By Delaine Nightingale and J.M.R
Photo by: Anat Gat Photography
To understand Jewelle Colwell, one might think of her as an award winning actress, respected producer with prestigious nominations, as well a published author of five short stories, and screenplay writer. However, the story of how she got there tells us more of her own personal drive for her love for the arts. Jewelle Colwell has started and helped so many other independent actors in Calgary, AB with her direct impact with her many projects, acting classes and her influence as a producer.
The simple truth is Jewelle’s first love is acting and to this day remains the ultimate passion in her life. She recently learned ASL (American Sign Language) for an important role in Hershel Gordon Lewis’ feature film Bloodmania (2014). She was also nominated for Best Actress in the theatre world in Calgary, after her strong performance as the wicked step mother in Cinderella. Jewelle continued with film and starred in various feature films, such as Missing Link (the first ever Nigerian/Canadian co-production and for which she received her “Best Actress” trophy from the Nigerian Ambassador himself), several web series, and numerous other feature films.
Jewelle plays lead detective Summer Brown in her television crime series, Bluff. Season 2 is in development now and will broadcast on the small screen throughout the US later in 2015. The first season is currently available on DVD in North America. The strong humanitarian undertones set this series apart, with heart and soul being explored throughout each story line via stories of addiction, abuse, human trafficking, and dangerous drug dealers.
People who are in the professional and independent Calgary film market have certainly heard of Calgary’s award winning actress Jewelle Colwell as a producer. This sparkling talent is making Calgary very proud! Many would say she is one of Calgary’s finest actresses and producers and has set the path for so many others in the last three years. Her projects Bluff, Uncaged and Offscreen are her more recent successes. Bringing in many talents found in the Calgary area, Jewelle has created Uncaged – a lifestyle series for outdoor motorbike adventure seekers starring her husband, Rob Colwell as the host.
Jewelle’s story began with an almost magnetic attraction for the acting world. Growing up in West Germany, Jewelle’s first role she landed was at the age of five, when she played a very young Mary in a church Christmas Pageant. She started to write poetry and learn the piano at the age of eight. Upon her return to Canada, Jewelle auditioned for a minor role in a school play (Anne of Green Gables) and was offered the lead role instead. Growing up, Jewelle planned to be a singer and actress. She recorded her first and only album at the age of 21. Several of her songs are available on iTunes, a few being considered for a feature film soundtrack produced in Los Angeles!
Jewelle’s love for acting did not diminish with time. As a teenager she took some film acting classes and worked with a few vibrant groups with rave responses to her work. As a lover of stories and her constant effort to make the world a better place, Jewelle recorded a CD titled ‘Hidden Utopia’, with seven self-written and produced songs. She has the sweetest voice to go along with her personality.
Jewelle has worked with celebrities Judy Norton, Mark Gantt, Neil Schell and many more over her long career that began in theatre. Schell was particularly important as he was a pivotal acting coach to her. Schell subsequently offered Jewelle a film-making apprenticeship and promised to teach her everything he learned from his 20 years of experience in the business – everything from directing, color choices, camera angles and writing. Colwell accepted, her desire to build and share stories since she was a child seemed to culminate in this opportunity. Jewelle’s first assignment after completing the writing segment of the apprenticeship was to write original dialogue and shoot a scene with a minimum of four people, with the required editing and camera work also part of the assignment. This was the birth of Poker Girls.
Jewelle decided to ask some women in her circle to come and act with her. Five women replied with a resounding “yes” and the first shoot of Poker Girls was planned. Though no one knew it yet. Each of the women who decided to attend was of a “certain age” seldom portrayed truthfully in western media. Jewelle felt this would be a great point of exposure for them, she wanted to provide them more opportunities than they were currently being offered in Calgary’s growing industry. From this she received one of the best compliments about that first season of Poker Girls – it was that the audience thought they were improvising, although in truth they were following her scripts nearly verbatim.
