In a recent, student-made commercial, a single sip of Coca-Cola allows a high schooler a glimpse into his future.
The 17-year old is shocked to see his 30-year old self on a movie date with a sophisticated woman. She goes to take his hand but instead steals his popcorn as they enjoy the film together. With another sip of Coke, the man is transported back into the present only to realize the woman in his vision was the older version of his teenage date beside him.
This 30-second advertisement is the creation of students Elon Zlotnik and Nathan Nguyen-Le, who partnered with Coca-Cola and Regal Cinemas to encapsulate the movie-going experience. Their film was one of the five selected from nearly 6,000 submissions. Each finalist received $15,000 to produce their film, along with filmmaking equipment provided by sponsor RED Digital Cinema. Only the winner gets to keep the equipment, however. The film will also compete for the chance to be screened in Regal theaters across the nation. The grand prize will be announced early April. Their film is a simple, yet sincere story that highlights the role of the cinema in bringing people together, said Zlotnik, a fourth-year film student.
“There’s a certain particular feeling about going to the movies that’s this warm, happy feeling,” Zlotnik said. “I think in our society, and particularly to me, it is sort of … this ritual that we go through that’s common for a lot of people, and we tried to get to the root of that feeling.”
The relatability of the film’s movie date creates a sense of happy nostalgia for adolescence, said Nguyen-Le, a graduate cinematography student. The filmmakers wanted to convey positive childhood memories, many of which people have created while sitting in theaters.
“I can look back at my first movie date experiences and hanging out with my group of friends going to the movies together. I definitely look back at those memories very fondly,” Nguyen-Le said. “And I think that’s what we’re basically trying to convey, that it is more of an event to go to the movie theaters.”
The ubiquity of the movie date also makes it a popular idea for submissions to this competition, Nguyen-Le said. Based on their prior research, they knew going in that Coca-Cola and Regal receive a lot of films with flashbacks, so they did the opposite by going forward in time. For the crucial flash-forward shot, they utilize a “That’s So Raven”-inspired dolly zoom camera technique to mark the sudden time transition. They hoped to make the effect dramatic enough to disorient the viewer, conveying the lead character’s shock as he realizes he’s in the future, Nguyen-Le said.
“I think it all starts with the idea of flashing forward. As young kids, we always envision our future in some way, and I always liked the idea of playing with time … and (having) instruments to help you visualize the future,” Nguyen-Le said.
The commercial’s title, “It Happened Like This,” was in part inspired by the title of the classic romantic comedy “It Happened One Night,” which also revolves around young love, Nguyen-Le said. The concept for their short film stemmed from the idea of the two lead characters using the titular phrase to share their love story with their grandchildren. By skipping forward into the future, they wanted audiences to consider how they might share their own stories with their families.
Alumna Emanuela Boisbouvier, who plays the lead female character, said the characters and their relationship drive the nostalgia of the film even without dialogue. Nguyen-Le said the lack of dialogue made it essential to create a clear distinction between the older and younger versions of the characters. He said they overcame this obstacle by carefully selecting actors who could pull off both ages, adding details like a blazer, glasses and facial hair to signify the time change. Boisbouvier said she created this distinction through her physicality, exploring differences between the flirty smile of a 17-year-old on a first date and the comfortable smile of a woman in a serious relationship.
This emphasis on developing relatable characters illustrates their focus on telling a heartfelt story, Nguyen-Le said. Because the film is so short, it can be sweet without being bogged down by time, Boisbouvier said. It doesn’t try too hard to jam-pack the story with symbols and over-the-top visual effects. At the end of the day, their film is just about trying to engage people and get them thinking about their own romantic stories, Zlotnik said.
“(The film) has a bit more of a youthful vibe,” Zlotnik said. “Every teenager envisions themselves and who they want to be, and I don’t think as humans, we ever stopped that impulse.”