Growing up, sophomore Lillian Engel felt as if she were embarking on an adventure whenever she saw movies in theaters.

This childhood memory inspired her to write a script for a commercial that is now one of five finalists for the Coca-Cola and Regal Films program a student filmmaking program that invites up-and-coming student filmmakers from film schools across the nation to participate in creating a 35-second film about the moviegoing experience.

Engel had the desire to write something that translated the adventures she saw on the screen into reality.

Engel, a team of 12 Elon University students and seven industry professionals, was given $15,000 from Coca-Cola and Regal cinemas to make the film after being accepted. The students managed all the filmmaking aspects, from developing Engel’s scripts to managing the casting and production as well as the creative processes.

The plot of the film begins with a cowboy working in his barn when he hears Coca-Cola being poured on ice. As the cowboy approaches the camera, it is revealed that he is inside a movie poster at a Regal cinema. The cowboy along with an astronaut and a pirate come out of their respective posters and walk to the concession stand to enjoy a Coca-Cola and popcorn.

“The idea actually evolved from having a number of characters come running to the theater from various locations in the real world to having them already in the theater,” Engel said. “It made more sense for them to come out of posters because that’s where a movie theater patron would first be introduced to the character they’re about to watch on screen.”

Sophomore Lillian Engel oversees production at a barn in Efland, North Carolina for their Coca Cola/Regal Cinema film. Photo courtesy of Jacob Staedler.

The Elon team is competing with other schools such as American Film Institute, Chapman University, University of California at Los Angeles and New York University. Senior Bekah Richin, producer for the film, likes that Elon is the lesser known schools in terms of film-making in the group of finalists.

“I prefer being the underdog and having our work cut out for us,” Richin said. “We have a lot to prove, and I feel confident that we can prove that we’re a big player in the world of cinema schools.”

To become finalists, the team of Elon students had to pitch numerous scripts to the competition, with Engel’s pitch selected. She submitted her pitch at last year’s competition and, though it did not become a finalist, Coca-Cola was interested in her idea and asked her to work on it and resubmit the following fall.

“It’s really exciting because the other teams have more experience, but Coke clearly saw potential in our project. So we’re going to do our best,” Engel said. “I’m confident in our team — we have some very strong talent working to put this together.”

Once selected as finalists, the team had to revise its script several times. The students also had to provide storyboards and prove that they could make Engel’s script come to life in the film.

Richin organized the budget, the shooting schedule, found the locations, hired the cast and crew and corresponded with the clients during the pre-production phase.

“This experience has taught me a ton about the many logistics that goes into making a Coca-Cola commercial,” Richin said. “From the big stuff, like what kinds of colors Coca-Cola likes to see in their commercials, to the tiny minutiae, like what kind of ice should go in the Coca-Cola cup. It was a blast working with such a significant budget.”

The film was shot on Jan. 28 and Jan. 30 at a barn 30 minutes away in Efland, North Carolina and a Regal Cinema 2 hours away in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“Those were the locations that we visually loved the most,” Richin said. “It took some serious research to find locations that fit our specific vision, which is why we went far away for both of them.”

Now that the film has been shot, the team is focused on the post-production process of editing and adding the music and sound effects. The final product is due March 17 after many rounds of revisions with the executives the compaies

The Coca-Cola and Regal representatives, along with a panel of entertainment industry experts will choose the winner and announce it at the CinemaCon conference in March. The winning film will make its nationwide appearance on the screens of Regal cinemas in the spring.