Denverites may soon spy some of their favorite haunts on the big screen, thanks to the latest project from Colorado director and screenwriter Taylor McFadden.

Set to the backdrop of the Mile High City, the upcoming feature film, Lovers, follows two women returning to their Colorado hometown after the untimely death of a mutual friend in their community of artists. The narrative drama, tentatively slated for release in late 2023, is as much an exploration of the dynamics between women in friendship and artistic communities as it is a love letter to the Centennial State—and a testament to the region’s potential as a film industry destination.

“I want to showcase how beautiful the state is,” says McFadden, who grew up in Colorado and went on to work in magazine art direction and film production in New York—her most recent short film Loose Ends won the Rising Star Award in 2018 at the Canada International Film Festival—before moving back to her home state during the pandemic. Lovers, her feature-length debut, was shot over 14 days in Colorado (plus one day in New York) this past winter, and employed mostly local crew and talent. Currently in post-production, the flick will spotlight several well-known Front Range locations, including South Broadway’s Hi-Dive, Union Station, and Lookout Mountain.

“This film is going to be one that locals don’t want to miss,” says production coordinator Alicia Kain. “They’re going to see their favorite spots. I think it will be a very relatable film for Denverites.”

It’s not often that Coloradans get to see our home depicted on the silver screen—nor that cinematographers get to make feature-length movies here, at least not as much as in states like New Mexico or Utah, both of which offer robust tax incentives to filmmakers, compared to the humble 20 percent rebate that some Colorado-made films may qualify for. Moreover, it’s harder for smaller-budget, independent films like McFadden’s to score funding from Colorado’s Office of Film, Television and Media (COFTM) than say, Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, which was filmed near Telluride and made a $60 million impact on the state, but the story plot was eventually set in Wyoming. Unlike Tarantino’s 2015 film, Lovers is actually set in Colorado.

Taylor McFadden. Photo by Devon Wycoff

“People here don’t have an opportunity to do narrative work very often,” McFadden says. But because commercial video production makes up the majority of output for Colorado’s film industry, local cinematographers are used to working on fast-paced projects. McFadden cited the crew’s efficiency and professionalism as essential to wrapping within a limited timeframe. “The movie was possible because of how hard they worked,” McFadden says.

Other behind-the-scenes Coloradans also helped make the production possible by donating space and offering discounted rates for goods and services, which helped stretch the independent production’s modest budget.

“HQ Bar gave us a super great rate to use their basement as our production office and had a staff in there just to watch the space for us,” says Kain. “Illegal Pete’s donated a lot of meals to our crew, churches donated space, and rental truck companies negotiated rates with us.”

Producer Lavinia Jones Wright praised the generosity of Hi-Dive and its staff, which closed to the public for filming. “[We’re] excited to share this with the people of Colorado. Colorado made it possible. All of the generosity of the people of Denver made it possible,” Wright says.

Many of the film’s leadership roles were filled by women like Wright, including the cinematographer, casting director, production designer, costume designer, production manager, and several of the producers. “It’s a beautiful experience to have a set that’s led by amazing women,” Wright says. “It just felt really warm.”

This dynamic benefitted the storytelling, too, as each character handles the topics of death, drinking and addiction differently, and the friendship between the two leads is an important focus of the film.

“I don’t see enough films with women who are good to each other,” McFadden says. “Women who have female friends tend to live longer, be happier, and be less depressed. We reflect back on each other what we can’t see in ourselves.”

Music is also central to Lovers. When McFadden experienced what she describes as severe writer’s block during the screenwriting process, her partner, musician Nathaniel Rateliff, who is also an executive producer on the film, urged McFadden to listen to groove-laden dream-pop singer Hannah Cohen’s Welcome Home. The album’s first track, “This is Your Life,” had a major impact on McFadden.

“You have this one precious life. What are you going to do with it?” says McFadden, who wrote the film’s opening scene with Cohen as herself, performing the aforementioned song. “Music guides the writing process for me,” says McFadden, whose multi-disciplinary professional experience includes directorial, production and set design work on music videos such as Nicole Atkins’ “Domino.”

Atkins is another musician who will appear as herself as a performer in Lovers. The film’s leading roles are brought to life by actor, dancer, and choreographer Angela Trimbur (Search Party, The Good Place) and musician Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso in her debut acting role.

“It was very, very important to me that this role was played by a musician,” McFadden says of casting Meath, whose character will have singing scenes throughout the movie, including a new original song written by Rateliff at the end of the film.

The first table reading for Lovers occurred in New York the week before the first shelter-in-place orders took effect in the United States, McFadden says. “A lot of art got lost in the pandemic. I didn’t know if this film would matter [or] make any sense.” After allowing the project to sit for six months, McFadden realized that “gathering in public space around music is more important than ever.”

The film also tackles mental health and addiction, issues that McFadden says have been historically glorified in artistic communities. “I’ve had friends who took their lives or died from substance abuse. I’ve been in this art world for so many years, and you start losing your friends,” she says.

McFadden hopes to help shift the way we talk publicly about mental health and addiction. Partnering with Sound Mind, a non-profit that works to demystify conversations around mental health for musicians, helped ensure that respectful language was used in the script, McFadden says.

“Art is something that helps us stay mentally well, and I want to support that,” says McFadden, who notes that meditation practices have helped her become stronger as an artist. “Can I make art from a healthy place?” she muses. “I want to make it cool to see a therapist.”

And while McFadden says Lovers doesn’t aim to leave viewers with one specific message, “my deepest, most earnest desire is that the story reaches people,” she says. “I just hope that people will call their friends.”