María Teresa Bonilla

Exclusive interview with Adam Collis, director of Car Dogs and ASU Film Spark program

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According to this enthusiastic professor and filmmaker, the future of Hollywood resides in Arizona due to the wide-gamut of locations and its proximity to the movie mecca

Adam Collis, Car Dogs director (left), and one of the leading actors of the film, George Lopez. Photo:

Adam Collis, Car Dogs director (left), and one of the leading actors of the film, George Lopez. Photo:

Phoenix, Arizona, March 22nd. In the midst to the movie premiere Car Dogs this Friday, March 24th, Panorama Online had the opportunity to interview the director Adam Collis who is also the director of the program ASU, Film Spark.

89 students from that program participated in the production set of Car Dogs. The movie was filmed in different locations across Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Adam Collis interview

Panorama Online: In your own point of view, what message does the movie Car Dogs bring to the audience, especially in the times we are living now?

Adam Collis: It’s hard out there to both make a living and stay true to your morals – and even harder when you’re chasing a dream. But if you stay true to yourself and surround yourself with a great team, anything is possible.

Panorama Online: Why do you think people will like Car Dogs

Adam Collis: I think folks will really enjoy a fun and dramatic movie about this team of car salesmen (AKA “car dogs”) who are faced with the impossible task of selling more cars than have ever been sold in a single day.  This is a new take on the classic “ticking clock” story, which, when done well, is always super-enjoyable.

I also think people will love the movie because so many of us can relate to buying a car. Whether you’re buying new or used, sitting there across the negotiating table from a car salesman, feeling excited or nervous, wondering if you’re getting a good deal or getting “played”, and then, of course, feeling the excitement of driving off the lot in the car you’ve just purchased yourself – so many of us know what that’s like!

Panorama Online: What special ingredient is missing from screenplays in the last decade?

Adam Collis: Honestly, there are a lot of good screenplays and films that have been made in the last decade. But there could always be more. And what is always in short supply is Originality.

Panorama Online: What is the “dream” movie you would like to direct/produce?

Adam Collis: A big Hollywood dance-musical about Funk Music Saving the Planet! The singular goal of this movie would be to get audiences out of their seats and dancing together as part of this unique cinematic experience. And in my ultimate dream, audiences in theaters across the nation – and maybe across the globe – can watch the movie simultaneously, like a live simul-cast event. Sort of like Live-Aid (if you’re old enough to remember that), but in movie theaters. (I know this is a completely outlandish dream – but you asked!)

Adam Collis, director of Car Dogs and ASU film professor, discusses a scene with Mark (Patrick J. Adams) and the rest of the cast and crew of the film.

Adam Collis, director of Car Dogs and ASU film professor, discusses a scene with Mark (Patrick J. Adams) and the rest of the cast and crew of the film.

Panorama Online: What does it mean for Arizona that movies like Car Dogs are being produced here in the State?

Adam Collis: Arizona should be the “go-to” state for Hollywood film production. And I think that may be just around the corner because of the forward thinking and entrepreneurial approach of the new film commissioner, Matthew Earl Jones and leaders from business and government like Bob Parsons and Governor Ducey, who just jointly funded a new AZ film and television office. A film like Car Dogs shows Hollywood just what can be done in Arizona, even on a small budget. And the “teaching hospital for aspiring filmmakers” that we created and plan to continue demonstrates how strong Arizona’s young, enthusiastic crew base is becoming. A break out success for Car Dogs could mean a lot more movies and television shot in Arizona.

Panorama Online: What advice can you give the next generation of filmmakers in Arizona, and what type of challenges do they face to create in the new era?

Adam Collis: Young Arizona filmmakers need to think entrepreneurially. I LOVED La La Land. In my view, it is a truly special movie. But I agree with Linda Essig, my colleague at ASU when she wrote in her Creative Infrastructure blog that the film “amplifies – in cinemascope and beautifully designed Technicolor – every myth about what it means to be an artist in the US…”. For me, part of that myth is the idea that if you just stay true to your dream, it will come true. That’s what happens to the characters in the film. And it’s really nice as a movie. But the reality is that, for most, to make a dream come true, you have to think entrepreneurially, strategically and practically. So my advice is: If you want to reach for the stars, reach as high as you can, but keep your feet on the ground.

Panorama Online: How did the idea of a “teaching film set” come about?

Adam Collis: Professor and film producer Miguel Valenti founded the film program about 10 years ago. He was so successful that film quickly became the fastest growing program in the biggest school in the country. Our colleague, Jake Pinholster, came to me and asked if I could help place lower level students on the senior thesis films so they could get a “production credit”, meaning work on an actual film set, which was required to graduate. Not having nearly enough senior films to help the film program’s exploding student body, I jokingly suggested that we make a feature film and give all the student internships. Jake took me seriously and asked if I had a script.

