Film professor brings Hollywood A-listers to Tempe

Adam Collis, visiting professor of film directing at ASU, hates the word “connections,’’ but that’s what the filmmaker and actor taps when he’s lining up Hollywood A-listers to talk with students about filmmaking. Collis started his Hollywood Invades Tempe (HIT) film series more than two years ago, and it quickly has become a must-see event among ASU School of Theatre and Film students.

The popular series attracts such Hollywood insiders as cinematographer Lawrence Sher, of “Garden State," "The Hangover" and "Due Date" fame, and Bennett Miller, who directed "Capote" and the recent "Moneyball."

“It’s like a great dinner party,’’ says Collis, who has coordinated video conference calls with Hollywood heavyweights such as Brunson Green, the producer of “The Help” – and most recently, Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"I wanted our students to speak with professionals working at the very top level of movies and TV,’’ he says.

The evenings – complete with free popcorn, pizza and a movie screening, thanks to the student-run Programming and Activities Board and the ASU Film Association – are a kind of Actors Studio, with Collis serving as moderator. The conversations are tantalizingly candid, casual and informative. Frequently, the guests are talking from their living rooms swapping stories, answering questions and sharing insight and guidance.


Join Adam Collis and special guests Stephen Gyllenhaal, director and writer, and Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal, co-producer of "Grassroots", for Hollywood Invades Tempe, starting at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 30, in Coor Hall room 174. Come for pizza at 7 p.m., the film screening at 7:30 p.m., and a chat with the husband and wife team at 9:10 p.m. The interview will be broadcast live on ASUtv. Visit for more information.


And like a good dinner party, the guests linger. Q&A sessions can last up to 90 minutes and rarely go less than an hour.

Collis, who flies in from Los Angeles every Wednesday to teach film directing, has booked 18 guest speakers so far, including upcoming speakers Stephen Gyllenhaal, writer and director, and Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal, co-producer of “Grassroots” – a newly released film based on the true story of a Seattle activist who makes a run for a city council seat.

Among the folks Collis hopes to line up for future HIT events are Alexander Payne, director of “Descendants,’’ “Sideways” and “Election”; Larry Franco, producer of “Anonymous,” “Jurassic Park III” and “October Sky’’ and Jason Reitman, director of “Up in the Air’’ and “Juno.’’

A native of Lexington, Ky., Collis went to Duke University to play soccer and wound up smitten by a film class and by Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.’’

“That film inspired me to want to become a filmmaker,’’ Collis says.

He studied film at the University of Southern California and wound up directing “Mad Boy, I’ll Blow Your Blues Away,’’ because he couldn’t bear for “this gem of a story’’ to not be produced. The short film wound up winning several awards and put Collis in line for directing a feature film, “Sunset Strip,’’ about the Los Angeles rock ‘n roll scene in the early 1970s.

A regular on the film festival circuit, Collis began building a network of friends and colleagues who, like him, loved making movies.

When he began teaching three years ago in the Herberger Institute’s Theatre and Film School as a visiting professor, Collis saw the students' lack of exposure to real filmmakers – people he knew just a quick flight or call away.

“I asked friends of mine to Skype,’’ he says. And Hollywood Invades Tempe was born.

“Folks in Hollywood enjoy giving back.’’

For more information on past speakers, visit Hollywood Invades Tempe.

Susan Felt
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts