Action! Elon students film Coca-Cola and Regal Films contest entry on-site in Virginia
Lillian Engel ’19 and Azzurra Catucci ’18 received $15,000 to produce a 35-second film that illustrates the emotions of the moviegoing experience.
Two weeks ago a team of Elon cinema and television arts majors trekked to Lynchburg, Virginia, to shoot footage for its entry in the 2017 Coca-Cola and Regal Films program, a contest for up-and-coming filmmakers that attracted submissions from the country’s top film schools.
A crew of 13 Elon students and seven professionals helped produce footage for a 35-second film that captures the excitement of the moviegoing experience, bringing to life a script written by Lillian Engel ’19. The production schedule included a long shoot on Jan. 28 – both on location at a farm in North Carolina and McEwen’s Virtual Studio – followed by an overnight shoot the next day at Lynchburg’s Regal River Ridge Stadium 14 theater beginning at 9 p.m. To see photos from the shoots, visit the School of Communications’ Flickr page.
“With the fast-paced schedule the competition demanded, having only two days to shoot at three different locations was really ambitious,” said Engel. “We were up early in the morning and wouldn’t wrap until really late. The overnight shoot was the hardest part, but there was so much energy that it hardly seemed to matter.”
Competing against the best
Engel teamed up with fellow cinema and television arts major Azzurra Catucci ’18 to submit her concept for the Coca-Cola and Regal Films program last fall. Despite competing against more than a hundred submissions, the students were named one of five finalists and received $15,000 to produce their entry. Other finalists hail from the American Film Institute, Chapman University, New York University and UCLA.
The winning film entry, chosen by a panel of entertainment industry experts, will be announced at the CinemaCon conference in March. The film will then debut in Regal Cinemas nationwide later this spring. Additionally, the winning team will receive a RED Scarlet – W RED Dragon® camera package and its university will receive a RED RED EPIC-X 6K camera package.
So what’s Engel’s concept? Boiled down, the script features movie poster characters that come to life seeking to quench their thirst with a soft drink. The main character is a cowboy, accompanied by a nearby astronaut and female pirate.
Engel explained the script’s inspiration came from her own experiences at the movies as a child. “When I was younger, seeing a movie in the theaters was like going on an adventure, so I wanted to write something that brought the adventures you see on screen into reality,” said the Communications Fellow. “I came up with a bunch of generic but classic characters and narrowed it down from there.”
Engel initially submitted her script idea for the 2016 Coca-Cola and Regal Films contest, in which Elon alumnus Eric Hernandez ’16 competed, finishing in the top three. According to Assistant Professor Youssef Osman, the presenting sponsors were enthralled by Engel’s idea, and when she submitted again for 2017 contest she was selected as a finalist.
“They really did love Lillian’s idea, but asked her to work on it a bit, unpacking the concept and some of the details,” said Osman, who has mentored Engel and her contributors. “They made it clear they really wanted her to submit it to the next competition.”
Osman said the judges had some initial trepidation over the concept’s technical challenges, but Engel won them over thanks to a filmed mockup she created with Andrew Steinitz ’17. With a little movie magic, poster characters can in fact become real.
“I was thrilled they saw enough potential in my idea to suggest I try again the second time around,” Engel said. “They had recommended I go back to school and build a strong team of students, and once I did that I think they saw how prepared we were to work with them and how committed we were to such a big project.”
Engel and Catucci succeeded in building a formidable team, aligning the project’s roles with each team member’s skill set. With Engel serving as editor and Catucci as production designer, the duo enlisted Steinitz as the project’s director and Rebekah Richin ’17 as producer.
While these are the core four members of the project, Engel acknowledged the significant contributions of other Elon students and friends. This list includes alumnus Peyton Lea '10, a Charlotte-based cinematographer, who served as the project’s director of photography. Several professional actors and actresses, many traveling from Atlanta and as far as Tampa, also joined the mix.
“My team is so much larger than just us,” Engel said. “It is such an impressive group. And I think it helps that a lot of us have worked together in the past, so we know what our combined strengths and weaknesses are, and that everyone is passionate about what we’re doing. We love what we do.”
In preparation for filming and the weeks of post-production that will follow, Catucci, Richin and Osman attended a two-day filmmaker kickoff event at Coca-Cola Headquarters in Atlanta. During the early January event, the contest’s five teams gathered for workshops with Coca-Cola and Regal executives; CSE, the project’s marketing agency; legal experts and RED camera staff.
While on Coca-Cola’s campus, the Elon trio was educated about the importance of branding, color and product placement, as well as legal matters such as trademarks and copyrights. Richin welcomed the insight, calling the kickoff “absolutely key in preparing us for working with the Coca-Cola and Regal Entertainment Group brands.”
While developing a script, managing the creative process, and overseeing the casting and production have at moments been tedious – and certainly time consuming – Engel and Richin have enjoyed the project’s progress and look forward to its post-production cycle.
“This past month has been one of the biggest learning experiences of my life, and I will be able to take the skills that I have learned during this project with me into all future endeavors,” said Richin.
Added Engel, “Production went really well, everyone was really focused and professional on set, which helped get through each location on time. For me, it was the most unbelievable thing to see the script come to life in front of us. Everyone did such a good job and it’s going to come out really well when we’re done.”
An ‘ambitious endeavor’
A person might wonder why the need to travel and shoot in Lynchburg? The students scouted several Regal theaters looking for the right location, specifically a facility with a marquee that fit their concept. There were two suitable locations within driving distance that fit the bill: Lynchburg and Charlotte. But the latter’s location is under renovation.
Nevertheless, with filming now behind them, the students know that ultimately they won’t be judged on the appearance of a marquee, but how their script jumps from paper to the screen.
“Our film is very production-design heavy, so the success of it largely depends on how realistic we are able to make our characters seem, and the worlds that they live in,” Richin said.
“It is a challenging technical concept,” added Osman. “But I give the students credit because it is an ambitious endeavor. They have worked and continue to work hard to bring it to together.”