In 2010, Jewelle decided to continue her journey with a one-on-one film making apprenticeship, which ultimately helped birth the new series, Poker Girls, which was nominated for best TV Pilot at the Banff World Media Festival in 2011. It was at this point that all her hard work started to get recognized for her work as both an actor and producer. Jewelle’s creation, Poker Girls, was also voted Best Drama at the HollyWeb Fest in Los Angeles. Jewelle’s passion to create stories that positively influence humanity’s status quo exploded from ember to full and raging fire. She pushed her projects and herself to even higher standards, ultimately bringing Poker Girls, renamed to BLUFF, to television both in the US and Canada. Again, Jewelle was honoured and pleased to be found again in such great company as Hell on Wheels (AMC) and Heartland (CBC), Bluff having been nominated for Best Dramatic Series at the Alberta AMPIA’s.
Girls evolved from a simple and fun shoot into Bluff, a weekly series, that she produces as a fulltime endeavor now with its own DVDs and the project is now slated for Fox Affiliate Channels across the US. The series, Poker Girls began when Jewelle suggested to a group of ladies to meet one time and develop a series around the mature and professional world of women.
Jewelle immediately began to write, direct, film and edit all the episodes. As one can imagine this project quickly took over all her time. Her schedule soon became very complicated. Sunday was availability day, which she used to work on things outside of the project. On Mondays, the scripts were sent out. Tuesday through Thursday, Jewelle was busy editing the footage from the previous week. Uploading the final product to YouTube was done on Thursday evenings. Friday was left for shoot day in Jewelle’s home, around her dining room table. Saturdays were based around writing and more production. Furthermore, in the fall of that first year of Poker Girls, Jewelle was invited to visit Nairobi, Kenya to work on the series “Saints”, learning behind the scenes for two weeks, as well as being offered the role of Ms. Deya, the baby thief within the series itself.
Jewelle is connected with Los Angeles in another way. Actor/producer/mentor/coach Bob Fraser was a source of guidance in her film making life. Jewelle asked him for advice on December 7th in the first year of Poker Girls. Her concern was that her efforts were not justifying this project taking over her entire schedule. His advice was to “try harder, you’re close” which might sound like the opposite you would want to hear. She took that advice to heart. Jewelle was then introduced to LA actress Judy Norton via Neil Schell, who flew to Calgary to join the project, and is now in its second season.
Jewelle jumped right back in with the second season renamed “Bluff”, with a new crime show element but retaining some of the old influential characters of Poker Girls. She kept the best aspects of Poker Girls but decided to hire the best cinematographer available to write longer and fuller scripts, and completed ten episodes of a higher quality than ever before. She also found new locations and invited Neil Schell to come direct. At this point, Jewelle decided it was safe to allow herself to be in the show as a character. Typically, this type of move can be looked down on by the acting world, however, she found that her own story now fit in as one of the characters. This also fit in well with her own goals because of her true passion for acting.
With the new recipe, that first episode was shot in January, with guest star Judy Norton (Walton’s Mary Ellen). This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and working relationship between Jewelle and Judy.
This pilot received its accolades only a few short months later at the Banff Media Film Festival. With a sought after nomination for “Best Dramatic TV Pilot,” and the Hollyweb Fest Best Drama nomination in Los Angeles.
A year later, Jewelle led a full-sized crew into production of six half-hour episodes in what is now renamed Bluff, which is in its first season.
Jewelle quickly learned and accepted the industry requirements of long hours. That is only half the story, she also moonlights as mother to her two daughters, and as a wife. She helped along her eldest Ysabella who graduates this spring and was recently accepted into “The Academy” aka AADA! Her youngest daughter is also interested in acting and will soon be finishing high school in a few years.
Jewelle Colwell’s newest show Offscreen recently had its pilot release in Calgary, Alberta. It was a huge success! She has a cast of over 20 people many of whom she mentored as an acting coach before they all put this project together. Bringing in a handful of the actors from the cast to write the script. Jewelle likes to have as many people add their input for the bigger work without losing the focus of the project. She seeks creative growth in her project rather than be the sole creative influence. This seems to work for the people in her life as it allowed for more growth in Calgary’s acting world. Hundreds of people have Jewelle Colwell to thank for their start in the Calgary entertainment industry and has been a trend setter since she started. Jewelle Colwell is certainly a Canadian gem!
Catch up with Jewelle here.