Saturday night on Hallmark Channel and W Network, Cindy Busby is back in the great outdoors and behind the lens of a camera in Marry Me in Yosemite. She plays Zoe Best, a photojournalist who’s found success with destination coffee table books that play on her name. When her editor, Harris (Harry Daniel Davis), pitches a new landscape series to kick off in Yosemite National Park, she enlists the help of Jack (Hallmark first-timer Tyler Harlow), a local climber and conservationist.
After a couple of ill-timed meet-cutes and a rescue, Jack agrees to shepherd Zoe around the park. Initially belittling her efforts, he warms up to her when he realizes she intends to capture the park the way he experiences it, and tell its whole story, warts and all. From there, we get a romcom and an extraordinary travelog inside the park, where the movie was filmed on location. Bruce D. Johnson directs from his script.
This afternoon, I caught up with Busby to chat about the movie, and her recent trip to Christmas Con. When she was approached to do the film, she was excited to get back outside, and much like her character, she was thrilled to learn more about the park and see it up close. The movie also shot with a small crew to minimally disturb the park and its visitors, which added to the overall magic of the experience.
“Obviously [getting back outside] is not something I set out to do. But I absolutely am here for it and I am available any chance that [Hallmark would] like to contact me,” she laughs. “When I first found out about the project, I had heard of Yosemite National Park, but I didn’t really know that much about it.”
“I looked it up and realized it’s actually not that far from my house. It took me about six hours to get there. And then I remembered a documentary I’d seen called Free Solo about this guy who climbed El Capitan. And it was the most intense documentary I’ve ever seen. I cannot get over that this guy accomplished that. And so it all came back to me.”
“I love the story and I love the Native American storyline as well, and telling the history of Yosemite and how important that is. Zoe’s a photojournalist, but it’s about so much more than that…the landscape and nature and taking care of nature and the blessings that we have because of Mother Nature.”
“It’s important to tell these stories. It’s also uncomfortable. Sometimes looking at our history face on is not an easy task, but it’s an important one. The more we acknowledge things and learn from the past, the easier we can move forward and recognize that there’s so much to learn and we can grow together. It was amazing.”
“One day we were working with Lexsy [McKowen, who plays ranger Sage] and Tim [Thunderhorse Halpin, who plays Kos, the owner of a park outfitter] and we had a blessing ceremony on set where we were outside and we were taking the energy and thanking Mother Nature and staging the scene.”
“It was so interesting, recognizing the spirit that is in the wind and in the water and from those who came before us and those who come after us. I had goosebumps everywhere. It was such an incredible experience. And it felt like it needed to be said, especially in a place like Yosemite. I’m really happy that I was able to have been a part of that. It was so special. Yosemite has so much to offer other than just taking a good photo.”
Busby was also grateful to click right away with her co-star. “I found out about Tyler Harlow, who I didn’t know much about. And the moment we met, I was just so happy that this project came into my life,” she explains. “We met up for coffee before we started shooting and we immediately hit it off.”
“He’s such an open book. And someone who’s just real and fun and hilarious and super talented, and really took this project to heart. It’s his first Hallmark movie and first big shot, if you will. It could not have happened to a better person. He’s so ready for it. And just a consummate professional.”
The small crew and on-location shoot allowed them to be nimble when they needed to, and made for interesting random encounters. “Yosemite was a dream come true. Every day I got to be in nature, I got to be in the sun and feel the breeze, and work with all these artists. It was such a small group of people, I think eight or maybe 10 people at once altogether, including the actors,” she shares.
“It was one of those things where we had to get along and we had to show up for one another and it wasn’t a fancy shoot. We didn’t have trailers or our own bathrooms. We were in the park, we sat on the ground when we wanted a break, and we carried our own props some of the time.”
“It was fun that way, because it came back down to the root of what we’re all doing this for, which is because we love it, and we love telling stories and we love working with people who love telling stories. Our DP [David Dolnik] used all natural light and we looked like we had halos around our body all day long.”
“We really got to know each other and on our last day we went out and went dancing and played pool and reminisced about our experience. I can safely say that we were all genuinely sad when it was over. It was one of those memories that everyone will carry in their heart forever. It was super, super special.”
“There were a lot of locations picked up on the fly. [If we ran into] a bunch of tourists in an area, we moved 20 feet away. And we found this cool little trail, and we had a park ranger with us every single day. So they were always super helpful.”
“Talking to them and hearing about their stories in the park and knowing that there’s so many job opportunities within a national park, which I had no idea about. I just thought you were a ranger in a truck driving around, but there are archeologists and bear specialists, and all this stuff.”
Another cool moment that had nothing to do with the film was coming across Jared Leto outside a hotel in the park. “We’re shooting the scene where we go on a little date and we’re in between shots and Jared just walked out of the hotel and [asked what we were doing],” she recalls.
“And we said we were shooting a Hallmark movie. He asked if our crews were always this small, and we explained about the park. He said, ‘People really love those movies. Don’t they?’ and we laughed, ‘Yeah, they do. But they also really love your movies.'”
Last month, Busby joined Hallmark colleagues and fans at the Christmas Con in California, and will be going to the next one in New Jersey. “I love the experience of connecting with everyone. It is such an interesting, fun dynamic and we’re equally passionate about these movies and the message we have to share. And it’s nice to finally put faces to the people who watch the movies,” she says. “I had very little voice left after the weekend but it’s all really worth it.”
Marry Me in Yosemite airs Saturday at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel and 8 pm e/p on W Network in Canada, and Busby intends to live Tweet during the premiere. Here are a couple of sneak peeks and Busby’s live chat with Tyler Harlow this afternoon.
Photos and video courtesy of Hallmark Media.
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