Students rise in carbonated contest
Two Columbia students could be selected to have their Sprite commercial played in movie theaters across the country this September.
Sean Grasse, a senior film & video major, and Sam Bengtson, a senior arts, entertainment and media management major, received $15,000 from the Sprite Films competition to create a commercial for the company based on story boards they created titled “Heart of
The pair is one of four finalist teams that visited CinemaCon April 16–19, a Las Vegas conference for the movie theater industry, on behalf of the Sprite Films competition. They received training on how to film and produce their commercial at the conference, according to Karen Loop, an assistant professor in the Film & Video Department and faculty adviser to the team.
“[The competition] is very elite and prestigious,” Loop said. “Students get a lot of attention from the Hollywood community.”
For the first time in 14 years, Columbia students had the chance to participate in the Sprite Films competition, Loop said. Previously, the competition was to select schools but added Columbia after Loop asked Sprite to allow the college
The other schools with teams in the final round are Elon University in North Carolina, Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and the University of California-Los Angeles, according to an April 16 press release from the Coca
“We entered the competition on a whim,” Bengtson said. “We didn’t know we had gold going in, but it turns out we did.”
According to Bengtson, a crew of 20 Columbia students is working on a commercial about the wall of a building based on the storyboards he and Grasse created. Originally, the commercial depicted the wall throughout time, starting with the ’60s and progressing to the present day. He said Sprite liked the idea but wanted something more focused, so they went through a redesign.
The concept for the commercial changed to show people from different cultures and backgrounds united by walking in front of the wall, representing how a city is the sum of all its parts, Bengtson said.
A Sprite representative visited the Film & Video Department on Feb. 13 to host an informational session about the contest, which was attended by more than 150 students, Loop said. There were 70 applications from Columbia, and the competition had more than 300 applicants in total, she said.
The $15,000 the team received will be used to offset production costs, according to Loop. The contest requires that $5,000 be collectively used to pay actors contracted to appear in the commercial, $3,000 for paying filming taxes and the remaining funds will mainly go to equipment rental, Loop said.
Shooting took place April 26–28 at the intersection of North Leavitt Street and West Lake Street on the Near West Side. According to Bengtson, the current location was originally a back-up setting, but because the business owner at the original location backed out, they are using that intersection.
“We’re excited about the new location and think it will turn out well in the end,” Bengtson said.
Loop said the first draft of the video project is due May 30, with the final edit due June 15. The four finalists’ films will be featured on the competition’s website to be viewed before the overall winner is announced in September. A panel of industry professionals will make the final decision, she said.
Sprite filmmakers will also be shooting a behind-the-scenes style documentary of the competition that will play in theaters beginning in August, according to Loop. She said the documentary will show in more than 20,000 theaters across the country.
The overall winner will be awarded a $30,000 contract with the Coca–Cola Company, which will pay for the group to work on a large project, Bengtson said.
Grasse said he became interested when he learned that Sprite was pushing the idea of urban advocacy. As a native of the city’s suburbs, he said he wanted to show what it
is like to be part of Chicago. He hopes his work will some day inspire future filmmakers.
“I want to influence someone like I have been influenced by so many great directors,” Grasse said.
Bengtson and Grasse have collaborated on projects prior to the competition, such as a music video for the ambient Chicago band Biiko, and a promotional video for the food truck Tamale Spaceship.
Bengtson said he thinks the team has a good chance of winning, and if they win the entire competition, they will use the money to start a production company.
“The contest is more than a stepping stone,” Bengtson said. “It’s a ladder to the next phase of my life.”