March 24, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 37°F

Life & Culture

IC students selected as Coca-Cola Films finalists

Every summer, American moviegoers are treated to the newest projects from the best of the best film students from participating colleges and universities, showcasing the magic of the movie theater and the vitality of sipping on a refreshing Coke while audience members enjoy a feature presentation on the silver screen.

Each year, the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films Program accepts pitches from young filmmakers, like two of the 2023 finalists, Ithaca College first-year students Sami Smith and Malaika Menezes. The five finalist films selected by Coca-Cola are given production grants to turn their pitch into an advertisement for Coke and the magic of the movie theaters. The winning film from each year is then showcased in Regal, AMC and Cinemark theaters throughout the United States during the summer movie season.

While the process of reaching this stage in the program has been a tough one, Smith and Menezes said they had not always planned on sending in pitches. Menezes and Smith said they both heard about the interest meeting that was held in October 2022 at the last minute and both decided to go. Smith and Menezes had not known each other well prior to the pitch meeting, but Menezes said they hit it off during the meeting and decided to work together, thus beginning the intensive scriptwriting process. 

Going in without any ideas to start with, the co-writers decided they would try to develop several ideas, and then slowly narrow it down to one, in hopes that the sheer quantity might yield one idea that they could settle on. And that idea was “Phone Date.” 

“‘Phone Date’ was definitely our favorite of the seven or eight ideas we had, just because of the comedy behind it, so we tried really hard to make it flourish,” Menezes said. “We were so happy when it was chosen.”

As the pitch process went on, Smith said they found themselves getting more and more competitive when they heard about other students’ submissions. Seeing other teams developing their own pitches as the process went on only motivated them to push further and work to create an even better film. 

“There was never really a point in which we didn’t see ourselves making it this far,” Menezes said. “I think we both kind of just always envisioned ourselves getting to the finals, even if that sounds kind of weird.”

As they continued to develop ideas, Smith said they decided that they wanted to attract an audience of their peers with this film, choosing to make a film centered around young people and their relationship to technology. Once they had decided on that, they said the rest of the process was much easier.

Menezes and Smith are not alone in working on this project, however. They have worked with other students and even some faculty to reach this stage. Mickie Quinn, as the staff manager of Park Productions, has been in charge of the social media outreach for this film, as well as the other Refreshing Films submissions by Ithaca College students. She said her desire to be part of the students’ support system was strong, and that she wanted to ensure students have the opportunity to make the film they envisioned during the pitch. 

“It’s connecting the project to the outside world,” Quinn said. “We’re working on creating content that allows people to go behind the scenes, to introduce Malaika and Sami as the creators of this project and to show their process from start to finish.” 

This submission marks the third finalist from Ithaca College since the school began participating in 2017. The first submission from the Roy H. Park School of Communications was directed and produced by Clara Montague ’21 and Eva Kirie ’21. Their film, “The Library,” won the grand prize for that year. Another finalist submission was in the 2020 program, “The Friday Film Five” by Abby Hauptman ’20 and Desiree Tolchin ’20. 

Jack Powers, professor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences & Studies, has served as the faculty advisor for the program since the college started participating and said he is heavily involved in supporting the students from start to finish as they work on their pitches to send to Coca-Cola. Powers said he has been meeting with Menezes and Smith throughout the process leading up to the finalist selection and will be present on set with the students involved.

“This is a major undertaking,” Powers said. “It’s a national competition, it’s hard. Sam and Malaika have put in a lot of work already and there’s still a lot of work to do. They’re very impressive.” 

In the several months since the beginning of their journey, Menezes and Smith said they have been working closely with John Fucile, director of Park Productions. Fucile serves as the executive producer for “Phone Date” and will be heavily involved during shooting to bring the duo’s vision to life. He compared his role in all of this to the construction of a building — if Menezes and Smith are the architects, Fucile said he is the general contractor, putting the pieces into place and making sure the budget is still intact throughout the process. 

“There really is no bigger client than Coke,” Fucile said. “It’s an unbelievably great opportunity for them, and I’m proud to be able to put together everything to execute Sami and Malaika’s vision.” 

Smith said production will take place partially on the Ithaca College campus, and then the production team will travel to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to complete production in the nearest Cinemark theater. All of the finished finalist films will be available to watch in April 2023. 

“We let our imaginations kind of run away with us; we heard about this contest and were like, oh my god, I can see myself doing that.” Menezes said. “So it kind of became our reality before we got to where we are now.”