Transgender Canadian filmmaker launches new series, “Pink Is In”, based in Hamilton, Ontario
About 18 months ago, I met film and television producer Lisa Crawford by chance on the set of a series being filmed in Toronto. We had never met previously, but I recognized her from a piece I had read on CBC Hamilton about a trans female filmmaker who was starting to make a name for herself. I introduced myself, and within a month of that meeting we were on another set together, this time for my own short film project!
I have written and produced dozens of short plays over the years, but had always wanted to turn one of my scripts into a screenplay. With Lisa’s guidance as producer, I have now managed to bring two of my scripts to life on screen. Digging Up Dorothy is a short comedy in which a drag queen (played by yours truly) stages a protest in a cemetery when she hears Judy Garland’s remains are going to be moved.
Stroke of Fate is a short drama that features a mother and son trying to mend their broken relationship. I reached out to award-winning Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy (Agnes in Umbrella Academy) to play the mom in Stroke of Fate, and I find her performance in the piece so moving, I cry every time I watch it. Both films are currently enjoying their time on the film festival circuit, which has been mostly a virtual experience this past season due to the pandemic.
Lisa’s latest project is Pink Is In, a comedy series about the administration and inmates of a women’s prison located in Hamilton, Ontario. Full disclosure – Lisa invited me on board to co-produce the project but it really is her baby. She is the Creator and Producer of the series, and we recently sat down via Zoom to chat about the project.
So, remind me of how you first came up with the idea for Pink Is In.
I was actually playing a prisoner on the show New Eden and was having a blast on set with Caroline Puzinas, who was playing a guard. I thought it might be fun to have a comedy series set in a Canadian prison. Caroline and I met at a coffee shop a few weeks later, started brainstorming and wrote down some ideas. Within a few months, we had brought in a great comedy writer, Kim Lombard, to help create the characters and story lines and then we pitched the idea to Bell Fibe TV1. After some back and forth negotiations, they gave us the green light to shoot the first four episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pink Is In began streaming on Bell Fibe TV1 a few weeks ago. How is that going and what are the plans for the series moving forward?
My partner Gina Brown-Crawford and I were thrilled to find out just yesterday that Pink Is In is now among the “favourites” on Bell Fibe TV1. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but within a month of the show’s premiere, it has become one of the most-watched programs on the platform. It will be available for streaming on TV1 for a while, but we’re also seeking out other platforms who may have interest in airing the series. We realize that not everyone has access to the show right now, so we’d like to make it available to more viewers. Stay tuned!
The series was shot in Hamilton during lockdown. What was that experience like for the cast and crew?
The set was such a positive environment to work in. I think everyone was grateful to be working after the uncertainty of what COVID-19 might mean for the film and television industry. We had to follow strict protocols. Masks had to be worn by the actors until the director (Aharon Jinjihashvili) yelled action. As soon as a scene was filmed, the masks went back on. It was a little frustrating at times, but we got through it. There’s actually a small blooper in the show where one of our characters is briefly seen wearing a bandana over her face. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s almost like our silent nod to COVID-19.
The show features some great female performers from the Toronto area. Elley-Ray Hennessy, Margaret Lamarre, and Eileen Li to name a few. You also play a role in the series. Tell us a little about your character, Nezrenko.
Nezrenko is the muscle in the prison. She is basically the bodyguard of the Top Dog character, played by Trish Rainone. She’s Eastern European, very loyal to her friends and tries to exude a tough attitude. But with the show being a comedy, nobody really comes across as that scary. We really do just want to make viewers laugh. I think Nezrenko has a bit of a crush on Top Dog but she can’t allow herself to express her feelings. Maybe the writers will explore that more in future episodes.
You have spoken previously about having to create your own work as a transgender female in the entertainment industry. Can you tell me more about that struggle?
As a transgender actress I found that there were limited opportunities. When a transgender role came up, I was not ‘transgender’ enough, I looked too much like a woman. For female parts, I was too tall or large to play those roles. I saw how the stars at the Oscars were calling for inclusivity but I’m sad to say, in reality I was not seeing this happen in Hollywood or Toronto. Unfortunately, there is still some homophobia and transphobia with certain productions. So, I decided to create my own projects with the idea to be fully inclusive. I believe in giving everyone an opportunity, especially those from diverse groups. Film and TV should represent the real demographics of today’s society not the fake world where trans, gay, lesbian, and nonbinary people don’t exist.
Finally, why should viewers tune in to Pink Is In?
Because it’s funny! We just want to make people smile. It’s a show about a group of unique characters trying to survive this experience that they find themselves in. The show features a mostly female cast and includes nonbinary, bisexual and transgender characters. We don’t make too big of a deal about anyone’s sexuality or gender but I hope most viewers will see themselves represented on screen in our show.
Pink Is In is currently available across Canada on Bell Fibe TV1.
About the Author
Darren Stewart-Jones is an award-winning theatre producer, director and a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. His short films Digging Up Dorothy and Stroke of Fate are currently showing on the film festival circuit.