INTERVIEW: Aviva Kleiner Talks About The Coca-Cola Refreshing Films program

Can you walk Vents readers through the process of sifting through what was surely an unprecedented number of film submissions from some crazy talented individuals?

Every year we are awestruck by the number of talented and creative individuals that apply for the program. It is extremely hard to narrow down the number of entries to our top 5 finalists.

What did that look like and how were you able to settle on five phenomenal scripts out of all you had to choose from?

Each year the team puts together a creative brief to outline the script challenge for students. The challenge does change each year. We like to keep things fresh. We then work closely with a team of script readers and an internal selection team to review those scripts based on the brief.  At this point we are reviewing scripts purely based on the idea alone. The script reading team doesn’t know the applicants’ gender or what school they go to.  Once we narrow the scripts down to our top 15, those semi-finalists are notified. From there, we are able to dive deeper into the submission: we’re able to ask questions, get a stronger picture of the student’s vision and get to know the filmmakers better through the process. From there we narrow the applicants down to our top 5.

  • The five 2020 finalists were:

Our finalists apply in teams of two. I’ve updated the list to showcase both partners.

  • NEON JUNGLE: Forrest Clark (Writer / Director) and Grace Lindblad (Producer)
    • MAGIC: Miguel Garcia (Writer / Director) and Mia Elliott (Producer)
    • THE FRIDAY FILM FIVE: Abby Hauptman (Writer / Director) and Desiree Tolchin (Producer)
    • LET LOOSE: Henry Zhinin (Director / Animation Supervisor) and Elina Itugot (Writer, Director)  
    • JUST A STEP AWAY: Katy-May Hudson (Writer / Director) and Sakshi Gurnani (Producer)

What type of criteria did Coca-Cola look for when choosing this talented ensemble of directors?

During the selection process, we are only looking at the script. Our finalist filmmakers come from different backgrounds and have varying  levels of experience.

How many years has Coca-Cola spearheaded and sponsored the Refreshing Films initiative?

We’ve been going 23 years. The upcoming program will be the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films 24th year.

Once the five finalists have been chosen, what goes into promoting their achievements and ensuring that as many people as is possible can enjoy the hard work the five filmmakers have been inspired to create?

Once the finalists are chosen, our first priority is setting up each production for success. We want to make sure every finalist is mentored throughout the 6-month experience.

We work with each team to provide the mentorship that they need to create an amazing film. Once the film is completed;  it’s hosted online for the world to see. The program’s promotion includes PR, announcement events, industry event attendance, eblasts and we produce a yearbook  to showcase all our past program participants and highlight what they have been working on since the program.  The Yearbook was shared with all our filmmakers and sent to the executive teams and program partners.

Twenty two years is a solid commitment by Coca-Cola to elevate and spotlight new and emerging talent in the world of film. How has the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films initiative grown and evolved over these two plus decades?

Every year we take a look at the program and discuss what we can do better. As a result, there are improvements each year.  Some recent include:

  • The Coca-Cola Refreshing Films program provides a unique opportunity for students to gain real-world experience through a 6-month platform.
  • We work with some of the top film schools and some of the most underrepresented film programs in the country.
  • The film industry has identified an underrepresentation of women in filmmaking positions.  To help encourage women in film, The Coca-Cola Refreshing Films program has required the submitting teams (two students per school team)be composed of at least 50% or more members that self-identify as female.
  • The program will provide filmmakers access to entrepreneurial and career development resources. These resources will be available to all student filmmakers beyond program participants.
  • Technology partnerships with industry brands like RED, ZEISS and Deluxe’s EFILM help elevate the experience and allow students to work with professional tools.
  • At the end of the program we produce a yearbook to showcase what students have done since participating in the program. It’s a great way for filmmakers to network amongst the community and find new opportunities for collaborations. We also share this with our Red Ribbon Panel of industry professionals and extended teams.

How soon after the selection process of the five finalists does Coca-Cola begin the next year’s initiative? Is it immediate because of the demand and interest from aspiring filmmakers?

Once the finalists are selected, our team focuses on helping them succeed and making it the best experience possible. We don’t start planning next year’s program until the current program is completed. We take note throughout the year of things that worked well to help make improvements each year. Throughout the year we look for opportunities that we can share beyond our finalists but with the filmmaking community at large.

 Who judges the entries for the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films initiative?

Once the films are completed they are shared with our Red Ribbon Panel of industry professionals. Beyond Coca-Cola and its program partners at RED, ZEISS and Deluxe’s EFILM, we work with major studio executives and even Hollywood talent. 

 After the selection process is complete, does Coca-Cola mentor and/or keep tabs on its winners?

We have a team that stays dedicated to the filmmakers throughout their journey in the program. The program kicks off pre-production with a training and orientation event. All the finalists get to know each other, they receive technical training and a handbook guide, and we always bring out some industry mentors to inspire them.

 How does the coronavirus complicate next year’s Coca-Cola Refreshing Films initiative? Will new guidelines be put in place?

These are unprecedented times. The safety of our filmmakers will be the top priority. We’re working closely with the schools and industry professionals to determine what production safety will look like in the future. There will certainly be changes as we implement those measures. 

 Coca-Cola Refreshing Films got a sort of spin-off a number of years ago in the form of the Sprite Refreshing Films program. Is this now defunct and, if so, will there be any chance of it (or something similar) popping up in the future?

Many of the brands within the Coca-Cola family have been involved in the program throughout its 23 years.  Therefore it’s had several names such as the Coca-Cola Filmmaking Award program, Sprite Films, and most recently Coca-Cola Refreshing Films. The program’s core mission of empowering the next generation of filmmakers has never wavered.

13.) A number of alumni from the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films challenge have gone on to become major players in the entertainment industry. Is there a sense of pride on Coca-Cola’s part for introducing these exciting voices to the world?

Our goal is that all students use this as an opportunity to further their careers. It’s amazing to look back and see their successes.  We are very proud of all of our past finalists. This summer we’ll be launching a filmmaker Vault online at where fans can see and connect with past filmmakers’ work.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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