SCAD positions film students for success, even before graduation.

When Savannah College of Art & Design students Shayain Lakhani and Devon Solwold won the 2019 Coca-Cola Regal Films contest, their faces — and their 30-second film, “Choose Happy,” — were splashed on the big screen before every movie shown in a Regal Cinema this summer.

And a lot of people watched movies at Regal Cinemas this summer.

One of them was noted Hollywood producer Darren Dean, who was about to dig into “Avengers: Endgame” when he saw a couple of familiar faces staring back at him. Lakhani and Solwold had bent Dean’s ear over coffee about a week earlier, during one of the many opportunities SCAD students have to network with big names in their prospective fields, and the film students who had just pitched him a feature film were on the big screen where Dean was about to see one of the biggest blockbusters in history.

When he left the theater, Dean called Lakhani.

It was the beginning of a promising partnership, as Dean has helped Lakhani and Solwold advance their feature project, “American 11,” a film that examines the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks through the eyes of an 18-year-old Muslim man who lost his mother to the attack. They’re hopeful the project helps them get selected for the Screenwriters Lab at Sundance, and they also aim to eventually have the film premier at the festival.

During their time at SCAD, Lakhani and Solwold have proven their filmmaking chops, with plenty of help from their classmates. The SCAD team was the only one of five finalists in the Coca-Cola Regal competition that didn’t use any of its $15,000 budget to hire professional actors or crew, instead relying on SCAD students in every aspect of the production.

Despite warnings from contest organizers, they persisted with their crew of about 100 students, the core group of 25-30 of whom have worked together on numerous projects since they were freshmen.

“We felt very strongly about the chemistry our team had,” Lakhani said. “It was not a disadvantage.”

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