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Montclair SCM Students Make the Finals of Prestigious 2024 Coca-Cola Refreshing Films Program

Posted in: School of Communication and Media News

Two students in red shirts smiling in a selfie-style photo.
Senior TVDM majors Charlotte Bigotto and John Schell are in the finals of the 2024 Coca-Cola Refreshing Film Programs, besting more than 900 entries to this point.

Coca-Cola Received more than 900 Entries from 60 Universities in N. America*

Montclair School of Communication and Media students Charlotte Bigotto and John Schell have already accomplished something beyond their wildest dreams being selected as finalists for the 2024 Coca-Cola Refreshing Film (CCRF) Program. While this milestone is an incredible accomplishment and a first in Montclair’s history, what might happen next could change their lives. 

Charlotte and John are Television and Digital Media majors whose unlikely journey began in the Fall 2023 semester, when Professor Stuart MacClelland shared background about the 26th annual competition in one of his film classes. Professor MacClelland explained that the film competition provides up-and-coming film students at 60 partner Universities across N. America to learn commercial filmmaking by creating content for the big screen with the support of a global brand.

The long and challenging process began with the seniors pitching their script ideas in class via Zoom to the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films team. Charlotte and John had a handful of classes together before taking Professor MacClelland’s course and decided to partner for the competition. “I was nervous to even stand up in front of everyone and make the pitch,” Charlotte admitted, “and in my notebook, I had multiple ideas. I went with my gut, and said ‘I like this one, let’s pitch it.’” 

The Coca-Cola Refreshing Films team provided  feedback and encouraged them to officially enter the competition by transforming their idea into a script. The Montclair duo did that, and after their entry advanced to the semi-final round of 15 out of more than 900 entries, John saw the life-altering email first in early November. 

“Never did I think that we would be where we are right now,” John said. “I was overjoyed we made it to the semi-finals, and to find out we made it to the final four teams was insane. It still doesn’t feel real in a way.” 

 What is the Coca-Cola Refreshing Film Program?

The program provides a real-world experience. All finalists receive a $20,000 budget to produce their 30-second films and are mentored throughout the process. While Charlotte and John are the finalists, this project is a school-wide collaboration with fellow filmmaking students, Montclair alumni and other local professionals. On February 19 at the AMC Theatre in Clifton, that crew along with faculty, staff and members of the CCRF program gathered overnight to film the team’s commercial. 

“This program is designed to give students the opportunity to get hands-on professional experience by creating content for a big brand while still in college.” said Aviva Kleiner, Coca‑Cola Refreshing Films Program Director. ”It’s amazing to support students at the start of their careers since they will be the ones fueling the entertainment industry for years to come. I can’t wait to see where their careers take them.”

“We’re making a spot with a large brand and they are involved in the creative process., which is a fun and cool part of the process. Learning more about branding from one of the world’s most successful and recognizable brands is exciting and a great learning experience,” Charlotte said. 

“There are times when we’re working with people who have a lot of film experience,” John shared. “It’s weird for me as someone who doesn’t have that experience to be in a higher position. It’s a big learning process for us. But it’s been eye opening and now when I watch movies all I think about is the behind-the-scenes work to make a successful film.”

“And the Coca-Cola Refreshing Team is so welcoming, it’s nice to work with people you like and feel comfortable working with,” he continued. “It’s professional but it feels like family.”

The CCRF Program is also meaningful to Charlotte and John because of their own family experiences when they were growing up, but for different reasons. “When I was about 10 years old, my cousins and I started making movies on our phones. It was like we were directors even back then, and we would ‘screen’ the films for our family. I’ve thought about those moments during the process. It would be an amazing feeling and a dream come true to have my family go to a movie theater and watch something I helped create.”

“Growing up, my dad’s childhood was kind of (rough),” John said. “He hated his job, so he would always tell me, ‘Do what you like, and do what makes you happy.’ So for him to experience this, too, helps make up for a lot of that, and it’s almost like it’s this one thing he’s been waiting for. So that part is cool and I’m so grateful to be at this point.”

