A dark fantasy love story between a reluctant seafood chef and a fabled siren, The Lovers is an independent animated film from Studio Heartbreak – an ambitious, young, and diverse creative team assembled from around the world.
It’s also a project that has absolutely smashed expectations, sailing over its proposed Kickstarter goal of $60,000 and sitting (as of writing) at a comfortable $273,880 US dollars. That’s triple what Studio Heartbreak originally set out for, and as we quickly learned in speaking to the team, it’s a response that has been as wonderful as it has been overwhelming.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty wild!” A. S. Siopao, Studio Heartbreak’s director, told Gayming Magazine. “It’s amazing to see such an outpouring of love and support from all over the world. Brazil, especially.” The monetary response means that everyone will be getting paid (previously, the directors and producers had agreed not to take pay so they could give their animators fairer rates) for all the hard work they’ve put in.
It isn’t just about money, however. The love the studio has received is easy to find, with each tweet and social media post they share earning thousands of likes and retweets. The team has even had guest artists star on their socials with their own take on The Lovers, further promoting and spreading the word on a new sapphic story that we’ve not seen before. And one that only came to be because of something all creatives fear: rejection.
The entertainment world is vast, but breaking into that industry can take years and years. All creatives need is that one ‘big break’ – but getting it feels near impossible, particularly now with the oncoming spread of AI dogma and its supposed benefits and the lack of respect that’s often leveled at artists and writers.
For the team at Studio Heartbreak, it was being told no by a “slew of entry-level internships in entertainment” that inspired them to say screw the conventional route. Siopao told us, “one of our core motivations for creating The Lovers is knowing that we would never get to create this story the “traditional” way. We felt a lot of despair at how the animation industry was doing.”
One of the things that fans seem to find appealing about The Lovers is that its tone and direction are something very specific and unique to the animation. It also comes at a time when sapphic media is being obliterated and left behind by streaming services, leaving a huge gap on queer and women-led stories that many are desperate to see. With a lack of trust in services honoring the voices they claim to care about and no previous work experience, Siopao knew they didn’t have a foot in the door anywhere. It led to only one option: creating something themselves.
“Ultimately, I’m very happy we went the indie route, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. This is the best learning experience I could ask for.”
The Lovers emphasizes that it is a dark fantasy set in the Phillippines, with Sara and Sirena’s relationship being one of tension and desire. Sara is faced with a choice: does she carve Sirena up to please someone important and save her family’s restaurant, or does she embrace this relationship that holds nothing but uncertainty? It’s messy but thrilling.
Speaking of mess, food is a significant motif in The Lovers, particularly seafood. A major influence for The Lovers was a YouTuber named Masaru. “He’s this spear fisherman who moves to a random island and catches fish to cook.” Siopao explained to us. “I don’t know why, but I found his videos to be relaxing, and I learned a lot about fish anatomy in his cooking videos.” Considering Sirena isn’t just a fish that is toxic and venomous, but a living, sentient creature with wants and desires like any other being brings forth the discussion of ethics of consumption and killing, which Studio Heartbreak revealed did influence their writing of the film and the relationship between the two women.
Currently, the studio doesn’t have an exact release date for the film as the Kickstarter is still ongoing. But what we do know is that fulfillment of digital and physical merch rewards for The Lovers will begin as soon as Q4 of 2023. And boy, is there a lot of digital and physical merch up for grabs.
And yet, while Studio Heartbreak conveyed that they are getting their heads down and working on making The Lovers the best animation possible, there is one sentiment they’d like to express: how grateful they are.
“I’m grateful to our team for fleshing out the characters and world, I’m grateful to our fans for showing our trailer to their friends, and I’m grateful that we’ve gotten this very rare chance to create something unique and strange and lovely. “
More information on The Lovers can be found via the official Studio Heartbreak website.