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Interviews

Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe Talks Hallmark’s Make Her Mark 

Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe Talks Hallmark’s Make Her Mark

Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe has been an established presence for the Hallmarkies, most notably for her decade-plus run playing the beloved Rita on the equally beloved Signed, Sealed, Delivered franchise (which we learned today, will return in 2024 with another film on the newly rebranded Hallmark Mystery). But first, Lowe steps behind the camera for Saturday’s Hallmark Channel premiere of Shifting Gears, starring Katherine Barrell and Tyler Hynes, the inaugural film from the Make Her Mark Women’s Directing Program, shepherded by Ashley Williams. You can find my interview with Williams here

Yesterday, I caught up with Lowe for an exclusive new interview. In the first part of our conversation, we chat about her transition to directing, which she’s been quietly working toward, producing and helming short films to build up her resume. “I have done every aspect of this industry. I worked as a reader for one of the top casting directors in Canada for five years,” she explains.

“I owned a restaurant for almost three years. And when I owned that restaurant, I had to find the financing myself. So I had to teach myself how to write a grant. I have a high school education, so I Googled how to write a business plan and wrote one, and was able to find financing for that. And when I did that, I realized, ‘Oh, maybe I can do more.’”

“I enjoyed the restaurant, but it’s not my passion, so that pushed me into saying, “Why don’t I start producing?’ And then I started producing short films, and then something was still missing. My producer on this movie, Mike Barbuto, who I called Barbie, calls me a fear chaser, which I think is hilarious because it’s a really accurate description of what I’m like. Anything that scares me and gives me that excited feeling, I have to go and try and directing was just that for me.”

“I was offered to do some shorts through some friends as the director. And then I started producing my own shorts and I [thought], ‘This feels right.'” The first short I directed, I drove home. I remember it like it was yesterday because it was a night shoot and I drove home and the sun was coming up and I had this feeling of, ‘Oh, I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”

Lowe says acting will always be part of who she is, but she also realized she needed to lean into the fulfillment that directing gave her. “Not that I’m going to stop acting, because that’s part of my soul. That’s where my little light is, but it was the right fit. I knew it was the right fit. And then it just took me having to convince everybody else that it was the right fit for me.”

Shifting Gears

“And let me tell you, it’s really hard to transition from in front of the camera to behind the camera. I think a lot of people think it’s easier. I’ve had 30 years experience on set. But people also have a view of you, and that’s how they see you. And historically there have been a lot of people that say they want to do it, but the gig is all-consuming. And so maybe it’s not really what they thought or they don’t get the artistic fulfillment out of it.”

Lowe was resilient in making her ambition, and her dedication, known. “I was producing and directing on my own, raising money anywhere and everywhere I could. And making my own stuff. And then the Make Her Mark program, I had heard whispers of it. I’d also been driving Randy Pope crazy. Every six months, I was emailing him and saying, ‘Hey, just letting you know, I’m also directing this. Just so you know, I’m never going to give up unless you call me back,'” she laughs.

“And Randy is such a good sport. He really is. He really guided me a lot in the, because I’ve known him the longest at Hallmark. And he was very instrumental in just continually saying to me, ‘Okay, if you’re a director, go direct. If you’re a producer, go produce, show me you can do it.’ He is not the guy that’s going to just hand anything to anyone. He really wants somebody equipped, and he wants to know that you’re serious about it. But he’s also super encouraging. And so I did.”

Lowe met Williams at Roma Drama, and they connected over Williams’ new LA house and Lowe’s husband, who works as a project manager on large-scale home construction in LA. “We chatted. We actually had a hike together where I was just asking her about her experience in the business and had she heard about the Make Her Mark program and all this stuff. And I didn’t know, but she was interviewing me during that hike,” she recalls.

“She likes to tell the story, and so do I, but I strap my 40-pound baby to my back and I hike and it’s my favorite thing to do. And we just spent the time talking, which I think was the best way to be interviewed. I didn’t know I was being interviewed. And I think she liked, this is from words she’s told me, that I was willing and continually doing the things and applying for things. I just wanted to soak up the knowledge so I could do [direct]. And I think that definitely helped in me being chosen as the guinea pig, as I like to say, the very first pilot program for Make Her Mark.”

“It just made total sense for me. What I want to direct and what I enjoy directing is romcom. That’s already the world that I love and I’m already in it. And we shoot movies in 15 days. Three weeks prep, three weeks shoot, one week post. It is fast and furious.”

“Because I’ve been on Signed, Sealed, Delivered for so long, it’s super helpful because it is an ensemble cast. There are four of us pretty much in every single shot, plus the B story, right? So I had to watch how to navigate that many people in every scene who are just as important as the others. When you’re in an ensemble cast, everybody is important. So covering all those people and watching that plus working under Martha [Williamson], her writing, taught me so much about story. The layer upon layer upon layer in her writing was a big gift.”

Lowe initially shadowed director Jessica Harmon on 2023’s Dream Moms, and then Harmon and Hallmark director Linda-Lisa Hayter mentored her on set when Shifting Gears went into production. “I had an amazing support system because of Make Her Mark, I had mentors. I had, arguably, the best producing team. Joel Rice and Mark Barbuto were phenomenal producers and really made sure I was okay,” she shares.

“And I had Linda-Lisa and Jessica, and I had Ashley. It was set up for me to succeed, which is what the program is for. Only one in every six directors is a woman. The numbers have actually gone down, if you can believe that from what they were, which is insane to me. And I think a lot of that happened because there was a surge to give people a shot, but not really set them up for success.”

“They were just throwing them into the fire and then it was very easy to say, ‘Well, we tried. It didn’t work out.’ [The unsaid thing is also], ‘We didn’t give them any tools and we didn’t help them, but hey, we did the thing.’ And then they can walk away and go back to their old [ways] and not make any change.”

“This program makes it so that’s not possible. It was set up to make sure that we have the padding we need, but also the room to go on our own. And that was a really interesting conversation I had with Linda-Lisa. She sat me down and said, ‘What do you need from me?’ I said, ‘It’s like you went to the playground and I’m your kid and you’re letting me go for the first time to go play on the slides. I’m gonna smash probably at least three of my teeth, but I’m going to be okay.”

“I’m going to look at you and I’m going to smile and I’m going to keep going, but if I really need you, I’ll [signal]. She said, ‘Done, no problem. I got you. I’m gonna be sitting here and you look at me, you tell me one word and I’ll come over there. We’ll work stuff out.’ And that’s how we really operated. And that beautiful safety ring of knowing that somebody’s got your back, you’re okay, and people are rooting for you. That changes everything.”

Shifting Gears premieres Saturday, March 23rd, at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the U.S., where you can also stream it live on various outlets. As of publishing, the film doesn’t have an airdate in Canada yet. ICYMI, you can catch the rest of my interviews with Ashley Williams, Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe, and Tyler Hynes here.

Photos courtesy of Albert Camicioli/Hallmark Media.

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