ‘Back to our original plan.’
“So once we locked in that we were co-directing, we did a lot of prep work to figure out our method of talking to each and the rest of the actors and crew,” Bass continued. “We had an amazing line producer who helped us set up a schedule that would make it easier for us going forward. We had a solid foundation of what this movie was going to be. Luckily, our two visions were so in line that even in moments in which we disagreed on a particular scene, it was usually somewhere in the middle. So collaborating with Meagan on this was easier than either one of us thought it would be.”
Holder began her interview by mentioning what drew her to play Deidre, and how she become attached to star in ‘If Not Now, When?’ “When I got the script, I actually read for a different character; I read for the part that Mekia Cox ended up playing. Then a few days after I read for her character, I was offered the part of Deidre, who I loved,” she revealed. “I loved all of the (characters), actually, so reading for a different character didn’t feel like a disappointment.
“As far as Deidre goes, what I loved about her is that she’s a dancer, and I was also a dancer when I was younger. So I related to her in that sense, and I also always wanted to be an actress,” the performer divulged.
“Acting, like dancing, is the type of profession where things don’t always go according to plan; you can’t always plan a career in the arts, so you have to go after it with all that you have. Deidre wanted to be a dancer and pursue that career, but then life happening to her. I could relate to her still wanting to pursue her dreams, in spite of what happened to her along the way,” Holder admitted.
Like the actress just mentioned, throughout the story, Deidre is struggling with whether she should reunite with her estranged husband and stay at home to be a family with their son again, or if she should pursue of dream of choreographing an upcoming tour. Holder then delved into what the process of relating to her character’s personal and professional struggles was like during the film’s production.
“I approached it in the sense that all Deidre really wanted was a partner. I think if you have someone in your life who’s a mother, like Deidre, you can better understand what she’s going through,” the performer admitted. “My mother worked, and I know a lot of mothers who did. In that situation, it’s crucial to have someone there to help and support you.
“I think Deidre struggled with that. She was finding that her partner wasn’t there to help her along the way. So that’s something I can relate to,” Holder admitted. “In any kind of relationship, having someone there to support you is relatable, whether or not you’re a mother.
“I also knew that adding a child into that situation would be difficult. I think what’s so great about Deidre is that she made a choice to stay home with her son, up until a certain point, and now she’s exploring her dream again,” the actress added. “So I really respect her journey in that way.”
The conversation with Cox began with the performer sharing why she was interested in playing Suzanne in ‘If Not Now, When?,’ and how she became attached to star in the movie. She shared that there are situations in the story that the four main characters go through that she can relate to, including having friends since high school. “One of the four best friends in the movie is named Deidre, and one of my friends has a similar name. So there are little things like that,” she shared.
“My character in the movie is pregnant, and at the time we were filming, I was also pregnant,” Cox shared. “So when I was reading the script, I knew I was supposed to be a part of this project, and play this character. So when I went for the audition, I asked Tamara Bass, who wrote, directed and acted in the film, ‘How did you come into my life, record it and put it on paper?,” she shared with a laugh.
“She laughed and said, ‘This is a love letter to my friend.’ When she said that, I completely got it. I really do love my girls, and they’ll always be my girls. No matter what we go through, I know I always have people there who will always have my back, and I think this story shows that,” the actress continued.
“Unfortunately, my character of Suzanne has been somewhat estranged from the group a little bit. But they have an incident that brings them back together. I think she then begins to realize what she’s been missing out on,” Cox added.
Throughout ‘If Not Now, When?,’ Suzanne is contending with whether or not she should stay married to her husband, and if she wants to become a mother. the performer then shared what the process of showcasing her character’s struggles with how she should handle her personal life was like during the shoot.
“We have our ups and downs, and I think every family does. If you don’t talk about it with each other, things can start to fall apart,” Cox noted. “I’m lucky because I have a family, and we do really love each other. But you have to really work at that.
“I’m also lucky enough to have a group of friends who I can always turn to and be honest with; I can say, ‘This is what’s going on in my life.’ I also have friends who can shine a mirror in my face and say, ‘These are the things you could have done differently,” the actress revealed.
