Local producer, actress brings high school drug use into limelight

In a dimly lit room with Japanese décor, I interviewed Jewelle Colwell the creator, executive producer and lead actress of her own TV show Bluff. She opened up about the messages she’s trying to spread by producing this show.

“I’m hoping that we can — through the story line — inspire people to be better, to think better, to think more, to think at all,” Colwell says. “If we can arouse a thought structure where there wasn’t one before, then I’m happy.”

In her TV drama, Colwell raises awareness about social issues like kids bringing drugs to school. As a mother of two teenage daughters, she says she is inspired to influence her audience to promote change.

“One of (my) main issues is that there are drugs in all our high schools, and none of us care. No one is working to change it. We don’t even talk about it,” Colwell says. “If I mention the fact that there are drugs in high school, people are like ‘Yeah,’ (and I think) ‘Really that’s ok with you?’”

Colwell includes her own energetic 15-year-old daughter, Ysabella, in this TV series. Ysabella plays Cassie Douglas, a teenage drug dealer who sells marijuana and cocaine to get what she wants.

“She’s such a good girl that no one would expect her to be selling drugs, which is why she does,” Ysabella says.

“Cassie is someone who knows what she wants but doesn’t know how to get there.”

Colwell plays the lead character Summer Brown, an undercover cop who busts Cassie’s drug dealing. And for Ysabella, she says being busted by her real life mother on set is fun.

“I’m not naturally a rebellious person. It’s fun to tap into that other side of myself,” Ysabella says. “It was a big change but one that I can still relate to. Once I learned more about Cassie, it was a lot easier to think, ‘Okay well if I was in this situation this is what I would be like, if I was this person.’”

Colwell doesn’t stop at raising awareness about drugs in schools. She also says she recognizes that show business is male dominated, leaving fewer roles for women to play. By having a TV show cast of mainly women, Colwell is doing what she can to help local female actors.

“Universally speaking, show business is still a man’s world. If men are writing the scripts, they are identifying more with male characters, and they don’t really know what to do with a female character,” Colwell says. “We as females need to band and work together and actually show them what a real female character is.”

The evolution of Bluff

Poker Girls, the predecessor to Bluff, started out as a one-on-one film-making assignment Colwell decided to do for a film-making apprenticeship, with director, producer and actor Neil Schell.

She started filming the episodes in her very own home.

“It started (with) five women around my kitchen table. I was editing and shooting, which I had never done before.” Colwell says. “These were 16-hour days. It was crazy but we came out with somewhere between three and six minutes worth of content per week.”Jewelle Colwell as detective Summer Brown in her TV series Bluff.

Photo courtesy of Michelle LeFaye

When Judy Norton was introduced into the cast, the filming went from Colwell’s dining room table to the Grey Eagle Casino and Bingo. This would land Colwell her first nomination for best TV pilot at the Banff World Media Festival.

“(The) Grey Eagle Casino was great, they allowed us to shoot there for free. So we did three solid 10 to 11 minute web series episodes of Poker Girls the year of 2011,” Colwell says.

With all this success, and an evolving story line, Colwell renamed Poker Girls.

“I needed to rename it,” Colwell says. “We were no longer a web series. We had been recast. We were rewritten, and our quality level had taken such a leap up from where we were at.”

Colwell said it cost her under $1 million to produce the first six episodes of the first season of Bluff. She hopes to start filming the rest of the seven episodes in January 2014.

Colwell’s interaction with her cast

Through the course of production, Colwell kept things under control by making sure her cast and crew didn’t burn out.

“I actually prefer (they) go home after 10 or 10 and a half (hours) just because I don’t believe in burning people out so much that they don’t want to be there,” Colwell says.

Judy Norton, who plays judge Sophia Wyndom, attests to how Colwell treats her cast and crew.

“She’s always very interested and very concerned in everybody’s state of mind,” Norton says.

But the other challenge Colwell has to deal with is the clock ticking as time is money in this business.

“(I have to stick) within a budget. The more time you use the more money you’re using,” Colwell says.

jhan@cjournal.ca