Hey friends, Barbarella here. A short while ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tamara Bass about her new movie, IF NOT NOW, WHEN? Resonating with me far more than I had anticipated, the story about four friends who reunite when one suffers a crisis avoids some of the tropes one might expect. Rather, the relationships and situations are believable and relatable for women regardless of background and race. For the interview, I had to start out asking Tamara the most obvious, albeit a bit odd, question.
You probably haven't been asked this before because it is kind of a silly question, but movies like SEX AND THE CITY, WAITING TO EXHALE, GIRL’S TRIP, and IF NOT NOW, WHEN? are all about four women who are friends. Why is four the lucky number when it comes to these types of stories?
“You know what? It's crazy because I asked myself the same thing. I don't know if it's this perfect balance, or if it's a square. I have no idea, but when I sat down to write, I think it was just subconscious in my mind that, "Nope, it's four. It's automatically four women." I think from a writing standpoint, it allowed me to have a little more balance than three. It was like, "Okay, I haven't visited this character, let me visit over here, and then let me visit over here." It just gave a nice balance. it's weird. I don't know why, but you're absolutely correct; four must be the lucky number. Not three, not five, four. I'm going to have to ask my other writer friends, "Why do we pick four?“”
When writing, do you do outlines? Note cards? What's your writing process like?
“I laugh because for the longest [time], I refused to call myself a writer. Mind you, I have a whole degree in this, and I would just refuse. My best friend since I was sixteen-years old is a writer, and she was a staff writer on a TV show that made it one season. She's a writer-writer, like a real writer, like someone who does all the steps. I'm someone who every time I sit down to write something, she's like, "Well did you write the outline?" I'm like, "Huh? Why do I got to write the steps? Can’t I just start writing?" She's like, "If you do the steps, it makes it easier." I would say on the last couple of things I've written, I've actually taken her advice. I sit down. I make an outline, and then I go in from the outline, and typically, I have an idea of what the arcs are going to be. If I'm writing a TV show, which that's what I've been in the process of doing, I know what the storyline is going to be. I'm like, "Okay, I know the beginning, middle, and end, now how do I get there?"
“Then I do an outline, and typically, my outline is I just write out each scene heading (interior, living room, day), and I describe what's going to happen in the scene. I do that from the top of the film or TV show until the very end, and then I go in, and I tweak things, and then I go in for the dialogue. I tend to write all the way through to the end before I start rewriting.
“Sometimes I'll get to the end and be like, "Ooh, I got to make a note, I made something that is contradictory in the top to this, so I got to fix that." I got my rewrite, but I try to get all of the story out first and then go back in. Recently, I was hired to write something for Lifetime, and it was my first time being hired by someone else to write. In my contract, I had all of these steps I had to do, and I'm like, "I don't even know what this means." So I had to consult my best friend like, "Okay, they want me to do this." She's like, "Okay, this is what that is." I was like, "Oh, maybe I should follow the steps more often."”
Well, it's good to have friends to help you out with that stuff, though.
“Oh my gosh. Yes, they're invaluable. I would not have made it this far in my life without them, which was why I wrote this movie, to just say thank you for loving me through the most difficult of times and being the people I want to celebrate with, the people I want to cry with. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. I can't thank my core group of friends enough.”
The dialogue in this feels so authentic. What is your method or trick for writing dialogue that's genuine?
“You know what's crazy is when I went to college, I studied both theater and comm. arts with this emphasis in screenwriting. My very first screenwriting class, the first thing my professor told me when we handed in our first little assignment was like, "You have a knack for dialogue. That's not something someone can teach. Everything else I can teach you. Dialogue you can't teach." And I was like, "That's interesting." I think truthfully, it comes from the fact that I'm a huge introvert, so I'm always paying attention to everything around me, and I'm an actor, so when I go to write something, I'm typically playing all the characters, and I'm like, "Hmm, that doesn't sound like it's going to come off the tongue right. ... Nope, let's try this again."
“And I'm in my room, or in my living room or wherever I am writing, walking around saying these scenes. When we did our table read for this, the first thing I told them at the table read was, "Hey guys, I'm not Shonda Rhimes so if anything does not sound right, you have my full permission to tweak the dialogue, as long as what we're saying in the scene still comes across. Don't go off page too much." I am proud to say that what you see in the movie is about 95% of my words verbatim. The biggest compliment is when someone says, "Oh, it feels improvised," and I'm like, "Thank you, thank you. It wasn't, but thank you."
“So, I pride myself on dialogue. Everything else, I'm like, "Ooh, I don't know. My scene description might not be that pretty." But my best friend tells me, "You write like a director. You write like you see things." I'm like, "Okay, I receive that."”
So, what character do you identify with the most?
“I am a combination actually of Suzanne, Patrice, and Deidre. I put pieces of me in all of them. I'm very much Suzanne in the sense like I lived my life extremely regimented. Everything was, I graduated high school, I went to college. I did da da da da da... And then you look up, and you're like, "But what has that really gotten me?" And then with Deidre, I'm very much like life gets in the way of our dreams, and how do you keep that piece of you still? And then with Patrice, I am the fighter in my group. I am the protector. I am the one that when there's a problem, let's solve it. The one I'm least like is Tyra, but I know so many Tyras. Tyra puts everything off, she doesn't want to deal with her stuff. I deal with everything head on. I take responsibility for stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with me. You could be hit by a car, and I'll be like, "I'm so sorry that I did not warn you that the car was coming!" That’s me.
