Love & Vodka

Ann Arbor, Michigan | Film Feature

Romantic Comedy, Foreign Film

Heidi Philipsen-Meissner

2 Campaigns | Michigan, United States

Green Light

This campaign raised $41,830 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

34 supporters | followers

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Love & Vodka, a culture-clash, romantic comedy celebrating the Ukrainian-American transatlantic friendship, is about a Michigan writer who, after learning of the war in Ukraine, races to finish the script about love & vodka to bring back The One who got away.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

Love & Vodka celebrates transatlantic love between America & Ukraine. We are a woman-led team with members based in Berlin, New York City & Detroit who believe that films can be fun & sustainable. We aim to screen at film festivals and spread the word about our support for Ukraine & women in film.

The Story


LOVE & VODKA is a romantic comedy with a dramatic twist about Bobby, a high school film teacher/wannabe screenwriter who recalls the magic of 2018, when he falls in love with Katya, a Ukrainian exchange student, and impulsively travels to Ukraine to propose to her and meet her family. Three years later, the war breaks out. Can he finish the script AND save the love-of-his-life?

The film script was inspired by a true story that now High School teacher, R.J. (Bobby) Fox, experienced over twenty years ago in 2001). A young, awkward, and hopeful screenwriter dreaming of his goals in Hollywood ran into a different destiny when he met a Ukrainian exchange student. 

15 years later, Bobby published a memoir of his time in Ukraine and soon after that, he began writing a script to get his story onto celluloid. Destiny decided to intervene again and brought Bobby and one of his students at Huron High School's mom (me/Heidi/Director/Producer) together. After sending the script to me, I immediately fell in love with his story, the people he met in Ukraine, and knew this film needed to get made. As a Producer/Director, I had one request of Bobby...he had to be involved and help get it made...together. And so we got to work. We had a script and a production schedule ready to start making the film in Ukraine. 

But destiny wanted to add some more twist and turns. I moved to Berlin, Germany with my German husband, continuing and then gradauting with an MBA in Management from Eastern Michigan University via Zoom. Bobby went through a divorce and wrote a new book that is now 700 pages long. Then Covid-19 locked everything down. 

And then Ukraine was attacked, the war began, and millions of lives where destroyed.

I'll be honest. We were crushed on so many levels. But honestly, at that moment in February/March of 2022, our film LOVE & VODKA was the last thing on our minds. What was? Protesting. Helping. Donating. Giving.

Junior Producer Sophie Meissner & her dad, Executive Producer Niko Meissner protesting in Berlin

And we found our hearts pouring out for Ukraine and our Ukrainian friends and colleagues we had come to admire and love.  So we protested in Berlin, helped find homes and German lessons for Ukrainian refugees in Germany, and delivered cartloads of non-perishable groceries and bottles of water to the volunteers working at Berlin's Main Trainstation, who were there to help Ukrainians mothers, children and elderly arriving around the clock from all areas Ukraine with little more than the clothes on their backs.

All the while, slowly, but surely, I started to understand that this war was just as much about CULTURE and IDENTITY as it was about geopolitics; this then led me to believe that maybe making a film about LOVE and Ukrainian culture wasn't such an off-kilter idea or aim, afterall.

Maybe, just maybe, as an artist activist who understands the power of STORYTELLING and the important of empowering differences in perspective - something I've been activively participating in via theater and film ever since I studied Semiotics & Contemporary Critical Theory at the University of Michigan's Residential College in Ann Arbor, Michigan - we could transform this film about love and Ukraine into a vehicle for HELP and HOPE.

So we decided that, no matter what, we would get LOVE & VODKA made, and we would shoot the film in the summer of 2023. Due to the still-ongoing war in Ukraine, we had to think about how to create a movie set in Ukraine without actually being able to step foot into the country. Oh, and we also wanted to help the displaced Ukrainian refugees, somehow. 

Destiny comes again and connects me to the Ukranian community in southeast Michigan. 

