Lifetime's 'With this Ring' came from book co-written by two Atlantans

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

By RODNEY HO/, filed January 23, 2015

"With This Ring," a new Lifetime movie debuting Saturday, opens at an Atlanta wedding where three best friends (played by Regina Hall, Eve and Jill Scott) vow to get married within a year, come hell or high water.

On the surface, the whole premise seems oddly regressive and desperate. But there is far more complexity here than meets the eye.

And for the authors of the 2005 book that the film is based on, "With This Ring" was a long time coming.

Two of those writers live here in Atlanta: Angela Burt-Murray, who runs lifestyle website and moved here a year ago, and Denene Millner, who moved to Atlanta in 2005 and author of 23 books, including a co-writing credit for Steve Harvey's runaway 2009 best-selling relationships book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man."

Actress Gabrielle Union came to one of their book release parties and fell in love with the book, which was called "The Vow." She also happened to be friends and former school mates with Mitzi Miller, the third author. Union "said this needs to be a movie," Millner said.

But it took nearly a decade to come to fruition. "We had two kids each over that time," Murray mused. "We just weren't sure it would ever happen." Union kept optioning the book and around 2008 nabbed producer Tracey Edmonds ("Soul Food") to get the project moving. They tried to get it to the big screen. They worked a bit with Lifetime but management there kept changing.  They never gave up.

"The book is a page turner," Edmonds said in a press conference last week. "I could so relate to the women in the book. It so reminded me so much of me and my girlfriends. We felt the stories were very relatable."

Then in 2012, the ladies saw a trailer on TV for a film starring Channing Tatum called... "The Vow." To them, that was just insult to injury. Only last year did Lifetime finally say yes, though it had to change the film title.

"With This Ring" comes out as TV programming featuring black women is on the rise. Besides the raft of reality programs, Lifetime has aired biopics recently for Aaliyah and Whitney Houston. VH1 has had success with a TLC biopic and a "Drumline" sequel with a female lead.  Shonda Rimes has her own night on ABC. Fox just landed a major hit with "Empire" co-starring Taraji P. Henson. And Union is the lead in a successful BET drama "Being Mary Jane," which was shot in Atlanta and returns for a second season Feb. 3.

"People are taking us more seriously," Murray said. "There's opportunity to connect with the African-American audience and a broader audience."

"With This Ring," once it was greenlit, moved quickly last summer. Millner and Murray read the script, written by Nzingha Stewart, and had no complaints. "She was true to our characters," Millner said, "very true to the voice and the sentiments we were portraying in the book. It ends a little differently but we couldn't ask for more."

Millner wrote one of the characters Vivian with Jill Scott in mind and she was thrilled when the producers actually cast Scott to play her. They even visited the set in Cleveland and Millner watched Scott speak words she had written. "It was absolutely surreal!" she said.

And even though "The Vow" was set in 2005 and technology has advanced in terms of the way people communicate and date, Murray said the core of the book remains in "With This Ring": friendship. "It's being in love with yourself first before falling in love with someone else," Murray said. "And while love is great and possible, your life doesn't stop if it doesn't happen."

Hall, who plays a driven talent agent in "With This Ring," said she is a single woman who has actually made "the vow" herself with friends. "It got us through situations," she said. "It really resonated with me."

TV preview

"With This Ring," 8 p.m. Saturday, January 24, 2015, Lifetime