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The Reel Thing

“Titanic” may be breaking all box-office records. But on April 24 a new movie will outpace the ship in another category: The widest single-day opening of a film.

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“Bitten by Love,” by New York University student Kyle Newman, 22, will be shown before the feature presentation on about 75% (or 10,000) of the nation’s screens. The 60-second short (that’s 0.5% of “Titanic”‘s running time) is the winner of the Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker’s Award.

Newman’s film — in which a snarling dog chases a man into a movie theater, where they bond over an onscreen love story — was deemed the award winner by a panel of judges including Milos Forman, Mike Ovitz and Sony/Columbia Pictures president John Calley. Newman beat out more than 150 film-school entrants, ten of whom were judged finalists and given $5,000 by the soft-drink company to make a minute-long film. Even for a short, it was a tiny sum. “When I tell people that budget,” says Newman, “they say, ‘$5,000? Was that just to make copies of your script?'”

Coke’s rules were simple: Stay within the budget, and make a film about going to the movies, not a commercial for Coke. The only Coke-centric rule was that if someone drank a beverage in a film, it had to be The Real Thing. The contest was part of Coke’s continuing campaign (following comedic shorts with George Wendt, David Letterman and Richard Jeni) to make its presence known at the movies without alienating filmgoers. “Research has shown us that commercials turn audiences off, and that they want something different,” says Scott Jacobson, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola. “We wanted to do something that adds to the regular movie-going experience.”

Newman’s mini-film may entertain audiences, but it’s more important for him that it makes an impression in Hollywood. He’s off to a good start. Coca-Cola premiered his film on March 12 at ShoWest, an event attended by some 3,400 theater owners and visiting stars, in Las Vegas. “I got to meet Barry Levinson, Garry Marshall, Susan Sarandon and Burt Reynolds,” says Newman. “It was a surreal experience to show my film to that audience.”

Since his win (which brought him a $10,000 prize from Coke), Newman has received phone calls from talent agencies William Morris and UTA, and the production company Good Machine (“The Ice Storm”). Though his first plan is to complete his final semester of college, Newman says he would be happy to jump right past the “starving artist” phase of his filmmaking career. “I’m not really looking to go out there and struggle on my own,” he says. “I think everyone wants to be independent until someone offers them something in Hollywood. Then they put on their bib, get the knife and fork and dig in.”