“I think that’s important to have. We get into this place where we see what we see, and we don’t exactly see the other side. So I think it’s smart to be open and listen to the advice of others,” Cox added.
Bass also chimed in on her experience of starring in the drama, and how she balanced her helming and acting duties on the set. “It’s a process, and you really have to know your stuff in both fields. So during the first week, we made sure we had our shooting schedule set to make sure that neither one of us was on camera. So we really got in the groove of our directing, and knowing what our vision was for each scene,” she shared.
“We had four weeks of pre-production before that, and before the pre-production, we were living with this idea for three years. So we knew what we wanted,” the filmmaker shared.
“When it came to the acting, both of us told the other what we wanted, and what we were trying to get from our individual performances,” Bass revealed. “So those moments where I’m in front of the camera, I was also directing myself via Meagan, and vice-versa. We knew what the other was trying to get out of the performances. When I was acting, she would give me notes for the second take, and I’d tell her that every note she gave me was in my actor notebook. We both knew what we wanted, and made sure that we executed it.”
In terms of collaborating with the rest of the actresses as co-stars, Bass embraced the process like of working with them to create the dynamic between their characters. “We had a table read with the whole cast about three or four days after (Holder) was cast. Luckily, I’ve known Edwin Hodge, who plays my character’s love interest, for years, so that worked out perfectly,” she divulged.
With Holder and Cox, “we didn’t have any rehearsals, but we had such a natural chemistry that when we walked away from the table read, I was like, ‘I feel like I’ve known them for a long time.’ Meagan was like, ‘Me, too,'” the performer added.
Also speaking of working with the filmmakers, Cox noted that she appreciated the fact that ‘If Not Now, When?’ marks the co-directorial feature film debut of Good and Bass, and she enjoyed collaborating with them as co-helmers on the drama. “I’ve gained some new friends from the film. We didn’t really know each other, but we knew of each other before the film started. We have a lot of the same friends, but the four of us didn’t know each other. So we bonded while we were making the movie.
“It was lovely getting to watch Meagan Good and Tamara Bass, who are two minority filmmakers, do such a wonderful job. This was their directorial debut, but you would never know that by working with them on the set, because everything ran really smoothly. They were very accommodating to me, since I was pregnant while I was on the set,” the actress revealed. “They made it a joy to go to work, and I learned a lot watching them. They were inspiring, and proved that we need more female directors out there.”
Holder also chimed in on what the experience of working with Good and Bass was like on the film’s set. “I love Meagan Good and Tamara Bass so much. They approached this project with so much passion, and they fought so hard to get it made.
“By the time we got to the table read, we all wanted to make a really good product. As an actor, you’re working for yourself and your creativity, but you’re also working for the director and their vision,” the performer noted.
Good and Bass “were so collaborative. With the passion they brought to the project, we all wanted to make sure we brought the same amount of passion. I think that really shows; we clicked so well,” Holder continued. “They’re just so great and funny.
“What was interesting was that when you needed to be in a scene with one of them, the other one would be directing it. If I was in a scene with Tamara, she’d pop out and speak with Meagan, and then pop back into the scene,” the actress shared with a laugh. “So it was really fun and inspiring, because they worked really hard to get this film made. You can see it on screen, and we were also able to see it on set.”
In addition to appreciating being able to collaborate with Good and Bass as her co-stars, Holder also enjoyed working with Cox. The performer followed up on what the process of collaborating with the other three women as actresses to create the dynamic between their characters was like during ‘If Not Now, When?’s production.
“Working with directors who are also actors is great, because you can also talk about the scenes in a way that you can’t when the director isn’t actually acting with you. You can create more of an intimacy with them, because you’re there with them on camera,” Holder shared.
“I think we got a lot of moments on camera that happened because we’d do a certain take, and then they’d say, ‘Okay, now let’s try this in a different way.’ We were all in it together at the same time. They really had to trust us, and we really had to trust them,” the performer added. “It became even more of a collaboration because we were in it together.”
