INTERVIEW: ‘Car Dogs’ director Adam Collis talks new movie, ASU Film Spark, and more

It was around 2002 when Scottsdale, Arizona native Mark King left Arizona State University and embarked on a journey to Los Angeles to begin his career in the film industry. Once he arrived, he was introduced to director Adam Collis with whom he was taking a filmmaking class while working on an early short version of his screenplay for Car Dogs, which offers up a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of a busy car dealership on an intense sales day in the valley of the sun. After reading King’s script, Collis immediately recognized its immense amount of potential and quickly encouraged King to adapt it into a feature-length film.

Fast forward a few years later, and Collis is now working at Arizona State University as a visiting professor where he flies back and forth from Los Angeles. Realizing the desperate need for real world professional opportunities for the 450 undergraduate students enrolled in the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre, Collis suddenly remembered King’s immersive script for Car Dogs, which Collis would soon direct while working with a Hollywood crew that included a number of his current and former students who aspire to work in the industry themselves one day.

It was a sunny December in Phoenix when we sat down for an exclusive interview with Collis who was wearing a nicely ironed red flannel shirt and just so happened to be appropriately seated behind a yellow sign for his ASU Film Spark, which aims to give both students and professionals an understanding of the complex Hollywood ecosystem such as script development, post-production, and, perhaps one of the most important: distribution and marketing.

“Film Spark is a great example of ASU as the most innovative school in the nation,” Collis told us. “Film Spark is living testament, and frankly I’m living proof, that ASU is indeed the most innovative school in the country. Imagine a professor’s passion project to connect his students with working Hollywood professionals. It started as just a silly little video conferencing program—I was Skyping with my parents and it worked. I was like, I could Skype with my filmmaker buddies and have my students talk with them.” After Collis’ passion project was recognized by the university, it was later greenlighted and transformed into a full-on Hollywood industry relations program.

Film Spark’s involvement in Car Dogs is equally, if not more, compelling than the movie itself. A combination of extremely determined industry professionals, next generation filmmakers, and the most innovative school in the nation formed a partnership large enough to prove that, in the world of indie filmmaking, there is always an exciting, better, and new way to tell original stories with the art of cinema.

“It just seemed like the ideal project to pilot a program that could give students the chance to learn filmmaking as part of a for-credit internship program on the actual set of a professional feature film – like a teaching hospital for aspiring filmmakers,” he explained. “We wouldn’t just be making a good film that people would enjoy – this was the chance to give students a once in lifetime opportunity to learn and advance their careers at the same time. I have to credit Jake Pinholster, my boss at the time, for immediately recognizing the potential of this. And there’s no doubt we hatched this idea because of the culture of innovation that is ASU. I called Mark and asked him if he wanted to come back to his hometown of Scottsdale to make a film drawn from his life with students from his alma mater.”

Car Dogs, which boasts an ensemble of familiar faces that includes Patrick J. Adams, George Lopez, Nia Vardalos, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins, Cory Hardrict, Dash Mihok, and Chris Mulkey. As the film’s official synopsis put it, Mark Chamberlain has everything to gain, and even more to lose, when his sales team has just eight hours to sell more than have ever been sold before in a single day. With the clock ticking, the crew is forced to step up their outrageous clever tactics to do whatever it takes to be the top dog. However, for Mark, it means a lot more than just an ordinary ‘ole paycheck.

“We’ve got a very special Arizona story to tell here,” he continued. “I’m glad people really get that there’s a movie here written by a guy from Scottsdale, that was set in Scottsdale, shot in Arizona, was made with a bunch of students from Arizona State University, and is now going to be screened all across the valley in Phoenix’s own Harkins Theatres, where we’ll be screening it exclusively. It’s just a real heck of an Arizona story, but if we could really get the happy ending that we’re looking for, then we could change the way that films get released in America.”

After comparing the overall craziness of the Car Dogs sales team to that of Leonardo DiCaprio’s corporate enterprise in The Wolf of Wall Street, Collis was quick to point out that things are much more heartfelt at the end of the film than Martin Scorsese’s cinematic masterpiece. “What we share in common with Wolf of Wall Street is that it’s kind of a behind the scenes look, a peek behind the curtain,” he said. “But the difference is that Wolf of Wall Street is not that relatable to most people. However, everybody has purchased a car, man. Everyone has that experience of ‘did I get sleazed or did I get a good deal,’ right? Buying a car is an American rite of passage. It’s as American as baseball and apple pie. It’s an immensely relatable experience.”

Perhaps one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie is when Adams’ character Mark sits down with Octavia Spencer’s stern-talking car buyer to negotiate a deal for the sale of her daughter’s vehicle. “It’s interesting about the scene with Octavia and Patrick,” Collis mentioned. “It’s a climatic scene. Octavia was incredibly generous to come do this movie and it’s the pivotal scene of the film. Isn’t it amazing that that’s your favorite scene [referring to a statement made by Justin Lyons during his question] and I’ve heard that from others, as well? In fact, most of my filmmaker buddies, the guys who are working at the top level, that’s the scene that they always note and are so impressed by Patrick J. Adams and his ability to hold the scene with Octavia Spencer.”

As for what’s lined up next for Collis, he hopes to announce his next feature-length film sometime soon. “There’s a big moment that’s about to happen in Arizona,” he says. “There’s a new film commissioner in town, his name is Matthew Earl Jones, and I’ve had the good fortune and great opportunity to speak with him about his plan to attract movie production to Arizona. He has a great plan and one small piece of that plan is building out a really robust crew base who has really been mentored and neutered and fostered by the older contention of experienced veteran filmmakers that are in Arizona. In building that young crew base out, Film Spark becomes a really amazing example of what can be done in Arizona.”

Car Dogs will open in Phoenix-based Harkins Theatres including Harkins Avondale, Harkins Casa Grande, Harkins Chandler Fashion, Harkins Flagstaff, Harkins Superstition Springs, Harkins Christown, Harkins North Valley, Harkins Prescott, Harkins Shea, Harkins Arizona Mills, and Harkins Tempe Marketplace, on March 24. You can check out the trailer for the film by clicking here.

This interview was originally published on Silver Screen Beat on March 20, 2016. 

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Matt Casillas

Hey, it's Matt Casillas! I am a Digital Content Producer and Editor for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at movies@pulseradio.fm