REEL Lady: Jillian Bullock

Reel Ladies talks to Philadelphia Filmmaker, Jillian Bullock. Jillian is a writer, actress, and Producer. Her production company, Jaguar Productions, is currently working on the feature film, “The Champion Inside”.Growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she graduated with a degree in Communications from La Salle University. During the summer of 1991, Jillian had her first taste of real filmmaking as an intern on the set of Spike Lee’s film “Malcolm X.” Jillian wrote “The Champion Inside™” with inspiration coming from her own experiences as a boxer and a cancer survivor. It is our goal to gather support from the entertainment community, especially those who have been affected by cancer, in order to bring more awareness to this devastating disease. Since cancer is the number one killer among American people, and 1 in 3 people will get cancer sometime in their lifetime, Jillian and Portia are certain that a film such as The Champion Inside™ will not only be entertaining, but educational as well.

RL:  When did the entertainment bug bite you? 

JB: When I was a little girl, my stepfather, who was a white, Mobster in Philadelphia during the 60’s and 70’s, taught me not only about the ways of the Mafia, but about films. Every Saturday, he’d take me to see a movie, mostly gangster movies; that was our special time together and it was a relaxing time for him. He would say, “This is my time not to think about work and the ugliness I deal with on a daily basis.” It was my stepfather who always told me I would one day become a writer and a director, because he wanted to go to the movies one day and see my name up there on the big screen. But I thought he was crazy, because during that time I had never seen a female director, especially not a black, female director. But I held on to that dream especially after my stepfather died when I was 15.


RL:  You’ve had an amazing journey with trials, tribulations and victories. Can you share some of that with us?


JB: Most of my trials came while I was growing up. I witnessed my first Mob hit, by the hands of my stepfather, when I was nine years old. When other little girls my age were outside playing with dolls, jumping rope, playing jacks, I was learning about extortion, racketeer, drugs, prostitution, and murder. At age 11, a family friend raped me. My stepfather took care of the offender, who was found dead the next day. Then, when I was 15 my stepfather died and I had to deal with my mother and her new husband, who was emotionally and physically abusive to my mother. I almost killed him one night after he beat my mother up, but she sided with him over me. So, I had no other choice, but to leave home. We lived in Florida at the time, and I had no idea where I was going or what I would do for money. I ended up getting involved in criminal activity, drugs, and prostitution in order to survive. I only got off the streets, at age 16, when I learned I was pregnant. These experiences helped me be strong and determined to give my baby and myself a better life, but it also made me cold and distrustful of people, especially men. I had to do a lot of soul searching over the years to put the past behind me and rid myself of the negative habits I acquired.


RL: You worked as an intern on Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’, tell us about that experience and what you gained from it.


JB: In 1991 after I graduated from La Salle University, I did about two months on the set of Malcolm X. I continued afford to do the whole internship because I wasn’t being paid and I had to commute to New York daily. But what I did learn was interesting. Denzel Washington was a complete gentleman, a true professional. When he was preparing to transform in Malcolm X no one could bother him. He was in a deep trance. Spike, well, let’s just say, I learned what I wouldn’t do as a director. I know he was under a lot of stress and pressure because the movie had a big budget, and he ran out of money and had to go to his ‘celebrity’ friends for help. So, I’ll just say he wasn’t the nicest or most open director, but again I’ll attribute that to the stress he was under to bring the film to completion. But talking to the other crew members and just observing did help me see the pros and cons of filmmaking. The experience was extremely stressful. I mean, I was an intern and interns don’t get any respect. They’re the lowest on the crew and do all the grunt work, which I hated. I knew, however, it was part of the learning process. Still, I did think about just being a writer and not dealing with the day to day headaches of production, but I remembered my promise to my stepfather, and I hung in there.


RL: Tell us about your first project as a producer, “A Filmmaker’s Personal Journey” and the award you received.


JB: In 1997, I had a friend, my best male friend, Dominic, who helped me secure funding for my first feature film entitled Totally Wicked. I didn’t expect to do anything with the film. I just wanted to get my feet wet as a writer, director, and producer. The production was grueling, especially since I was working with film students as my crew. Dominic, who was in remission from cancer, wanted to do something to keep his spirits up, so I suggested he work with me on Totally Wicked.


After we finished Totally Wicked, Dominic learned the cancer had returned. The first time he had stomach cancer; this time he had brain cancer. While the doctors operated, I thought about doing a documentary on Dominic, his life as a former Chicago Bulls team member. How he lived life dealing with cancer. While I was finishing up the documentary, I learned I had ovarian cancer. Dominic and I had many nights where we held each other and cried in each other’s arms. It was a scary time for us both. Dominic died about six months after his operation.


In 1998, Paris Moore, another independent filmmaker, had an award ceremony for filmmakers in Philadelphia. He presented me with the Mickey Michaux award for my documentary.


RL:  Why the name “Jaguar Productions”?


JB: When I was a young girl I loved writing and drawing. I won a contest after I did an oil painting of a jaguar (the cat, not the car). That was a proud moment for me, so years later I named my company Jaguar Productions.


