New TV series about a Hamilton prison shows that 'Pink Is In'

A series about a barely functioning women's prison in Hamilton hopes to bring levity during the pandemic and turn heads to local talent.

4-episode series premieres on Bell Fibe TV1 on Jan. 11

The cast of 'Pink Is In' pose in pink jumpsuits at the Hamilton Film Studios in Dundas. (Chantale Viens)

The production team of a comedy series about a women's prison in Hamilton hopes to bring notes of levity during the pandemic and turn heads to local talent. 

The show features a barely functioning, privately owned facility — Chatsworth Hamilton Women's prison — run by Warden Morgan Dungsworth, who juggles an inept CEO Pip Barnett and convict 'Top Dog', who rules the prison from the inside. 

Many of the cast and crew are from the Hamilton area, where the series was entirely filmed. 

Being back on set after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said producer and director Lisa Crawford, had people "overjoyed." 

"Everybody that came on the show said they just felt it," Crawford said, adding the team operated like the gears of a clock. "It was such a big positive energy from the cast and crew."

Fifteen businesses in the city helped support the series which was on a tight budget, she said, further making it a "truly Hamilton" show. 

Pip Barnett, who "recently celebrated five months without an original thought" is played by writer Kim Lombard. On the right, Ellen-Ray Hennessy plays Warden Morgan Dungworth. (Chantale Viens)

Crawford and her co-creator Caroline Puzinas were inspired after playing a prisoner and prison guard in New Eden. While Orange is the New Black and Wentworth are dramas, the duo wanted to put a spin on the narrative and opted for a comedy.  

The four-episode series is purely entertaining and wacky, and a throwback to 70s and 80s-style comedy with a hint of British humour, said Crawford. She hopes it comes as a relief to those itching for entertainment and an escape after a stressful year.

But that doesn't mean the series lacks substance. Crawford, who is transgender, says inclusivity is always top of mind for her as a creator. Her company slogan is "creativity through diversity."

Women don't get as many opportunities in film, she said, so strong representation in the series was important to her. Non-profit Women in View's latest report of 5,000 TV contracts from 2014 to 2017 found that "women's share of writing, directing and cinematography work in both film and TV remains below 25 per cent."

There were 26 performers on the series, and 16 of those were women. 

'Pink Is In' comes to Bell Fibe TV1 in January. The team hopes the "truly Hamilton" show continues for several seasons. (Chantale Viens)

Crawford grew up in South Africa, with a dream of going to Hollywood and becoming a filmmaker. Background acting was her film school, but she found it hard to get roles. Crawford said she was told she "passed too much as a woman" for transgender roles, or was too tall for others.

She's since appeared in series like The Umbrella Academy and produced short films, including Death Game  which premiered at the Toronto Independent Film Festival in 2019 — and Digging up Dorothy, which recently premiered at the Hamilton Film Festival.

What drives her, she said, is the process of coming together, creating collectively and seeing the results in a piece of art. To do it together, she said, gives such satisfaction. 

The series was pitched in December 2019, and the writers dove into creating the episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was filmed in September.

It will premiere on Bell Fibe TV1, which has funding for regional programming, on Jan. 11. 

Lisa Crawford says her experience in the casino business in the Caribbean allows her to see the potential in underdogs. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The majority of actors on Pink Is In were previously background performers who were able to seize the opportunity to be lead performers, Crawford said. The series resulted in five people becoming full ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists) members.

Crawford says she uses her experience from the casino business in the Caribbean, where she worked her way up from a technician to running five casinos, in her role as producer. It allows her to see people's potential to grow, she said. 

"It's all about finding the right talents," she said. "What I love is giving people a chance. Especially the underdogs. Sometimes you'll see somebody that's never had the opportunity. I'm the person that wants to give those people a chance."

The creative team also appears in the show, with Crawford playing Top Dog's muscle, Nezrenko, and writers Kim Lombard as Pip Barnett and Caroline Puzinas as Alcatraz. 

Crawford says it's been surreal living her dream and encourages others with passion and perseverance to go after their own.

Follow your dreams

"It's not too late to follow your dreams," she said. "And if you do have a dream, and you really fight for it, you will make it happen."

Crawford says she's looking at a Theresa Jacobs script Un-Gendered, and is in search of funding for a Christmas feature film, which her group is hoping to shoot in Hamilton next year.

Writers are preparing for a second season for Pink Is In, with eight episodes ready to go should the series get picked up. The hope is that the series continues for several seasons to give local people employment opportunities and the chance to perform larger roles.

Here's a list of key creators on the team from Hamilton and its surrounding area. 

  • Created by Lisa Crawford and Caroline Puzinas. 
  • Written by Kim Lombard. 
  • Produced by Lisa Crawford and Gina Brown-Crawford. 
  • Directed by Aharon Jinjihashvili. 
  • Casting by Darren Stewart-Jones. 
  • Cinematography by Raymond Tuquero. 
  • Editing by Cat Senior.