Sundance 2018 Exclusive: Director Qasim Basir & Co-Writer Samantha Tanner Talk A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.
Posted by Wilson Morales
February 9, 2018
Making its world premiere recently at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival was writer-director Qasim Basir‘s indie romance drama A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.
The film was co-written by Samantha Tanner and stars Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good.
The story follows Cass (Hardwick), a handsome USC grad stalled in his career, is getting lost in the alcohol- and drug-infused world of LA club promotion. On the night of the 2016 Presidential Election he meets a woman named Frida (Good), a beautiful, spirited midwestern visitor dealing with a difficult breakup. She challenges him to revisit his broken dreams. Their chemistry is undeniable. Nothing will ever be the same again after Trump is surging ahead of Hilary Clinton.
Produced by Datari Turner, the film also features Jay Ellis, Dominique Perry, Dijon Talton, Wesley Jonathan, and Affion Crockett.
Basir’s most recent film, Destined, stars Cory Hardrict and is currently out on VOD. It premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year and went on to win nine awards, including both the Best Director and Best Actor awards at the American Black Film Festival. His directorial debut was “ Mooz-Lum,” starring Nia Long and Evan Ross.
For Tanner, this is her first screenplay. The Chicago native is also an actress whose film credits include Highland Park and Destined.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Basir and Tanner, who also happen to be engaged to each other, on the making of the film and co-writing the script.
How did the story come about for the two of you?
Qasim Basir: Initially, I was at Urbanworld and someone had told me that my films (Mooz-lum, Destined) are intense and if I would consider doing something light, and I was like, “Not really,” but that question resonated with me and on the flight back, I thought about what is a light, fun story that I could create? Maybe I could do a love story. I recently, in the last year, have fallen in love and got engaged. Boy meets girl and they go on a journey one night together and boom. So, I wrote an outline for it on the flight back from New York to LA. That’s when I called (producer) Datari Turner about it and he got onboard and started working with Samantha on developing it. Then the election happened. When that part happened, I thought it was imperative to speak on it and my way of speaking is through film. I thought it could be a lot more impactful if we raised the stakes and people could buy into the story a little more so if it took place on that night.
Samantha, how did you come on board and what did Qasim want you to add to the script?
Samantha Tanner: When Qasim brought the first draft of the script to me, it was really well rounded and a beautiful story, but it more so from the perspective of the man. It was more of the male story, who is played by Omari Hardwick, and it centered around on his goals and aspirations. I was working on something completely different and Qasim has really strong women in his films. When I finished reading the first draft, I had some questions and asked where was the female voice. What did she want? Did she have dreams? Was she living in LA or visiting? There were a bunch of questions that came up. I asked if I could jump in and he let me jump in and have my two cents in there and it became this dance between the two of us, rounding out both characters. I think I was able to bring a little vulnerability and sensitivity to Cass, the male lead and also strength and focus and determination towards Frida, played by Meagan Good. That’s why I came on board and we had this co-writing dialogue between each other.
Qasim Basir: For me, and you saw Nia Long in Mooz-lum and Margot Bingham in Destined, and I have strong women in my life and Sam comes from a line of strong single women, and it occurred to me that I couldn’t really say what Frida needed to say. In the same way that for the last 100 years or so, white men have made stories about our community, stories about us, and in general have highlighted the most extreme, violent and polarizing aspect of who we are as a people. For the last 30 years, we have been consistently adding our voices and making our own stuff, but in the history of film, you literally had one group of people talking for all kinds of people. The smaller version of that is that you get these extreme depictions of people as we are now fighting to get away from. With this particular black film, we are fighting to get away from it, which was the idea of Mooz-lum, putting a character out there that actually says something that’s human rather than extreme. This all occurred to me through this process of writing with Sam in that I’m writing for women, and while I think I’m fair, having a woman’s voice in there is wildly important just like having our voices and our stories.
Samantha Tanner: Coming from a generation after generation of single black women in my family, the women in my family are celebrated on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. When I read the script, I wanted to see some of those more masculine qualities in her voice of determination, focus, strength and power. I think that’s what we were able to play off a bit.
One of the highlights of the film is the LA scenery. Was it your idea to keep it LA centric as opposed to Anywhere, USA?
Qasim Basir: I lived in New York for some years and it was formative years for me and that city really resonated me; and when I was at Urbanworld, I ran into a friend who I used to hang out a lot with there and who I modeled the character Cass after, and initially it was going to be New York. Then we started talking about it with Datari about the setting being in New York; but once we started developing it a little bit more and once we brought Omari and Meagan on, Datari suggested we shoot in LA since Meagan lives in LA and a lot of resources are there as well. At the same time, I added the election elements, so we needed to go back into the script and change it for that anyway. The adjustment became LA, which I’m really glad because I’m not sure the visuals would have worked in New York. Now, it’s such a big part of the story the way it looks and as Cass and Frida drive around the city, the city itself becomes a character.
Can you talk about the casting?
Qasim Basir: A lot of the casting was through Datari and his relationships. Natasha Ward was our casting director and she did a terrific job. Most of the folks came from Datari. I called Omari. In 2016 Omari was the ambassador at ABFF in Miami and it was the same year I won Best Director and Cory Hardrict won Best Actor for Destined. I had been talking with Omari for a while about doing something together. Then it was a phone call. Datari called Meagan. We all talked and once we had that core, Datari got on the phone and just started connecting me with folks. He connected me with Jay, Dijon, and all these folks, and even Kenya Barris and Mike Jackson (who are producers on other projects). It was a community effort.
Samantha, is this first outing as a screenwriter?
Samantha Tanner: Yes. This is my feature that’s been produced and my first time at Sundance. I come from a theater background, which is also another reason I jumped onboard with this project. With Qasim and Datari and our DP Steven Holleran, we decided to do a one take. I’m from the Chicago theater and we have a strong improv and it’s my bones. I had done in college and high school several projects where it was free style, long form, one act plays. Qasim and his relationship with Omari and he knew that Omari is a poet and musician and has the stamina to be on set and he’s also a theater actor. Meagan and her legacy, so we knew that we needed someone that could be in this moving play.
Qasim Basir: With this theme about following your dreams, I want this to be this year’s Moonlight. We had a lot of distributors at our screening. We had some great conversations and we would like to get this film out far and wide. Have people tap into dreams when they were seven or eight years old where life just knocked the hell out of them; and that’s what this is all about. I think it’s important that we contribute to this movement or to the whole because I think it’s hurting right now. Our country is divided and the more voices we have towards equality, the better. When people leave the theater, that’s what I want them to feel.