The movie emphasizes the importance of showing that women can balance success in their personal and professional lives. Holder noted that she feels it’s vital to have strong women working in front of, and behind, the camera on this type of film.
“I think that having two Black women behind the camera, and working with an almost all Black cast that focuses on four Black women, is important. It’s always important to get a story told from someone who’s walked that exact road,” the actress emphasized.
“So as far as female stories getting made, I don’t think there’s anyone better to tell these stories than females themselves. Not to discredit any man who attempts it, but there’s just something different about working on this type of story with a woman who’s walked through it,” Holder emphasized.
“It’s important to have people tell stories that are familiar to them. So it was important to me while we were working on this project that we did have this bond. Seeing Meagan and Tamara execute this story in the film, which they’ve walked through themselves, was so important. To stereotype based on color is a little bit tiring, and I think we’re all tired of it, so that was also important to me,” the performer proclaimed.
Cox agreed with Holder, and further showed her support of having strong women working in front of, and behind, the camera. “There’s a different energy that females bring to the directorial process, in particular. It’s always interesting to get to see females work.
“I have a little production company myself, and we put on plays out here in Los Angeles. We would also like to eventually move into doing films and TV,” the actress shared. “So I think being able to see someone else who’s like me do it makes me think that I can also do it. It’s really inspirational, and I think we need more of that…They came to the project with maternal energy and instincts, and make sure that everyone feels safe in an environment where they can do their best.”
Also speaking of getting a film like ‘If Not Now, When?’ made, Bass noted that she cherished the opportunity to serve as a producer, in addition to writing, directing and starring in the feature. She discussed why she decided to also produce the drama, and what the process of producing the movie was like.
“It was a lot, as we were juggling all hats,” the producer admitted. “When I say that Meagan and I produced this movie, we were hands on producing it. We were checking payroll reports and making sure that all of the call sheets were right…It was a lot, but I felt like it was the best way to do it.
“It showed me what my strengths and weaknesses are, and allowed me to see what I like doing as a filmmaker. Sometimes you’re pressed into these situations where you’re doing things out of necessity. We weren’t dealing with a big budget; we were dealing with an indie budget, but we knew what kind of quality we wanted,” Bass shared. “We knew that we wanted to make something that looked more expensive than it was. So we were learning during the production, and I don’t think I would have asked to have this experience any other way.”
With Vertical Entertainment distributing the drama today On Demand and Digital on Friday, the filmmaker explained why they decided to release the movie on streaming platforms. “Once the movie was made, we did the film festival circuit. We did everything backwards,” she admitted with a laugh. “Most people do the festival circuit with a sales agent already attached. But we were new, so we were like, let’s just go! We’re proud of the festival run and the response that we received.
“Once we did secure a sales agent, he sent the movie out everyone, and we got a lot of responses and yeses. We were like, ‘People like this movie?!? Yay!’,” Bass shared.
“When we talked to Vertical, we knew that they got it, and understood what we were trying to do. Originally, we were supposed to also have a limited theatrical release, as well as a Digital and On Demand release. But COVID decided that it wanted to disrupt everyone’s plans. With people being at home and looking for content to watch, we realized that we were in a prime position” to have a successful digital release, the director added. “We figured more people would see the movie through On Demand than if we kept the traditional theatrical release.”
Holder also shared her happiness of being able to finally share the drama with audiences across the country from the comfort of their own homes. “I love that the movie’s coming out in the beginning of a new year! I’m personally ready for a new year, and I think everyone else is, too. I think this is a great year to start the new year off.
“I’m excited for the release, because we’re all basically still quarantine at home, so everyone can see it. I’m happy that we’re having this release across so many platforms. I think this film is a positive and genuine story that people are going to relate to, especially after 2020. Hope, change, family and forgiveness are so important right now, and that’s all in the movie,” Holder concluded.
Cox also chimed in about ‘If Not Now, When?’s official distribution. “I think the film is coming out at the right time in the right way. It offers us an escape from our own realities, and allows us to jump into someone else’s reality…with real world problems and situations…It’s really about a story about love, friend and family. In the end, it’s a feel good story.”