UPDATE: A year since this interview, Reagan has launched a new web series, in keeping with her mission to be self-reliant, continuing to create her own work, as well as work for other artists of color, embracing the digital revolution that's democratized the content creation, distribution and exhibition process. The new series, an apocalyptic drama titled "Surviving," just wrapped up its first season. All 7 episodes of season 1 are available to binge-watch on Reagan's YouTube channel, which you can access here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjxC1R1dPhYX9MeS_F5SJ5w.
First read and be inspired by her words below, and then go watch "Surviving" at the link above, or on her website at http://reagangomez.com/. And if you like what you see, be sure to click on the donation buttons as instructed to contribute to the production of season 2.
Well known for her role as Zaria Peterson in the 1990s sitcom "The Parent 'Hood," Reagan Gomez-Turrentine has gone on to appear in a number of film and TV projects, most recently voicing Roberta Tubbs on "The Cleveland Show" and starring in TV One's "Love That Girl."
Her latest is "Almost Home," a web series that she writes, directs, produces and stars in opposite brother-in-law DeJuan Turrentine, as a pair of siblings navigating careers in music and fashion. Gomez's husband DeWayne Turrentine co-produces and co-stars as love interest Scott, while her sister-in-law, independent hip hop artist Queen, also co-stars. Season 2 of the series is available on YouTube.
Gomez recently spoke with Shadow And Act about creating the series as well as her thoughts on the online content revolution, her outspoken social media presence, and more.
JAI TIGGETT: Not everyone knows that you not only act, but you also wrote, produced, and directed this season of your web series. Was it always your plan to write and create your own content?
REAGAN GOMEZ: I've been a writer for a long time. When I was a teenager I actually co-wrote one of the episodes of "The Parent 'Hood." They didn't wind up using my script, but they used my story and it was one of the most popular episodes that the show ever had, the episode where Zaria wears a revealing dress to the dance.
So after "The Parent 'Hood" ended I always wrote scripts, and as a black actress I did it from a place of writing the kinds of characters that I wished I could audition for. I wasn't auditioning for those characters because they weren't there. But I would take my scripts to my agents and managers and they'd say, "This is great, but how about that audition?" So I put it on the back burner.
I was still writing. I had a few TV pilots and feature scripts, and I'd take meetings here and there, but it wasn't until I had my daughter that I got serious about it. That was in 2007, and 2009 was when I got on Twitter and met Matthew Cherry. We were talking about Black Hollywood, and then we got together and did our short film "This Time, " which is on my YouTube channel. I wrote it, I starred in it, he directed it, and that was my first venture into writing something on paper and seeing it come to fruition.
JT: So wearing all those different hats was a necessity, but you also enjoyed it. What about directing, writing and producing, going forward?
RG: I'm not gonna stop. I think this is the next chapter for me in my 30s. I'll continue to act when the roles are available, and when I get offered something. But creating original content on my YouTube channel and not having to go through networks or studios, the freedom you have to just do it online, I'm never giving that up.
JT: What should audiences expect from the second season of "Almost Home"?
RG: Well if you watched last season, you know that music and fashion are the backdrop for the show. So coming into Season 2, two of our main characters, DeJuan and Ryan, have just gotten a record deal and like a lot of people who are new to the music business, they think the hard part is over. We get to see that the real work actually begins after they sign their deal. And we also get to watch my character, Lisa, start new business ventures in the fashion industry, and her relationship with Scott.
One of my favorite episodes this season will be posted on Tuesday. I'm huge hip-hop fan. I grew up listening to a lot of amazing women rappers and emcees, from Queen Latifah to Left Eye, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill and Missy. And nowadays we don't really have much variety. So we have an amazing female rapper on our show, Queen, and she has a rap battle with a guy in Episode 3. I'm really excited about that.
JT: You and your husband star in and produce "Almost Home" together, and Queen, DeJuan, and lots of your other family members are involved in the project. Tell me about working with family.
RG: It's been a learning experience, but it's really been great. There are a lot of families out there that just can't work together and I get that, but it was great for us. We're all helping each other out. Even in Episode 1, we didn't have a hairstylist so in between scenes my sister-in-law was putting curls in my hair. It's really a family atmosphere and that's what I want. Whether it's people who are blood related to me or not, it has to be that atmosphere.
