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ASU-directed 'Car Dogs' rolls into theaters

Movie starring George Lopez, Nia Vardalos uses innovative model to get made, with ASU students on crew and professor at the helm

A still from the movie Car Dogs
March 23, 2017

On Friday, the film industry will see an unprecedented event with the premiere of “Car Dogs” at Harkins Theatres across the Valley: It’s the first time a film has been financed, made and released in a single, non-Hollywood locale, according to the film’s director, Adam Collis.

Collis, a professor of film in the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, said, “It’s a movie that’s written by a Scottsdale native, it’s set in Scottsdale, shot in Scottsdale, by students at Arizona State University and being exhibited in Phoenix’s own Harkins [Theatres]. … That is a bona-fide, innovative model for releasing a film.”

Collis said it was the culture of innovation that thrives at ASU that inspired him to take such a bold, new approach, leading to the creation of the Film Spark Feature Film Internship Program.

The idea for the program came to him in 2009 after his students’ rave review of a video-conference session he arranged with the cinematographer of “The Hangover” films. Since then, Collis has connected ASU with four Oscar winners; five Oscar nominees; three major studio chiefs; the presidents of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America; the producers of “Batman Begins,” “The Help,” “Star Trek,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “Foxcatcher,” “Moneyball,” “Boyhood” and “Dazed and Confused”; and many other active film-industry professionals.

“It’s an entirely new way of making movies through a teaching model for aspiring filmmakers,” Collis said.

Video: 'Car Dogs' red-carpet premiere Monday in Scottsdale

“Car Dogs” stars Patrick J. Adams (“Suits”), comedian George Lopez (“Lopez Tonight”) and Oscar nominee Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), with a special appearance by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer (“The Help”). The plot centers on car salesman Mark Chamberlain (Adams), whose team has just eight hours to sell hundreds of cars to earn a new dealership. As the clock ticks down, outrageous tactics, shady tricks and hilarity ensue.

Work on the production commenced in summer 2012 when Collis and former ASU film professor F. Miguel Valenti, a producer on the film, introduced students to the “Car Dogs” script, breaking it down to its budgeting and production elements. After Collis spent a year securing independent funding, the film was finally greenlit and shot over 21 days in summer 2013. Some 271 students applied for jobs on the crew, of which 85 were given internship opportunities in the form of a 10-week, one- to six-credit class.

“It was a lot of fun with the cast and crew fully understanding that this film was in conjunction with the ASU Film Spark Program,” said Janaki Cedanna, ASU clinical assistant professor of film who ran post-production. “As a result, there were teaching moments every day, and it created a fun and exciting atmosphere.”

Actor Chris Mulkey plays the father of Mark Chamberlain in “Car Dogs.” When filming began, he wasn’t aware there would be students working on the crew. He remembers telling Collis, “This crew seems really young,” but at the same time being impressed by their professionalism.

Collis told him they were ASU students.

“I said, ‘They're amazing. They're doing great.’ They helped me run my lines and learn my stuff. It's a great program at ASU,” Mulkey said.

Film Spark has produced three feature films since 2012: “Car Dogs”; “Justice Served,” written and directed by Marvin Young (Young MC), which was shot in the summer of 2014 and will be released this year; and “Postmarked,” a dark comedy written by ASU Film Lecturer Gene Ganssle and playwright Ron Hunting, which was filmed in the summer of 2015 and directed by Ganssle with support from ASU (Ganssle said the production is working on a deal for distribution to release the film later this year).

Collis hopes the success of Film Spark and the movies it produces will serve as a point of proof that Hollywood can and should bring more motion picture endeavors to Arizona, where it can leverage resources that aren’t available elsewhere.

“I’m not saying we’re the first movie to launch regionally, but what we’re doing that is unique is that we’re launching our film in conjunction and collaboration with the biggest and most innovative school in the nation … and with Harkins, who is the Phoenix-based theater exhibitor that’s based out of Arizona,” Collis said.

He likens the process to building a rocket.

“We’ve effectively built our rocket, that’s the movie,” he said. But unlike other filmmakers, who have to compete with thousands to sell their “rocket” to distributors who will “launch” it for them, Collis and his team built their own launch pad through Film Spark.

“We’re going to get that rocket so high,” Collis said, “that other people around the country will look up and say, ‘We want to bring that movie to our chain.’”

Click here for Harkins movie times, and watch the "Car Dogs" trailer below:

ASU Now reporters Marshall Terrill and Emma Greguska contributed to this story. Top image courtesy of Car Dogs.

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