You mentioned Tyra, who is played by Meagan Good. Would you talk about the first time you met her?
“Oh my gosh. We were sixteen and nineteen, and we met at a commercial audition. I remember us going into this audition, and it was back in the day when we're supposed to tell our age. I guess now it's a law that says you're not supposed to ask them how old they are. Who knows? But we go in, and it was me, her and her sister. And you sit down, and they say, "How old are you? Blah, blah, blah." And Meagan was like, "I'm sixteen." And her sister was like, "I'm eighteen." And I'm like over eighteen, and everyone turns to look, and they're like, "Wait, you're what?! We thought you were twelve!" I'm like, "Nope, I'm in college."
“It became like we would just constantly see each other at auditions, and then one day, we were at this audition, and we had already exchanged numbers, and we're like, "Do you want to go to the movies?" Her mom had to drive her everywhere. So her mom was like, "You're going to bring her home?" And I'm like, "Yeah." From there, the rest is history. Now twenty-three years later…yeah.”
Wow, How did co-directing with her improve your own directing ability or did it?
“Oh, it definitely did. Actually, it made me more confident. I'm very, very creative, but I'm also very logical, analytical. I use both sides of my brain equally, and it's weird. I am an artist who loves math. So it's those kind of weird idiosyncrasies. She's much more of the creative brain. There were things that I knew I was good at, and then going in with her, it was like, " I had this idea too." So, I am confident because we both have the same idea. Things that I necessarily wouldn't have trusted about myself, I learned to trust doing that process. So when it was time for me to go and direct my first solo thing that I did over the summer, it was like I could fully walk into that and know what I was talking about and know what I wanted, and I could execute that vision. And then from there, everyone responded so well so I was like, "Okay, I'm good at this." I did pick up some things.”
When co-directing, how does one go about resolving disagreements?
“It depends on what the nature of it is. If it's something on set like if it's she thought this particular scene should be this way or I thought it, sometimes because of the beauty of shooting digital, you can shoot it both ways. And then when it came down to the edit, we had an amazing editor. So most times we were on the same page, but when we weren't on the same page, we were typically on opposite ends. So our editor would be like, "Okay, here's a solution. I'm going to edit it Tamara's way. I'm going to edit it Meagan's way, and then I'm going to have a compromised version and see what you guys think." Nine times out of ten, it would be like, you know what? It's the compromised version. You know the editor is right. Then if we really couldn't agree, we would consult people that we trusted in the process, someone who had no skin in the game, so it felt good. Obviously, I'm not going to consult my mom who's going to side with me, and she's not going to consult her husband who's going to side with her. Let's find the neutral party who will be able to see what it should be."
Right. So would you talk a little bit about how you chose the music for the film?
“I am a music junkie. I can't sing a lick - I sound like a wounded puppy - but I love music. I love music that makes me feel things. I can honestly say 90% of the music was me. I would present it to her like, "What do you think about this?" And she's like, "How did you find this? This is absolutely perfect." Because typically when I'm writing, I will write to a playlist of whatever emotions I'm feeling. I will have a playlist to correlate with that project, so when it came to picking the music for this, I was able to go back to my playlist, but I was also able to just tap in. We knew that we wanted all female artists so it was a matter of saying, "All right, here's who we have relationships with. Here's people that we don't have relationships with, but we can try to get them to say yes for no money.” It was all of those things, and it worked out. It's just my love of music coming through.”
Nice. So if people came with warning labels, what would yours say?
“Mine would say strongly opinionated, but very loving…and I'm not judgmental in the least.”
Nice. How do you cope with stress on set?
“Oh, for me, I have to take a moment. Let me have a moment. Let me walk away. Let me assess the situation. And it's usually a matter of I'm not a big yeller or screamer at people just because I'm too respectful of other people to be the tyrant that I've seen others become. I typically just need a moment of quiet. It's like let me figure it out, and then I come back with the solution.”
Did y'all have a wrap party for this?
“We did not. When we wrapped, Meghan had to go out of town the next day. I was going on a much-needed vacation where I slept for thirteen hours the first day I got there. I went to Cabo, and I literally went to bed at about 7:00 PM and woke up 8:30 the next morning. Didn't miss a beat.”
Okay, my last question. If you could do a Freaky Friday type swap with anybody for like a week, who would you want to swap with?
“Ooh, ooh, that's a good one. Honestly, it would be Regina King. I am in awe of Regina King; I always have been. She also happens to be one of the nicest human beings I've ever encountered in my life. I would just like to be her for a week because she's everything that I aspire to be. So yeah, it would be Regina King.”
Well, I wouldn’t mind swapping with Tamara Bass for a week. She’s just delightful. In fact, I came really close to inviting her to hang out in Austin with me during SXSW to check out some live music, but I didn’t want to freak her out. It’s just sometimes there are people you meet with whom you just know you’d be good friends in real life if given the opportunity, and she struck me as one of those. Her movie IF NOT NOW, WHEN? is currently On Demand and Digital. Check out the trailer.