The good news was that I did! I had taught the writer, Mark King, before coming to ASU. He had written this tremendous script that was set in Scottsdale, where he grew up. Even better was the fact that Mark had gone to ASU. I asked him if he wanted to come back to his hometown to make a film drawn from his life with students from his alma mater – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Panorama Online: What will be the benefits of ASU Film Spark on the next generation(s) of Arizona filmmakers?

Adam Collis: My hope is that ASU Film Spark can help accelerate the careers of our film and television students, not only through programs like the internship initiative we did with Car Dogs, but also through our many other Film Spark programs which connect our students with working Hollywood professionals and independent filmmakers. That ranges from big events like ones we did with Spike Lee and Walter Parkes (longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator) to smaller ones like our Hollywood Invades Tempe! screening series gives students the chance to connect with industry professionals in a more intimate setting.

Another part of our mission is to help to build out the alumni base both in Hollywood and in Arizona. And we hope to contribute to the build of an ASU pipeline between Arizona and Hollywood that goes both ways. So we may see some alums move to LA, but we’ll also see alums come back to Arizona with their productions.

Panorama Online: How was the interaction between the actors and the production team with the students on the set of Car Dogs?

Adam Collis: This was such a joyous part of the experience. To a person, the professional actors and crew were incredibly patient with our students and equally enthusiastic about the mentoring process. We actually had Oscar-winning cinematography David Stump and casting director John Jackson (Nebraska, Sideways) teach classes during the pre-production of the film. They loved the process.

The students were shaky at the start. They just didn’t know how to work on a professional movie set. But, by the end, they were doing great, because they were so well managed and taught by our co-producer, David Breschel – who was my former student and teaching assistant who became my intern in Los Angeles and ultimately earned a professional producing credit on a movie with recognizable stars. That’s a great example of the career acceleration I hope ASU Film Spark can bring to other ASU students.

Part of the cast of Car Dogs during a red carpet event prior to the premiere of the film in Arizona. This event took place at the Harkins Camelview in Fashion Square, Scottsdale, on Monday, March 20th.

Part of the cast of Car Dogs during a red carpet event prior to the premiere of the film in Arizona.
This event took place at the Harkins Camelview in Fashion Square, Scottsdale, on Monday, March 20th.

Panorama Online: Did you get some resistance at first with the idea of bringing students to the set to fill key positions in a normally very closed industry?

Adam Collis: The challenge I faced was that financiers weren’t necessarily eager to fund a film that had a built-in “teaching hospital for aspiring filmmakers”. And why would they be! Our schedule would be longer, because the students would slow us down. There could be more “loss and damage” costs because the students might make mistakes. We’d miss out on a tax incentive that states like Georgia offer but which Arizona does not.

But it is so deeply fulfilling to teach while also helping students make their way into their professional lives. When I hear from a former student who tells me that they just got a job, and that being a part of Car Dogs and Film Spark helped them get that job – that is just the best.

I’m also a true believer in ASU and Michael Crow’s charge for everyone at ASU to be innovative and entrepreneurial. I have chugged the ASU Kool-Aid. And in Car Dogs, we had the chance to do something truly innovative: to bring the university research and development model into the arts while giving students this incredible opportunity to get an amazing learning experience, an academic credit which would move them closer to graduating, and their first feature film credit, which is the hardest to get because its the first – breaking into the business is just so hard to do.

My dean, Steven Tepper, who runs ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts, once explained to me that the term “studio” was actually an Italian renaissance term for a place where a master artist taught and trained younger artists. It’s interesting that in Hollywood, they are called “movie studios”. If ASU Film Spark is able to be involved in more feature films, maybe we can create a new sort of “movie studio” in that older teaching tradition.

Panorama Online: What do you think is the future of the moviemaking business in Phoenix and surrounding areas?

Adam Collis: Well, here’s what we’re working with: First, we’ve got ASU, the most innovative school in the nation, two years running, above MIT and Stanford, as ranked by US News & World Report and a leader in Michael Crow who is second to none. Second, we have this dynamic new film commissioner, Matthew Earl Jones, who has an amazing plan to reboot the film industry in Arizona. Then you have incredible business leaders, like Bob Parsons, who are motivated to bring Hollywood productions to Arizona and a pro-business governor who has made it clear that Arizona is “open for business”. Given Arizona’s wide range of locales, from the desert and mountains to its cities, and given Arizona’s proximity to Hollywood, the state should be Hollywood’s backlot. I’m a film professor – not a business professor – but if all these groups work together with the AZ production community, then the future of the moviemaking business in Phoenix – and in Arizona – looks extremely positive to me.

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