Graduate students selected as finalists in the 2024 Coca-Cola Refreshing Films program

Lou Duchin and Maria Palmeri create short film combining live-action and animation for the competition


Lou Duchin, left, and Maria Palmeri, right, represent RIT’s School of Film and Animation as finalists in the 2024 Coca-Cola Refreshing Films competition.

Two graduate students from RIT’s School of Film and Animation are representing the university as finalists in the 2024 Coca-Cola® Refreshing Films (CCRF) program. Lou Duchin, a film and animation graduate student, and Maria Palmeri, a dual-degree graduate student in film and animation and communication, worked together to create a short branded-spot film for the competition titled How’s The View?

Duchin, from Hollywood, Fla., and Palmeri, from Greece, N.Y., met last semester as incoming first-year graduate students. When they learned about the CCRF competition, they were eager to participate. The pair shared that they were filled with a range of emotions, including excitement and happy tears, upon hearing that they were selected as one of four finalists to receive funding to bring their script to life for the big screen.

“I am coming back to writing and film after pursuing a career in a different field, so now that I’ve written this script, was accepted into the program, and we made it to the finals—it’s all super validating for me. It’s like confirming that I’m making the right decisions and it gave me confidence in what I can do as a writer,” said Duchin.

The CCRF program is a platform that provides students the opportunity to create content for the big screen. Each year, the program creates a student scripting challenge which invites students from partnered schools to submit their ideas. Four scripts were selected as finalists this year to receive funding for production. The program offers two awards: the grand prize and the Cinemark Fan Favorite Award.

To determine who receives the grand prize award, the finalists’ films will be judged by a Red Ribbon panel made up of industry professionals. This year’s grand-prize-winning film will get screened for a limited time in Coca-Cola-partnered theaters nationwide, including Cinemark theaters, AMC theatres, Megaplex, Landmark Cinemas, and Cineplex Cinemas. They’ll also receive a battle-tested RED KOMODO camera to launch their careers.

Additionally, the program has teamed up with Cinemark to offer the Cinemark Fan Favorite Award, which was created to allow movie fans to participate and help create more awareness for the finalists’ films. All of the films will be hosted online during the month of April and moviegoers can vote for their favorite film. The film that receives the most votes will win a cash prize.

The theme for this year’s challenge is celebrating the real magic of the movies and over 900 scripts were submitted by students from across the country. When brainstorming their ideas, Duchin and Palmeri reflected on their own experiences and how watching movies provided an escape from reality.

How’s The View? follows Charlie, a movie theater employee who loves watching movies from the projector booth. One day when watching one of his favorite movies, Charlie sees that the characters are in trouble and he decides to go into the movie to rescue them.

For Duchin, writer and director of the film, and Palmeri, producer of the film, this is their first time working on a production of this scale. With over 60 people on set during their overnight filming at Cinemark Tinseltown theater in Gates, N.Y., Palmeri said the experience taught her a lot about the importance of pre-production planning.

“There were a lot of things to keep track of from a producer perspective, from trying to get contact information from all of the crew and cast to make sure they’re updated to keeping the communication flowing between all of the department heads. All of our pre-production meetings with the crew and our mentors from CCRF really helped us stay organized, and helped me see how much work goes into a project on this scale,” said Palmeri.

Past winners

In 2022, students Anna McClanahan and Gabriel Ponte-Fleary received the grand prize award for their film, Say CheeseLearn more about their film.

Their film is a unique blend of live-action and 2D animation, a first for the CCRF competition. A team of four animators helped bring Duchin and Palmeri’s vision to life: Amandeep Singh, lead compositor and background designer; Katie Schneider, storyboard artist, production coordinator, and animation creative director; Vinh Nguyen, supervisor, in-betweener, and cleanup; and Reagan Christie, character designer and lead animator.

“I feel like live-action and animation are two mediums that get separated a lot, but I think they both are great ways to express art and stories. Most of the stories I love are animated, so I wanted to include that as part of the magic in the film,” said Duchin. “And because I’ve met so many great animators here, I wanted to give opportunities to people who work in both mediums to showcase what we all can do.”

Duchin added that the live action elements of the short film wouldn’t have been possible to create without contributions from Aimee Finkelstein, director of photography, and Jayla Alston, assistant director.

The grand prize winner of the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films program will be announced on April 11 at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. Duchin and Palmeri look forward to attending the screening of the finalist films and exploring all that CinemaCon has to offer.

“This is really exciting for both of us because we’ve never been to Vegas. It’s going to be a whole new world for us, especially because the whole event takes place at Caesar’s Palace,” said Palmeri. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the studio slates at CinemaCon. Actually being there in the moment when they’re releasing clips from movies that aren’t coming out for another year and have never been seen before is just so exciting.”

Visit the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films webpage for more information about the program, and show your support by voting for How’s The View? as the Cinemark Fan Favorite Award during the month of April.

Recommended News