 Amber Galkin and Ukrainian Community Friends at the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum of Detroit

Not long thereafter, I reached out to the Ukrainian diaspora in Michigan in search of finding an authentic voice for the script and non-profit organizations focused on helping Ukrainians-in-need with whom to partner. I came across a NYTIMES article about a woman by the name of Amber, and how her and her family are navigating complicated connections with their homeland as they embrace a new national identity when the war broke out in her mother country, Ukraine. 

At the same time, as Destiny would have it, I was in Michigan this past December (2022), renovating my mother's home in Ypsi, and we needed to find a new home for an old bed, no longer needed (as our kids have grown up). I posted a picture on Facebook and - guess what!? - Amber saw my post! The next thing you know, we're loading up the children's bed together for a young Ukrainian refugee in need of one. And that's how I met Amber Galkin, who is, herself, Ukrainian by birth and a massive force in helping the Ukranian community in Michigan. 

It was a Miracle! It was Destiny! It was Fate! It was... people helping people in a time of need.

Our bed-in-need-of-a-New-Home and Amber Galkin and Friend with it in their van

Meanwhile, Bobby put the word out to his Huron High School and southeastern Michigan artist's community for support and help. I also reconnected with Bruce Falcon of Hell's Half Mile Film Festival in Bay City for ideas. Bruce is an avid filmmaker and actor, himself, and after many discussions, he came up with a brilliant idea:

"Why don't you come to Bay City and check out our area for locations? I'm sure we can make it work!"

Bruce Falcon showing us all the beautiful locations - including the majestic State Theatre - Bay City, Michigan has to offer.

And before you know it, Bruce is giving so much of himself, his great creative ideas, film knowhow, and being generous with his time that he just had join our project. He is a true believer and doer of great deeds.

That's what I SO LOVE about filmmaking in Michigan. We may not have a film incentive anymore to attract productions and financing, but BOY, we have the BEST CREWS and FILMMAKERS in the world! Nobody knows how to dig in, grit your teeth and get-it-DONE!


We're shooting this now microbudget-feature-with-a-big-heart between June 29th and July 20th, this summer 2023 in Bay City and Grayling, Michigan. We just secured the fantastic Michigan-based (and Motion Picture Institute of Troy, Michigan film grad), Matt Jarjosa, as Production Designer/VFX Artist who will be working closely with our Ukrainian team in Michigan to make sure that we choose locations that can be altered to look and feel like the scenic Ukrainian countryside and Dacha ("summer cottage") interiors.

Oh, and did we mention that we have a FANTASTIC Director of Photography in Jay Feather ready to go? Jay's biography is on our Team page. You can also go directly to his website to see what amazing work he creates:

And we will be holding a LOCAL CASTING and CREW outreach -- with our sights specifically on making local Michigan opportunities for Ukrainian cast and crew -- in early June 2023. Casting Director (CSA) Caroline Sinclair will be giving of her time and talent to make sure we find the best actors for the roles.

Oh, and I'm so grateful and excited to share that my alma mater, the Motion Picture Institute, in Troy, Michigan, has come to my filmmaking rescue, once, again, pledging to help me find further crew and equipment. (I'm so happy I went to film school at MPI -- they have been there for me again and again ever since 2006!)

Before I sign off, a few, important PRODUCTION NOTES:

* We will be working in compliance with SAG-AFTRA in regards to Covid-19 safety protocol for film productions in Michigan (, which include masks when in close proximity, daily Covid-19 self-test/rapid test (PoC antigen) testing as well as testing prior to arriving on set.

** Green Production: Our production is a Green Production. What does that mean? We will be doing all we can to enact sustainable, green production. Check out the Green Production Guide for more info:

*** Intimacy on Set: Though "Love & Vodka" does not have any nudity or sex scenes, we feel it imperative to set a good example and will be working to follow the producer's guidelines as published by Intimacy on Set:


As someone who fell in love with her husband (of now twenty years) at a train station in the middle of the Black Forest, Germany, I was drawn to making this film because it’s a fun and adventurous take on romantic love and what it can do to build bridges across deep divides and far distances.