Montclair SCM has Prepared Charlotte and John for the “Real World”

While their CCRF journey isn’t over, advancing in the competition has also allowed the team to reflect on their experience at Montclair. Charlotte and John cited Professor MacClelland and Professor Vernard Gantt as having a positive impact on their Montclair education. “The studios are awesome, and I have always had good professors who care about your work and want to see you succeed,” Charlotte said. “They want you to ‘fail’ now, and that can be hard, but it’s better to make mistakes now and not repeat them or make them in the real world.”

“If I was told to go to work on The Today Show tomorrow, I feel like I would be prepared to succeed,” John said. “If you’re passionate about film or television and want to get involved in this industry, Montclair will teach you so much. To work with people who have so much industry experience, and to do it in these facilities only 10 miles from New York City is something I would recommend to anyone.”

On February 19 at the AMC Theatre in Clifton, Charlotte and John were joined by their crew, as well as faculty, staff and members of the CCRF program to film the team’s commercial.

What Comes Next in the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films Program

On April 1, 2024 all four Coca-Cola Refreshing Films spots will debut. Charlotte and John will attend the cinema industry’s leading industry convention, CinemaCon in Las Vegas from April 8-11. There they will get to experience the convention first hand and see all the business that gets conducted on the distribution side of the industry. They’ll also celebrate their film along with their fellow finalists. The Grand Prize winning film will be announced and that spot will be featured on the big screen at Coca-Cola partnered theaters including AMC, Cinemark, Megaplex, Cineplex Cinemas and Landmark Cinemas.

Additionally, starting April 1 -30, Cinemark is hosting the Cinemark Fan Favorite Award and encouraging movie fans to vote on their favorite spot. Chance to win incentives will be offered to moviegoers who vote at, and Cinemark will launch a customized Coca-Cola Refreshing Films cup and popcorn tub in its theaters to drive awareness. A vote scanned from a Coca-Cola will count 5x, which can be done only once during the voting period. The winning team will receive $5,000. 

Regardless of the prizes, Charlotte and John have already made Montclair history by becoming the first Red Hawks team to enter the competition, let alone make it to the finals. “We are extremely proud of Charlotte and John, and their success speaks to their creativity, determination, teamwork and willingness to be mentored by our amazing faculty and the world-class team at Coca-Cola,” said Dr. Keith Strudler, Director, School of Communication and Media at Montclair. “We are excited to see the Montclair community rally around Charlotte and John during the voting period, and hopefully propel them to victory for the Cinemark Fan Favorite Award.”


Media contact: Keith Green, School of Communication and Media, 973-655-3701 and


About the School of Communication and Media: Founded in 2012, the School of Communication and Media offers a range of dynamic programs in communication and media to a talented and diverse student population of over 1,800. Offering degrees in film and television, social media and public relations, advertising, journalism and digital media, sports communication, communication and media studies, animation and visual effects, and an MA in public and organizational relations, the School prepares the next generation of communication and media practitioners and leaders. The School houses award-winning student programs that include WMSC RadioThe Montclarion newspaper, Hawk Communications Agency, the Red Hawk Sports NetworkHawk+ OTT streaming platform, and News Lab, as well as the Center for Cooperative Media, which serves the public by working to grow and strengthen local journalism. Student projects and programs have recently received national recognition from PRSSA’s Bateman Competition, an Edward R Murrow Award, several Marconi Award nominations, and a College Television Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

About the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films: The Coca-Cola Refreshing Films program is a platform at partnered schools for up-and-coming filmmakers to create content for the big screen. The goal of the program is to help all participating filmmakers  further their careers and provide a real-world professional opportunity to work with a global brand. 2024 marks the program’s 26th year. It’s currently the longest running branded film program in the US.