Growing up, Tom Teller was drawn to capturing the extreme, filming his friends doing “crazy tricks” on Oregon’s ski slopes. A state away, Julian Conner found joy in capturing reality, creating documentary films as a high schooler in California.

Chapman University’s film program brought the now 22-year-olds together, with Teller exploring visual effects and Conner delving into scripted narrative development. Today their collaboration has led to award-winning movie magic in the form of Crunch Time – a 35-second piece produced as part of the Coca-Cola and Regal Films program.

The Program

Aspiring filmmakers from more than 20 top college and university film schools participated in the 2017 Coca-Cola and Regal Films program. Teller and Conner ranked alongside four other teams as finalists in this year’s competition, receiving $15,000 and RED camera equipment to create a 35-second film to connect consumers to the movie-going experience.

Conner (left) and Teller at the Focus Features luncheon during CinemaCon 2017.

Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging for CinemaCon

Of the finalists, Teller and Conner’s resulting short film, Crunch Time, ultimately was named the 2017 grand prize winner at CinemaCon, the annual gathering of the motion picture theater community, in Las Vegas. Their film will debut at Regal theaters in May, and RED – the program’s provider of professional technology – awarded the winning filmmakers and their school camera packages.

Coca-Cola, Regal Entertainment and RED’s joint commitment to support student filmmakers has enhanced the opportunity for aspiring creatives to share their talent.

“Our commitment to the film community starts with the next generation of passionate filmmakers,” says Bill Lathrop, director, Strategic Partnership Marketing, Coca-Cola North America. “We are proud to support these filmmakers and are always excited to see how the students bring to life the simple pleasure of drinking a delicious, ice-cold Coca-Cola during the special movie experience.” 

Ken Thewes, chief marketing officer for Regal Entertainment Group, adds, “The Coca-Cola and Regal Films program is a fantastic opportunity for up-and-coming filmmakers from top film schools to showcase their talent. We are proud to support these filmmakers and offer the winners the chance to create the story they envisioned and share it on our big screens across the country at all Regal theatres.” 

Experiencing Real Movie Magic

For Conner and Teller, seeing Crunch Time on the big screen was huge.

Reflecting on the film’s screening at a Focus Features luncheon at CinemaCon, Conner, the film’s writer and editor, says, “There were countless nights that our team spent trying to make edits and tell our story, then seeing it on a big screen with our ideas coming to life, projected for over 2,500 people… that’s absolutely incredible.”

A film like Crunch Time is meant for the big screen, with a larger-than life plot. The film follows a robot standee that comes to life in the lobby of a Regal Cinema, when it is enticed by the sights and sounds of the concessions. The robot decides to leave its own diorama and head into the theater and join other guests, with a delicious, ice-cold Coca-Cola and popcorn in hand.

Teller, the film’s director and visual effects artist, explains, “This robot character really can’t resist the temptation of the movie-going experience, which is synonymous with popcorn, Coke and Regal Cinemas.”

He continues, “If this experience is powerful enough to make this cardboard cutout come to life and go into the theater to watch his own film, hopefully it’s powerful enough to get people into the theater and buy concessions”

Critical to shaping the sensory experience on screen was maintaining a sense of reality while incorporating visual effects. Reflecting on his documentary film background, Conner says, “Documentaries and narratives are more related than people may think. With documentaries you’re working with real people and real stories. What you’re doing with narrative is using a real story as a base for what you’re creating.”

So how did their team make a Coca-Cola loving robot seem real?

For Teller, visual effects were key. By working with a concept artist, their team crafted the robot’s expressions to authentically show human-like emotion through its brow, jaw and ears.

“We were able to deconstruct the robot to figure out what his emotions were and what they would look like," Teller explains. “There always needs to be that emotion and drive.”

The sounds of the robot were also an exercise in turning the imaginary into reality. “At first the robot’s sounds took over the piece, so we tried to make it more human and more real – in the background of it all," Conner says. "In the end it’s about getting the viewer to experience and almost taste the popcorn and the Coke through the sound.”

"Taste the feeling,” he adds with a laugh, referencing Coca-Cola’s global marketing campaign.

Conner and Teller’s fluency with advertising language will serve them well as they enter the next stage of their storytelling career post-Chapman University.

Collaboration is King

Conner and Teller plan to move to Los Angeles, where they will collaboratively use their storytelling skillsets for commercial work via their six-month-old company – Frame 48.

Now, Teller believes, is the right time to enter the branded storytelling scene. “We’re in a renaissance period for entertainment," he says. "Brands need new ways of advertising because there’s so much of it going on in the world; they need to connect with their audience.”

He adds, “For a new company to come into this space is really exciting because everyone is looking for a new angle.”

Conner and Teller’s collaborations with each other, their filmmaking cohorts and brands help to keep their ideas fresh. Conner, in part, credits their creative success to the relationships he and Teller forged at Chapman which “will last a lifetime.”

Teller advises aspiring filmmakers, “Just have fun. Get together with your friends and make stuff. That’s what gets us up in the morning. The moment that stops happening is the moment I’ll want to do something else.”

“But,” he adds, “I don’t think that’ll ever happen.”