But I'm also making Love & Vodka because my husband was once a refugee. I know what it's like to be a foreigner in a country where I did not grow up and do not have citizenship (Berlin, Germany), and aside from being an artist, I am an activist and mother who believes that movie-making is such more more than just making sure you achieve the financial bottom line.

Images: How to Be Single, The Royal Tenenbaums, Liberal Arts, The Lost River, Silver Linings Playbook, Celeste and Jesse Forever

I’m also an American (from Michigan - #GoBlue!) ex-pat living in Berlin, Germany, and am all too familiar with the cultural calamities that awake one when venturing out beyond one’s home country and into the unknown (wherever that may be). How have I addressed being an ex-pat abroad? I feel that a sense of humor is essential, highlighting the good experiences and putting a lighter perspective on the negative ones.

Accordingly, in directing LOVE & VODKA, I aspire to create a stylistically beautiful, yet madcap, hilariously funny and bright cinematic body of work that is both colorful and authentically real in style, and that pulls the audience in, compelling them to empathize with the protagonist as a result -- all the while showcasing all the beauty of the Ukraine landscapes (via Virtual Production) and exciting backdrop of Upper Michigan (where we will be shooting because we can't safely shoot in Ukraine and insurance companies won't insure our production there during the war).

Images: Punch Drunk Love, How to Be Single, La La Land, La La Land, Paddington, Going in Style

In short, LOVE & VODKA must captivate, enlighten, entertain its audience and - above all - make them laugh in spite of themselves and cry tears of joy. I want audiences to fall in love with this story and the land and people it inspired as much as I have and do.

When I think of screening LOVE & VODKA, I see many of the Ukrainian's I know and care about, feeling joy and pride about their country - and having a brief respite, if only for the length of the movie, from the pain and suffering they are going through when thinking about their loved once back home in Ukraine during this time of war. I want them to celebrate each other, the unique Ukrainian experience, and see themselves in the characters.

As for others who, like me, may not have national or familial connection with Ukraine, I want them to go home feeling that the film touched them and gave them a much-needed escape from life’s stressors. I want them to remember what it felt like when they fell in love for the first time - and if they have never fallen in love, I aim to give them hope that such a love exists. And I want them to feel uplifted by the power and promise of hope that love creates.

And I want them to feel connected to Ukraine, its people and the desire to help lift them up.

I adore films that intersect all areas: Musical score, sound design, cinematic scope, the pacing of shots, and a defined color concept indicating the story’s message as created in the mise-en-scene. All in all, I balance these various styles into my own through extensive work, leadership, and collaboration with my actors, Director of Photography, Set Designer, Costume, Sounds, and Editor/Post-Production Designer.


Some of the films from which I take bits and pieces of inspiration here and there for different elements and aspects include: BEFORE SUNRISE (tone, sound, mise-en-scene), SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (music &  sound design/editing), EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED (Theme, Characters/Casting), LOST IN TRANSLATION (dark humor), FRENCH KISS (slapstick comedy), SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (theme), THE BIG SICK  (pacing) and, of course, MY BIG, FAT GREEK WEDDING (tone).

LOVE & VODKA should, at the end of the roll credits, be a feel-good film that reminds movie-goers of their favorite films - all the while giving them a fresh take on the romantic comedy-from today’s modern perspective on romantic relationships and gender roles, that bridges the global movie-going map between Eastern Europe and Western U.S. Such cinematic storytelling does so much more than just take up to another place in our imaginations or remind us of our own lives - it helps us to see brand new worlds, puts us in someone else’s shoes, and gives us the chance to remember why we all love movies about human connection and experience.


