Los Angeles, California | Film Short

Drama, LGBTQ

Vera Cherny

1 Campaigns | California, United States

Green Light

This campaign raised $34,326 for pre-production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

133 supporters | followers

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An LGBTQ story about the effect of childhood trauma on relationships, ONCE WAS takes place at a reunion of Women exes. With Women Filmmakers -- in front of and behind the camera -- our production is committed to amplifying female voices and talent. THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING OUR FILM!

About The Project

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

Mission Statement

Our film has a 100% Women led creative team, boasting an abundance of diverse perspectives: from the first generation immigrants to different sexual identities. We bring you a story about how difficult it is to love someone else wholly before learning how to move past your own trauma.

The Story


A Russian immigrant confronts her American ex-girlfriend about their broken relationship but realizes that, just like when they were dating, their timing is wrong.

An American artist, Kate turns everything into art and chaos. Impulsive, brilliant, she’s doing her best to manage her trauma and addiction. Kate is a proud owner of a new ukulele shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Zo, Kate’s ex of 2 years, is passionate and hardworking. A first generation Russian immigrant, she fights to build a solid family for herself. Zo is a graduate of Columbia Law who’s dedicated her life to public service.

Having experienced a tumultuous history as a couple, two Women reunite with one hoping to reconcile and the other — looking for an apology.

ONCE WAS Website: www.oncewasfilm.com



Taking place at a meeting of two Women exes, ONCE WAS is a story about the effect of childhood trauma on relationships.



Sparked from a scene written for an acting class at BGB Studios (Los Angeles), ONCE WAS has been a passion project 3 years in the making. It took two passionate working Actors: Vera Cherny (right, above) who had the idea and Austin Highsmith Garces (left, above) who had the drive to make it happen.

Many, many, many rewrites later, the script -- and the story -- is ready to be unleashed.



Coming out of the COVID-19 industry-wide shutdown, we circled back to this story and decided to launch into production in the Summer of 2021 (with the new safety measurements in place, of course). We've brought on a team of talented professional Womxn Filmmakers:


Director Lilan Bowden


Director of Photography Jessica Pantoja


Producer Maggie Phillips

With our collective experience in film, our passion and empathy, we're charging ahead in bringing this Womxn driven story -- and production -- to life!


The magic number we need to raise for our production is: $38,675. 

This encompasses all costs for the entire project. From paying crew, locations, creating a COVID-safe environment to production design, camera rentals and more!

  • Crew: While remaining a low budget, not-for-profit project, we strongly believe in adequately compensating our artists for their time and talent.
  • Locations: We know that locations can be extremely cost consuming, so we have strategically structured this story to be told in as few locations as possible while still holding true to the story. (One of our locations is being donated free of cost, by one of our Producers.)
  • COVID Safety: Our artists are our main priority on set. These funds go towards purchasing PPE supplies and hiring a COVID Compliance Officer to ensure we will have a safe and COVID-conscious set.
  • Production Design: Although the production design needs for this project are relatively minimal, putting money towards good set dressing will help to bring authenticity to our story.
  • Cameras: In order to fully capture the cinematic vision for the project, we will need to rent professional cinema cameras, lenses and lighting equipment.

Take a look at our brief budget breakdown below:

And yes! We have been applying to additional grants. However, the majority of financial support will have to come from you: OUR ARTISTIC TRIBE.

We thank you for your support!



ONCE WAS Website: www.oncewasfilm.com




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

Talent and Crew

Costs $9,100

Covers compensation fees for our: Director, DP, Line Producer, Cast and On-Set Operations.

Roll Camera!

Costs $5,600

Covers the cost of renting our camera equipment and insurance.

Hot Set!

Costs $5,625

Covers the cost of lighting equipment and all that other magic called "The Art Department".

Location, Location, Location

Costs $6,800

Covers the cost of location rentals and Film LA permits.

Fix It in Post

Costs $5,800

Covers the cost of: editing, music, post-production sound and lab, titles and opticals.

