Coming Through in CRUNCH TIME — Chapman University Students Win Filmmaker Contest; Short Film Will Screen at Regal Cinemas Pre-Shows Nationwide

The popcorn crunches and the Coca-Cola bubbles, as the cardboard robot advertising an upcoming sci-fi movie gazes forlornly from the cinema lobby at the concessions stand whose treats it can never consume. But wait! Stirred by the smells and sounds of the tasty treats, the automaton comes to life, rushing toward the counter to place an order and eagerly take its seat alongside a packed audience.

This is the plot of Crunch Time, the 35-second advertisement and short film created by Julian Conner and Tom Teller, students at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University. The two recently won a national contest cosponsored by Coca-Cola and Regal Cinemas to screen Crunch Time during pre-shows at Regal, where the exposure will be vast: Regal’s 7,310 screens at 565 sites — the largest screen count of any exhibition chain in the U.S. and second-largest in the world — account for about 20 percent of North American box office.

“We met at Chapman and worked on films at school, starting our own production company,” Teller, the project’s director, tells Boxoffice. “We’d done films with robot characters in them, like Hum [about a dishwashing robot] and Icarus [an astronaut story featuring a robot sidekick]. So we submitted a script, though the final product was different from our initial concept, which was the robot waiting in line but not coming to life. Also, we eventually made it more humanoid and less childlike.”

“When we found out we were in the top five finalists, we were stoked!” says Conner, the project’s editor. He and Teller were chosen as finalists alongside students from NYU, UCLA, Elon University, and the American Film Institute. Each team received $15,000 to produce its short film, which Conner and Teller shot overnight at a local Regal cinema.

They were resourceful in other ways as well. “We’ve been doing VFX on our own work for several years now, so with budget and time constraints on this project, our only option was to do it in-house,” Teller says. “There were nine shots including VFX, so it took four months for the entire project from design to finish. We had about 20 people in total: 12 people on set, and eight more throughout post and into development.”

“Fortunately, Tom was proficient in visual effects,” says Conner.

The judging panel included actor Clark Gregg from The Avengers and television’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., director Richie Keen from Fist Fight, and actor Giovanni Ribisi from Avatar and Ted 2. The winning entry was announced in March at CinemaCon, the annual entertainment industry convention held in Las Vegas, which Teller and Conner attended for the first time.

What’s next, after a likely audience of millions this spring and summer for their short film? First, the duo—who name Stanley Kubrick and Danny Boyle among their primary cinematic influences—will graduate in May from their college in Orange County, California. Then they plan a move to Los Angeles with their production company, Frame 48, for which Teller is CEO and Conner is COO.

“What made it real was hearing the actual number of screens [the short film will play on],” says Teller. “Hopefully we’ll make it out to the Regal theater near here. It’s our favorite theater to go to!”

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