PERSONAE ENTERTAINMENT PICTURES is the Michigan-made, USA-based film development & production company behind Heidi Elizabeth & Alexander Meissner, founded in 2000. We've been a leader in inclusivity, climate and social activism since the get-go and it has always been our driving force in filmmaking.

What started out as a small collective making short films, local commercials, and production managing low-budget indies in Michigan and upstate New York, has evolved into a company with a singular focus on international, transatlantic feature films spanning space, time, gender and country.

Our films tell out-of-the-ordinary, transatlantic stories with a heartfelt and unique twist and we partner with cinematic storytellers with a like-minded focus. Our brick-and-mortar offices are in Ypsilanti and Berlin.



We would love to have you as a Love & Vodka supporter! Any contribution helps us make this wonderful story a reality. Take a look at the list of incentives and see if any of them catch your eye! ;)



Check out our social media links and share the project with your friends and family! Word of mouth is a huge help in funding our project.  Join the Love & Vodka family on socials!


THANK YOU for taking an interest in our project! See you on the other side!



Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Cast & Crew Housing / Locations

Costs $8,500

We found an "Dacha" (Ukrainian cabin) location that doubles as housing! (Sustainable producing!)

Grip & Lighting

Costs $3,000

We need a basic grip & lighting package for our small shoot.


Costs $500

We need a passenger van & sprinter van and will happily borrow (& insure) yours rather than renting.


Costs $20,000

From 1st AD to Grip to DP, your support pays real pros for 15 shooting days of reel work.

Production Office

Costs $500

Though we will be a GREEN set (little to no paper), we still need online administrative services.

Production Design

Costs $1,000

Help us cover material for production design and make "Ukraine" out of Michigan for LOVE & VODKA.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0


Costs $8,000

We have amazing lead actors & roles for Ukrainian actors lined up help us to properly pay them!

Camera Equipment Rental Package

Costs $2,500

Camera equipment rental can be expensive. $2,500 is an amazing deal for 15 days.

Catering & Craft Services

Costs $1,000

Healthy & Good Food to feed our hard-working cast and crew! 15 days for a cast & crew of up to 20.

About This Team



Heidi is a producer, writer, actress, and director with twenty-five years of professional experience in international film, theater, television and communications--including films such as Uncharted as well as the international series The Gryphon (Amazon) and Pagan's Peak III (Sky TV). A classically trained actress, she transitioned easily from stage to film and her ability to appreciate and communicate with fellow actors with ease has led to a career in directing—short films, regional commercials and, of late, feature films. Her experience in producing, from intl. Broadcast TV (DW-TV) to segments in US television (Rachael Ray), as well as working her way up the production management ladder in feature films such as The Sisterhood of Night, Fourth Man Out, The Better Angels, and many commercials has prepared her for producing her own films. Impressionable highlights include interning for acclaimed German arthouse director, Wim Wender’s Road Movies, GmbH in Berlin. Heidi's US-based company, Personae Entertainment Pictures’ award-winning feature film, Darcy, which she co-directed, produced, and acted in, is (now streaming on Herflix & Amazon Prime). Heidi is excited to be making Love & Vodka—which designates her first feature film solo directing debut.

She holds a BA in Film, Theater & German Literature from the University of Michigan, an MIA in Intl. Communications with a concentration on the European Union, a Certificate in Film Directing & Cinematography from the Motion Picture Institute, and an MBA in Management from Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business and a Certificate in European Film Production Management from the School of Film & TV at Babelsberg/Berlin.



R.J. Fox is the writer of fifteen feature-length screenplays, many of which have excelled in screenwriting competitions. He has also previously optioned two additional screenplays. He has worked in several capacities in the film and television industry, most notably as a film and media studies teacher at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, MI, where he uses his own dream to inspire his students to follow their own .R.J. is also the producer/director of several short films, author of three books (including Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine) and is excited to see his first penned feature film on the big screen.


