The next time you’re at the movies, play close attention before the lights go down. You may see a movie from a familiar face.

Brookwood High School graduate Shayain Lakhani, who also goes by Shane, was recently recognized for a short film he co-directed and entered in the Coca-Cola Regal Films Competition. His film “Choose Happy” will be screened nationwide this summer at Regal theaters. It played for thousands of moviegoers before “Avengers: Endgame” on opening weekend.

Lakhani’s film, which took more than six months to produce, was one of 500 submissions to the competition. Submissions were narrowed down to a top-five, which received $15,000 to fund the production of a 30-second film.

“I feel incredibly proud of the hard work our cast and crew put in and the resilience they had to help us win the Coca-Cola Regal Films Competition,” he said. “Being recognized by two massive brands that have played integral roles in my life makes me feel a sense of empowerment and confidence as I continue working toward my future career success.”

Lakhani and his co-director Devon Solwood were flown to Los Angeles, where they received training and were mentored by director and actress Olivia Wilde. After that, it was back to Savannah College of Art and Design, where Lakhani and Solwood went to work producing the film with a crew of 100 students and working union members.

SCAD’s movie production resources are vast, including a 1 million-square-foot facility dedicated to the production of film, television and other media. The SCAD Casting Office has placed more than 250 students into roles for numerous films and television shows including “The Poison Rose,” “Lizzie,” “Magic Mike XXL,” and “Stranger Things.”

The average 21-year-old might have struggled and felt overwhelmed by the undertaking. Lakhani, though, had prior filmmaking experience and is no slouch when it comes to managing his time — his biological clock trains him to wake up at 5 a.m. since his days at Brookwood. His other projects at SCAD prepared him for long projects.

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The biggest challenge, he said, was getting the special effects just right. Lakhani’s film is about a downtrodden young adult with his own weather system above his head. When he’s sad and alone, a cloud rains directly on the crown of his head. Water drips into his eyes. Thunder lights up the cloud.

When the protagonist enters the movie theater, purchases some popcorn and takes a long sip of Coca-Cola through a straw, he’s in his happy place. That thunderstorm floating above his head suddenly changes to the gleaming sun.

The thunder cloud is a mix of practical effects — a rig that actually rained on the actor while shooting — and digital effects.

“The inspiration for mood being signified by a sun actually came from our feeling in the theater,” Lakhani said. “In a world where streaming platforms grow, the theater experience will continue to be the home for many people’s, ‘happy place.’ We all enjoy coming together in the cinema and experiencing a story that’s being told through undivided attention. We wanted to capture all the moments of the theater-going experience.”

Lakhani and his special effects team had to turn that piece of the film around in roughly two weeks. They hired a SCAD alum who was an experienced visual effects professional.

“The rain cloud was done out of a built rain rig and visual effects by Gavin Chin,” he said. “The mixture of practical and visual was something that involved precision through production and post-production. James Rinere had created concept art for us to base it off and even then, the look changed quite a bit.”

Lakhani and his colleagues walked away from the experience with conviction. He, a 21-year-old film student, could produce industry-quality content and have it distributed nationally. That’s a confidence boost for a young filmmaker who started with no connections in the film industry.

Lakhani said at times has felt pressure as a first-generation Muslim American. Lakhani grew up being told by elders that his career was destined to follow the stable, lucrative path of a lawyer, doctor or an engineer. The 21-year-old film and television student, though, didn’t see himself fitting into that mold. He imagined a creative career for himself, and he had the ambition to pursue it.

“I loved creating content and being able to tell the stories of those we have overlooked,” Lakhani said. “So in choosing to become a film and television student, who before SCAD had no real network or connections, I knew that if I could make it as a producer/director, other students might be inspired to pursue their passions as well.”

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories in the county he grew up in.

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