The next time you go to a Regal theater, the trailer you see before your film starts just might have been made by students.

But that trailer will be no average school project.

As part of the third year of the Coca-Cola and Regal Films Competition, aspiring student filmmakers from 29 college and university film schools can team up to submit their scripts for a 35-second short film that connects viewers to the movie-going experience. After the Oct. 18 script submission deadline, select finalists will be chosen to make their dream-short a reality.

These finalists, announced Nov. 30, receive industry mentorship, $15,000 and RED camera gear to create their short film, competing for the chance to screen it in Regal theaters across the country and to win a RED Digital Camera package for themselves and their school.

A Learning Experience of a Lifetime

Though all contestants are students, the competition experience is hands on in ways that go beyond the scope of a typical school assignment. Working closely with industry professionals, finalists receive detailed feedback on how to finesse their vision to create an authentic, yet branded, story.

This branded element, past finalists believe, is what makes this film competition so unique. Given that many filmmakers make a living through commercial content, learning how to sell a concept to a brand is essential.

And the best way to learn about working for a commercial client is to have one.

Coca-Cola product shot from 2017 student film

Not only do Coca-Cola and Regal brief students on their brands and provide feedback to help the final shorts stay true to those brand identities, but the students can also draw from their own experience of going to the theater and sipping on a Coke.

Stuart Kronauge, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president of marketing and president of USA operations, says this combination fosters creative originality.

“We want this program to open the door for more expression of their art and passion – so it’s a balance between providing information and encouraging creative interpretation,” she explains. “Once the student filmmakers have an understanding of our brand, we then allow them that creative freedom to interpret and produce those special moments made possible with a Coca-Cola, Popcorn, and the Regal Movie Experience.”

The freedom to explore storytelling within these guidelines provides invaluable experiences that serve contestants well in their future work. John Curry, Regal Entertainment Group’s senior vice president of food service, believes it is in both companies’ best interests to support aspiring filmmakers.

“Both Coca-Cola and Regal recognize the importance of the craft of filmmaking," he says. "This program connects us to the next generation of filmmakers. We would be foolish not to be a part of their journey, to help them continue with their passion for storytelling.”

Stefanie Miller, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president of strategic partnership marketing, agrees. “Coca-Cola has always supported the communities in which we serve, and we have had a longstanding connection to movie theaters," she says. "This program creates opportunities for aspiring filmmakers and invests in the future of that industry.”

Big Screen Dreams

Just as Coca-Cola and movies belong together, so do trailers and the big screen. And that’s where these contestants hope their work ultimately lives.

The first step towards this is at CinemaCon, a global motion picture theater industry gathering, where the finalists’ works screen before Regal and Coca-Cola announce the grand prize winner.

From Chapman University, Julian Conner (Producer) and Tom Teller (Director) received the 2017 grand prize for their film Crunch Time. Conner recalls, “To see it on that big screen and to know where it once was – in a script format with us just shooting ideas around – and all of a sudden we are at CinemaCon and our ideas are coming to life, projected for over 2,500 people… that’s absolutely incredible.”

After their CinemaCon debut, Crunch Time ran in theaters from May through September 2017.

Though only the grand prize winners’ work is guaranteed to screen, so impressive were the 2017 films, that two of the other shorts are also scheduled to run as trailers in Regal theaters across the country.

As Ken Thewes, CMO of Regal Entertainment Group, says, “Through the lens of young filmmakers, we get to showcase that iconic experience of going to the movies, drinking Coca-Cola and enjoying Regal popcorn. We are proud to showcase four additional filmmakers and to show our audience a fresh take on that Regal-Coke experience.”

Thewes is so proud of the student productions that during Crunch Time’s theater run, he memorized the short, having watched it at least once a week in theaters.

Curry feels the same way, admitting, “I still grin ear to ear when I see it on the big screen.”

Thewes and Curry will soon have more to smile about as Regal theaters begin screening the other 2017 finalists Coca-Cola Gaze and Just in Time in September and November respectively.

Mia Niebruegge and Jane Hollon on set of Coca-Cola Gaze

Mia Niebruegge (Writer/Director), who partnered with her American Film Institute peer, Jane Hollon (Producer), to create the 2017 finalist Coca-Cola Gaze, reflects, “It’s a huge milestone in both of our careers to have something playing in theaters nationwide. The point of making things is to have an audience, and to have this kind of an audience is a real honor.”

The Just in Time crew gathers during their film shoot

Stephen Heleker (Producer), who worked with fellow University of California, Los Angeles student, Golden Zhao (Cinematographer), to create the 2017 finalist Just in Time, says of their upcoming movie theater debut, “It’s so exciting. On a symbolic level, to have something up on screen in a real theater is a direct visualization of what we want to be doing for our lives. I am personally very honored to have that happen.”

Zhao agrees wholeheartedly, saying, “This is my passion. I am grateful that this opportunity has helped to make my dream come true.”

Now a new round of students will have the opportunity to realize their big screen dreams. The 2018 Grand Prize winner’s work will play in theaters as early as June 2018, and this year’s competition will also include a fan favorite prize based on social sharing.