RL: What do filmmakers need to know about the Philadelphia film market?


JB: Philadelphia is really growing in terms of film productions. This year and last year, Philadelphia was ranked in the top 10 cities for filming movies. The Philadelphia Film Office is really drawing filmmakers to the city with tax cuts and incentives. Each year the number grows for Hollywood movies that are being filmed in Philadelphia. It’s a great place to do business for big budgets and independent films.


RL: What is the hardest part about raising children and being in the industry?


JB: I was a single parent and I didn’t have support from my family. They felt I was just a dreamer. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be happy doing a 9 to 5 job. Not saying anything is wrong with that, but it just wasn’t me. I had a dream since I was a little girl and I was determined to fulfill my dream for my stepfather and myself.


Not only was I raising children when I started my production company in 1995, I also worked a full-time job as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, I was in college full-time, and I was in R.O.T.C. Army. So, to say I had a lot on my plate is an understatement. My children didn’t always understand why I worked all the time, but I kept telling them I’m doing this for you, so you can have a better life than I ever had. They didn’t understand it until they became adults.


RL: When were you diagnosed with cancer and how did you battle through that?


JB: In 1998, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I went through the stages of cancer, like most people do – depression, why me, hating God and the world, acting reckless because I didn’t care about life anymore; then acceptance, and then dealing with it by fighting back. But even when I was in remission, I was in a state of depression for three years. Dominic had died and my sister-in-law, Tara, died about a year later. I just knew I was doing to die as well.


It was my son, Andre, who helped me get off the couch and stop feeling sorry for myself. He introduced me to wrestling – the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). We’d watch it each week together and for some strange reason I really got into the show. A few months later, not only was I off the couch, I was training in Allentown, PA with the Wild Samoan Wrestling School. The owner, Afa Anoa’i, is a former 3-time WWE tag team champion with his brother Sika, and Afa is also the uncle of former WWE champion and now actor The Rock. Afa’s school is the only organization sanctioned to train people to do professional wrestling for the WWE. Training with those guys, along with getting into boxing, which made my martial arts skills even better, was an amazing experience.  I began writing my next project Spirit, which involved boxing, martial arts and wrestling.


RL: What are you working on currently?


JB: Right now I’m in pre-production on a film entitled The Champion Inside. I wrote the script, which centers on a female, champion boxer, who is forced to retire after she learns she has cancer. Her return to boxing is complicated by her age; she’s 39, and her fear and lack of confidence to get back into the ring after five years in boxing exile.


We are shooting a trailer in October, breast cancer month, to gather support from the community and attract investors and producers for funding. We’re also linking with cancer organizations to bring more attention to cancer, not just breast cancer. Along with myself, my other producer is Chris Mann. He plays the lead male role in the film. He’s an accomplished actor. He can be seen in Ocean’s 11, Michael Clayton and the HBO series The Wire. His mother and brother both died from cancer, so the film is a special project for him as well.


RL: What is your dream project?


JB: To get my life story, Killing Of Innocence, produced. I wrote the script and I will begin shopping it around. I want the world to know about my stepfather and the special relationship we had. Even though he was a killer, he had his soft side, especially when he dealt with me. If I could sum up Killing Of Innocence, it would be a cross between Good Fellas and The Professional.


RL: What’s next for Jaguar?


JB: I’m developing a reality television show entitled Blood, Bruises & Broken Bones, which is a show I plan to host. The show will have me going around the country each week doing unique, dangerous, unusual and exciting jobs that women may have never thought of doing as a career, e.g. bodyguard, S.W.A.T. boxer, race car driver. I was inspired to write this show, this concept, while I watched the television shows Dirty Jobs and Man vs. Wild. Shows like those are geared toward men and I wanted to do a show that would gather interest from females, but be educational, as well as entertaining.


I’m also working on my first exercise video, which will be for beginners through advanced. It’s called Total Extreme w/ The Jaguar. I’m combining boxing, martial arts and wrestling moves with lightweights. With cardio conditioning and strength moves, my video will whip anybody into excellent shape in just 30 days, if they follow my program and eat a healthy diet.


RL: As a woman who has been a rape victim, a cancer survivor, mother of three and STILL going after your dreams, what thoughts or motivation can you leave with our audience?


JB: “When your dreams die, you die.” That’s my motto. As long as God has blessed you with breath in your body and you’re in your right mind, you must push through any obstacle, resistance, or problem and continue your quest to fulfill your dreams and goals. Don’t depend on family or friends to understand your vision. It’s nice if they do, but don’t count on it, and don’t make them or anything or anybody an excuse for why you ‘can’t’ make your dreams become a reality. I am living proof that no matter what obstacles come your way, anyone can succeed if they have the three D’s – determination, discipline and dedication. 

 Visit The Champion Inside official site for more information!



About REEL Ladies

A Networking Community & Organization for Women in Film & Entertainment! View all posts by REEL Ladies

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