By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
ASU visiting film professor Adam Collis will pretty much do anything for his students. One day, however, he jokingly told his boss that he was going to create a feature film and give the kids internships so they could earn professional and college credit.
“My boss at the time had asked me to put my underclassmen on the thesis films,” recalled Collis, who is based in California and flies to Phoenix to teach at ASU. “There were too many students, so I jokingly suggested the film idea and this sort of professional immersion program.
“He said, ‘Do you have a script?’”
Somewhat panic-stricken, Collis remembered his former student and Scottsdale native Mark King and his short story “Car Dogs.” What started out as a joke, evolved into an amazing opportunity for ASU students and alum.
“What we managed to do with ‘Car Dogs’ is to create an opportunity for 85 students and 15 recent alum to learn from these Oscar winners and Hollywood professors while getting academic credit and first feature film credit,” said Collis, who did the film in conjunction with his Film Spark, a career accelerator/industry innovation organization in Santa Monica, California.
“Breaking in is the hardest part. Now they have somebody to call when they move to Hollywood. They have that initial relationship. Many of our students are now thriving in Hollywood.”
“Car Dogs” will debut Friday, March 24, in Harkins Theatres across the Valley.
“We want to make something special happen in Phoenix,” he says. “Our hope is that we’ll put it in theaters across Phoenix and let everyone know this is a very special event for Arizona. It’s worth your time to go to the theater and check this out.
“If that does well, what we could ultimately do is create an entirely new way to release an independent film. Usually, filmmakers go the festival route and you’re lucky if you’re accepted by Sundance.”
“Car Dogs” stars Patrick J. Adams of “Suits,” comedian/actor George Lopez, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s” Nia Vardalos and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.
“It’s about a well-meaning sales manager and his team of car salesmen who have to accomplish this impossible sales task by the end of the day—selling 300 cars by 5 p.m.,” Collis said. “It highlights the pressures of dog-eat-dog capitalism.”
Adams plays Mark, and leading the pack is sales vet, Christian (Lopez). Hot on his heels is Sharon (Vardalos). As the clock ticks, their outrageous tactics step up, with each salesperson ready to do whatever it takes to be top “car dog.” But for the character of Mark, the stakes are much more than just a paycheck.
A graduate of ASU and Chaparral High School, King as well as Collis call “Car Dogs” a “real Arizona story.”
“It’s a script written by a Scottsdale native,” Collis says. “The story is set in Scottsdale. It’s shot in Scottsdale by students at ASU. It’s going to be shown by the fifth largest theater chain, Harkins, which is based in Phoenix.
“That’s the exciting thing about this. It’s just so Arizona. The Papago Mountains are featured so strongly in this. Inside Arizona jokes are made throughout the movie. I think that’s one of the real exciting things about this.”
The set was an abandoned car lot near the Papago Mountains. To fill the dealership with cars, King reached out to around the Valley.
“To make it legitimately look like a car dealership, we needed cars, obviously,” he says “We had $4.5 million worth of inventory—170 to 180 cars. It was pretty spectacular.”
The cast will surprise viewers, Collis added. “Suits” star Adams steps out of his comfort zone, while Lopez tackles a dramatic role.
“It’s a George Lopez that you’ve never really seen,” Collis said. “When we think of George Lopez, we think of him one of two ways—stand up or sitcom. But he’s an amazing dramatic actor. This is a movie that’s a comedic drama. His role is so understated and he plays it so well. He’s really underappreciated in his acting chops. I think you’ll be very surprised when you see it.”
King grew up in the car sales business, having washed automobiles at his father’s dealership. He penned “Car Dogs” as a short as a college student and immediately it was embraced by Hollywood heavyweights.
“I literally wrote the first draft nine years ago,” King says. “Josh pushed me to stick with it. I had a voice and a movie that needed to be told. Adam and Josh were big cheerleaders from the get go.”
“Josh” is actor Josh Hopkins (“G.I. Jane,” “The Perfect Storm”) and the two became fast friends. Initially, Hopkins was set to play King’s character in the film, but as they aged, that became improbable.
“As Josh got older, they started passing the script among their buddies,” Collis said. “When it came time to film, Josh said, ‘Nah, let me play the bad guy. That’s more appropriate.’”
Hopkins says it wasn’t difficult to perform in a movie that was so close to his friend’s heart.
“Seeing how hard he worked and seeing his dream come to fruition was one of the most wonderful working experiences of my life,” he says. “First, I love the part. I love the movie. I love the director. I love the writer. I love the cast. I mean literally ‘love.’
“It was a unique experience to come to work where there was a shared happiness. We all felt we had ownership. This was all our project. We’re going to do this together. No matter what happens here, we will treasure this experience for the rest of our lives.”
King was thrilled to work with students, too. There wasn’t a time when he thought, “Great, Adam is going to frickin’ destroy this great piece of material.”
“Having the students around was a real joy,” King said. “When you make a movie in Hollywood, everyone thinks they have the right idea—from the script supervisor, to the costume to the grip to the best boy. Here we were with completely green people, but it was so cool. The students were learning and soaking it all up. Slowly, they started forming opinions.”
Hopkins added, “That was a really beautiful thing to watch, to see them blossom from day one to the last day of shooting. The first week Adam was trying to get things done. By the last week, they were on the ball. I thought, ‘Look at them: They’re filmmakers.’”