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The Eastern Echo Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo


Director Heidi Philipsen-Meissner speaks about her film 'Love & Vodka'

Stories from the realities of the war in Ukraine have captivated many hearts around the country. Whether there are stories of tragedy or triumph, people have paid attention to what has come out of Ukraine. "Love & Vodka" is a movie inspired by that same tragedy and triumph that is born from war-torn regions.

From the Love & Vodka website, the original story was written by R.J Fox and adapted into a rewrite by Heidi Philipsen-Meissner. Philipsen-Meissner is also the director and producer. "Love & Vodka" is described as “a mad-cap, culture-clash, Ukrainian-American romantic comedy that aims to celebrate the transatlantic friendship between Ukraine and America, focus on love, sooth sadness with laughter, and help raise support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora in a time of tragic loss and war.” 

This article is an interview with Philipsen-Meissner about where the idea came from, what the project means to her, why she felt it was a valuable story to tell, and what she and all the participants in the film went through for it to finish.

Heidi Philipsen-Meissner, an alumnus of Eastern Michigan University, was truly inspired by the script from Fox back over a decade ago, and according to the movie’s website, “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.” With this fever leading her, she began putting together the skeleton of the movie. Unfortunately, before the ball could get rolling, COVID-19 emerged and put the entire world on hold, so that put a halt to all workshops of the productions.

When asked about the early difficulties that occurred in the beginning stages, Philipsen-Meissner said “From the moment I signed the contract to produce 'Love & Vodka' until today, there have most definitely been challenging: R.J. Fox’s divorce, a transatlantic move from Michigan to Hamburg and then Hamburg to Berlin, the pandemic, several deaths in my family, finally finding a co-producer in Kyiv who had financing partners for the film in January 2022 only to have it all fall apart after the Russian attacks on Ukraine in February 2022, and then rewriting the script to be respectful of current times and Ukrainian culture, raising the funds via crowdfunding, only to lose our lead actors right before the union strikes.” 

Whilst speaking on her own difficulties that have come about creating this film, she also said “That all being said, I can’t compare any of those trials and hurdles to what our fellow human beings in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees around the world have been through and are going through still. Being able to try to tell a story of hope about their culture, country, and people, as well as provide filmmaking opportunities has been my way of keeping hope alive.”

When people think about films, they normally think about big blockbusters with hundreds of millions of dollars behind them, with months if not years of planning and production. This was not the case with "Love & Vodka." This film, with a budget of a million dollars, had a very short production time of 15 days, though further complications demanded the film to be completed in 10 days, not including postproduction work. But one of the positives that came through the completion of the movie was “finishing ahead of schedule,” according to Philipsen-Meissner.

Referring to postproduction work, “There are several levels of post-production – the edit, the color grade, VFX, animation, the title credits, sound post, music score composition and finding of indie music to feature as well – that come after the production, though, admittedly, wrapping up production is certainly a wonderful achievement. It feels best when you get the chance to go through the footage and see that you have performances and coverage that can add up to a narrative film," Philipsen-Meissner said. 

The journey of this film and Philipsen-Meissner closely coincided with each other. With the setbacks, the emotional and financial costs. All the people who were involved, the planning, the replanning, all of it resembles the grit and determination that the people of Ukraine have been exhibiting through the war. The film "Love & Vodka" resembles everything that it took to create the movie, even as a romantic comedy. Once postproduction is complete, be sure to look out for it!

If you want to help with post-production, look into HOME (