Matthew Jarjosa is a filmmaker, art director, and visual effects artist from White Lake, Michigan. He graduated from the Motion Picture Institute in Troy in 2020. His thesis film, Children Are Monsters, won the school's award for Best Picture. His most notable credits include doing art and visual effects on Thorns, an upcoming sci-fi/horror film featuring horror icon Doug Bradley (Hellraiser). He also did VFX work on Finding Nicole, an upcoming drama film from director Harley Wallen. Matthew is excited to be joining the production team for Love and Vodka!"



Kathryn has worked in feature film production for more than 30 years. From 1995 to 2005, Kathryn held the position of Vice President of Production at Columbia Pictures. Her credits include Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Memoirs of a Geisha, Fun With Dick & Jane, Closer, Hitch, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, to name a few. Prior to that, Kathryn worked as Production Manager on Striking Distance starring Bruce Willis; Assistant Producer on Last of the Mohicans, A League of Their Own, Only The Lonely, and Career Opportunities; and Associate Producer on First Knight starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery, and My Life starring Nicole Kidman and Michael Keaton. Ms. McDermott is currently a Career Placement Advisor at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan and teaches Production Management 1 and 2.



Caroline Sinclair (CSA) originally from London is a noted NYC based casting director, with two decades of casting Film, TV,  Theater and New Media. Her recent credits include The Garden Left Behind, which just won the Audience Award (Visions) at  SXSW 2019. Some other credits include Gotti, starring John Travolta, the psychological thriller Diery,   Green Dolphin by Keanu Reeves, Michael Mailer’s Blind, with Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore. Past films include Bad Hurt, which  opened at the Tribeca Film Festival, Independent Spirit nominated Bomb the System, The Living Wake with Jessie Eisenberg,  Darcy with Gus Birney, indie hit Party Girl and the Civil Rights biopic Son of the South.



Niko holds an MBA/MS from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and has over fifteen years of experience in business development and project finance for such companies as Cube Green Energy, Aquila Capital, Vestas, General Electric, Ford Motor Company, and Bloomberg. Formerly a writer/producer/director of his own short films, Niko co-produced Darcy together with his wife, co-director/producer Heidi, going on to win many awards during its film festival run and is now on its way to distribution. Niko is excited to start work on their next mutual independent feature film, Love & Vodka.



Ariel Wan is a marketing professional with over 15 years of experience. She is your go-to person to talk about how to increase sales numbers with organic and paid marketing tactics. She believes in honest communications and responsible marketing. She was formerly the Director of Programming, Marketing and Sales at the Michigan Theater and Cinetopia Film Festival. Currently, she’s the Director of Marketing for a large property management company based in Ann Arbor, MI.



Bruce Falcon, a graduate of Saginaw Valley State University with a degree in Business Management, caught the “acting bug” early in life has been involved with indie film and tv in one way or another ever since. He played “Father Adams” on the Amazon Web series LOWER SPIRITS, represented the real “Tom Smallwood” on the CBS comedy HOW WE ROLL, starring Pete Holmes and Katie Lowes, and he’s acted in numerous TV commercials, local to the Detroit and Bay City areas of Michigan.  Bruce is on the Board of Directors for Hells Half-Mile Film Festival in Bay City, Michigan, and an active member of the film community. Part Ukrainian and a lover of the Ukrainian culture and heritage, Bruce is excited to be on board as a producer and actor for LOVE & VODKA.



Sophie Meissner has been involved in the film industry her entire life, beginning by helping her parents on set while she was still only a child. Since then, she has branched out in the entertainment industry, focusing on acting and music, as well as production. In 2018, she interned for Juna Films in Hamburg, Germany, and in her final year of high school, she interned for one of the leading manga and animation companies in the western hemisphere under Stu Levy, Tokyopop. Sophie has directed and written her award-winning first short film, Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! which went on to win multiple awards, including Best Emerging Artist, Best Actress, Best Short and Best Director in festivals including the Busan International Kids and Youth Festival in South Korea, and was also screened on PBS. 

Current Team