JT: How similar are the characters to your actual family?
RG: The characters are totally based on them. They're exaggerated for show purposes, but my husband's really a music producer, Queen is an independent musician, and my brother-in-law is a singer-songwriter.
And I definitely wanted to show the dynamic between a brother and sister. We see so many shows with sisters - the Braxtons, the Kardashians. You don't really see a brother and sister relationship. Especially if the sister is older, sometimes you feel like a mother figure for your brother but you still have to let him grow up and be a man. I have a younger brother and that's something we went through. So I wanted to show that.
JT: You've said that you plan to produce more content for your YouTube channel, starting with another web series in the fall. How will that work? Are you collaborating with other content creators?
RG: I'm not working with anybody, I don't have a team, I don't have an agent that's helping me out with the s-. It's just me and my husband. I write it and we get the money to film it and we put it straight on my YouTube channel. At this point it's just about getting the channel up and running, but in the future I'd love to work with other people.
For instance, I want all of the shows on my channel to star women of color, particularly black women. For the next few web series that I do, I'm not even going to be in them. I want to cast new people, and I'm just going to direct and let them shine. That's what the plan is.
JT: What do you think about the overall direction that online content is going in? There are a ton of new projects now.
RG: I love it. There are people who have been doing it way longer than me, but the more great black content out there, the better. And when you say "black" it's always like, "Don't say black. Aren't you limiting your viewership when you say that?"
But do you know how many people have gotten HBO deals from producing black content? Mf-ing HBO is watching these black series, okay? And they're just fine with it. So I'm proud to be producing black content. And we are not the only ones watching, trust and believe.
JT: You've been pretty vocal on Twitter and YouTube, and connected to your fans. How does hearing their thoughts and feedback every day affect what you're creating?
RG: We want people to be involved. Even in the credits for the cast, we have their social media links. And that's what we did for "This Time" as well. We streamed the auditions and the whole production process. I love being active on social media. The biggest feedback that I've gotten from people is that they want longer episodes, so this season the episodes are a little bit longer.
You also have to stick to your guns for what your vision is. You take the constructive criticism, because without the fans you would have no show. But most of the criticism has been really positive.
JT: You've been working in entertainment since you were a teenager. How do you think you've avoided the pitfalls that a lot of young actors fall into in Hollywood?
RG: I went through my s-. But there were no blogs back then, so there weren't people following me around when I was 19 with a camera posting everything that I was doing. And even if there were, I doubt that people would really care. There are bigger stars out there than me. But I went through my s-, as people do as they get older. Going through your late teens and early 20s is not an easy time, especially in Hollywood. So you just learn your lessons, you make your mistakes and you move on.
As far as drug abuse and all that - listen, this is Hollywood. I don't know how I was able to avoid it, but I'm lucky that I did. I'm lucky that I had my ace boon coon and my husband and family there with me. And I don't take Hollywood too seriously. I have kids that don't give a damn about what I'm shooting, they just want dinner. So that keeps me grounded. And I've been broke more than I've been rich. I like being in the middle way better. And I like being able to put out my own content instead of just going from audition to audition and just waiting and hoping. I don't have the time anymore.
JT: As far as lessons go, what have you learned that still benefits you at this point in your career?
RG: I think the biggest lesson that I've learned is that no one owes you anything. It doesn't matter if you've worked with this person, or you have a piece of work that you think is great. It doesn't mean they're going to agree with you and give you money to do it. Sometimes it just takes you saying, "You know what? I'm going to take the money out of my own pocketbook."
And that's not easy. I have two kids, I have a mortgage. Funding the trailer and the first two episodes of "Amost Home" wasn't easy on us at all. For the first season we raised $14,000 on Indiegogo, and for the second season we raised $5,000. So we had to pull a whole lot out of our bank account. But sometimes you have to sacrifice because you see what the end goal is. When you have a dream and you want to get it done, you can't wait on other people. I was lucky that I'm not in it by myself. I have my family and we all did whatever we had to, to get it done. But sometimes it's just on you.
Thanks to Reagan Gomez for the conversation.
Find Gomez's short film "This Time" and her web series "Almost Home" on her YouTube channel HERE.
Watch season 2, episodes 1 & 2 below: