Two young filmmakers are taking the internet by storm with their heartwarming and endlessly relatable animated film about two boys who fall in love.
Just two days after Beth David, 21, and Esteban Bravo, 24, posted In a Heartbeat to YouTube, the short has gone nuclear — racking up seven million views and spurring an outpouring of positive twitter responses and fan art.
Produced while they were students at the Ringling College of Art and Design, the film follows a teenage boy who is afraid to approach his same-sex crush — so his heart literally takes the leap for him.
“It’s crazy, we’re both just completely blown away by the response we’ve gotten,” David tells PEOPLE. “We did expect some attention from it, but we had absolutely no idea that it would blow up the way that it has.”
Bravo adds, “It feels like I don’t have a grasp on reality right now, or it hasn’t completely sunk in. Seven million views in just over two days, it’s pretty amazing.”
Most importantly for the two young filmmakers, the numbers and positive reception suggest a public desire for more LGBTQ themes in animated film.
“I feel like the comment we’ve gotten is that this is the voice that the LGBT community needs and that they hadn’t seen this presentation in other films before. So I think that’s why it seems to be resonating so much,” explains Bravo.
“There are other aspects to it that people seem to really like as well, like the fact that we’re telling a whole love story without any dialogue. A lot of people are just emotionally responding to that,” he adds.
Bravo and David teamed up to create the project for their college thesis on animation and got the initial idea for the film during a brainstorming session with a friend. “When we started the project, we were pitching ideas with a friend and she was the one who came up with the idea of having the heart pop out of the chest,” explains David.
“But at the time, the initial pitch was between a boy and a girl. It was a cute idea, but we didn’t really feel as much for it,” she adds. “So then we thought, what if the same scenario happened between a same-gender crush? And that’s when it clicked for us. We understood it at a very personal level and it just felt a lot more unique and important to us.”
Telling the story from a same-sex perspective also resonated with their own life experiences. “What makes it uniquely an LBGT film are the layers of fears the characters experience,” Bravo says. “Anybody with a crush is going to be afraid of telling the person, because of that feeling of vulnerability. It’s scary no matter who you are.
“But we also wanted to add layers and nuances to the fear of being judged, and the idea that maybe you would feel an element of guilt on top of fear because of the nature of the crush. So that was something that we drew from a lot, that memory and that feeling.”
The concept resonated online immediately. The duo raised more than $14,000 on Kickstarter to finance the making of the film last December. “We started getting donations from people on Kickstarter that we didn’t know at all. People just wanted to contribute to the film, even after we had already reached our initial goal.”
While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Bravo and David have experienced backlash. “We haven’t really been looking at the comments on YouTube or anything like that, but we’ve been told there are some negative, hateful comments, and that’s something we did expect to happen. But it hasn’t been so bad for us that we’re very concerned about it,” says David.
“I come from Mexico, where it tends to be slightly more conservative than in the United States, so I was expecting something,” adds Bravo. “We have come a long way in terms of LGBT rights, but we discovered that some people feel that LGBT issues shouldn’t be in media, they want it to be in the shadows.”
So far, the duo has submitted the short to over 80 film festivals, and have already gotten nominated for the Student Academy Awards. And most importantly to fans, they’re hoping to continue working with these characters.
“Even before we launched the film, we were both thinking about how much we love the project and the characters and how we want to keep working together to develop this further into something bigger,” says David. “Whether it’s a film or another short or comics or children’s books, we want to keep working with this.”
For the filmmakers, the short’s popularity over the last two days is sending a clear message. “People are ready to see things like this, especially with animated films. I think people want more content that challenges the idea that LGBT themes are only for adults, or that children aren’t ready to talk about it. Our audience is clearly ready for more content like this to challenge those ideas and give a positive representation.”