Picture's Up!

Costs $5,750

Covers the cost of insurance, transportation and contingency.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team


LILAN BOWDEN is an Actor / Director / Comedian most notable for her role as “Bex” on Disney Channel’s Emmy nominated show Andi Mack (winner of a GLAAD and Honors Academy Award). Her credits also include Indebted, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Drunk History, Future Man, LOVE, Parks and Recreation, CONAN, and many more.

She is a trained sketch and improv performer from Upright Citizens Brigade Theater LA, currently performing in the monthly show “Asian AF” (now online). Along with her writing partner Wilder Smith, she has written material for Funny or Die, and occasionally performs live under their two-person group “Lilan and Wilder.” 

Lilan has directed various commercials, Moonbug shows T-Rex Ranch and Blippi on Youtube, and her directorial debut Becoming Eddie has been featured at numerous festivals such as Bentonville Film Festival, CAAMFest Forward, Portland Film Festival and currently at Santa Barbara International Film Festival.



MICHELLE KWONG is a native New York cinematographer now based in Los Angeles. Her passion for visual imagery stemmed from her desire to convey, capture and instill emotions that she previously couldn't do with words alone. Michelle's love for visual imagery began with her exploration of photography, which gradually grew into an interest in cinematography.

With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in cinematography from Emerson College, Michelle has shot a wide range of content that include narrative short films, music videos, web series and commercials. Her work has garnered accolades and screened in film festivals around the country, including her college thesis film Inside Boxes, which was chosen as a finalist for the 2016 Cannes Short Film Corner.

Michelle is a proud member of the International Collective of Female Cinematographers (ICFC), Sporas, and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women Class of 2019. She hopes to continue growing as a director of photography and creative artist through collaboration.



VERA CHERNY was born in Primorsky Krai, Russia, to Lyubov, a teacher, and Vasily, a former Soviet Army officer. Because of her father's profession the family moved a lot. 

Vera began performing at three and a half years old, at a local dance school in the former East Germany. At 16, she came to the United States on her own, on a full-time scholarship. She continued pursuing her undergraduate studies while participating in regional theatre productions. 

She graduated with an M.F.A. in Acting from the Actors Studio Drama School in NYC.

Vera has appeared on the FX series The Americans as a recurring character of Tatiana, on Counterpart (Starz) as a recurring character of Irina Markova, and on StartUp (Sony’s Crackle) as a recurring character of Vera. She currently plays the role of Oksana Volkova on Queen of the South (USA).



AUSTIN HIGHSMITH GARCES is an Actress, Published Author and Illustrator, and is now adding produced Screenwriter to list. 

Austin is best known for the role of Phoebe in the Warner Brothers / Alcon Entertainment films, Dolphin Tale 1 & 2 and as Ms. Lang in season 2 of MTV: Scream The TV Series. She has produced several of the independent films that she's starred in as well, including two for Lifetime Movie Network. Apart from her on-screen work, Austin is a stand-up comic having performed at such venues as the Comedy Store, Acme Comedy Theatre, and the Tampa Improv.

Her children’s book, The Miracle Tree, about her experience as a young girl was published in April of 2019 through Doce Blant Publishing. A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Austin graduated from the University of North Carolina with a dual degree in Fine Arts and Political Science.



MAGGIE PHILLIPS  is a freelance Producer based in Los Angeles. A graduate from USC's School of Cinematic Arts, she produces narrative content in all genres highlighting new and diverse perspectives, both in front of and behind the camera. 

She has produced multiple independent feature films and a number of music videos for clients such as Steve Aoki, Justin Roberts, and Warner Bros Music. Her films have won several Audience Awards and have premiered at festivals including CAA Moebius, Cinequest Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Fest. 

She also works freelance with companies such as Sephora, Disney and Brat TV, and is currently working with several independent filmmakers on developing a slate of upcoming projects.


ONCE WAS Website: www.oncewasfilm.com




Current Team