We recently sat down with Adam Collis, Director and Producer of the upcoming Arizona film “Car Dogs”   What makes this film special, besides being filmed entirely in Arizona, is that it was made in partnership with the Arizona State University Spark Program.  This program utilized a number of ASU students and interns in the creation of the film, offering them invaluable real-world experience.


TCF: Saw the film yesterday, and was really impressed with it. I thought it was fun! 

Adam Collis: That’s great. But did you know that that movie was made with 85 students learning feature film making from an Oscar winning cast and crew?

I’ve heard that. I’ve been reading some of the press releases on it.

That lot was a dilapidated, abandoned dealership with no cars in it. 

I was wondering about that. I knew the lot existed but wasn’t sure if it was still going. So how did you get that location, the cars–?

I love that you ask that, ’cause I haven’t had a chance to share this story very much. Finding your location when you’re directing a movie is – for me – a deeply – almost spiritual moment. It’s this incredibly meaningful moment. Because it’s the moment where – the movie that’s been in your head – all of a sudden, becomes real. I have this thing that I teach my – all of my film students. It’s called, “the gap.”

“The gap” is the abyss that exists between the perfect movie that’s in your head, and the movie you’re able to get onto the screen. And bridging that gap is incredibly difficult. Especially in cinema. There are logistical obstacles, there’re technical obstacles. There’re aesthetic obstacles. But when you’re able to find your location, that’s the first big step that you take to bridging the gap from the perfect– Because we all have that. I’m sure you have a dozen movies that in your mind are just, “Oh my God, this would be so great.”

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Absolutely, yeah. 

And when it gets articulated, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, here’s the set.” And that’s them moment that I had over there on McDowell, right? When I saw this location. I was like, “This is perfect.” And you – when you’re making films – maybe you’ve made some films, and you know what it is to have a location agent. Man, we had a few location agents. This gem of a human being named Rich Heinrich R-I-C-H H-E-I-N-R-I-C-H. And I give that spelling, because man that dude deserves a shout out. Like he saw that we were doing something special and he could feel it. And it was like, “Thank you. I’m going to be your location agent. I’m going to help you figure out how to make this and move forward.”

It was really a special moment for me. ‘Cause it’s such a great location. All these weird angles and these windows that look out on the Papago Mountains. This is a big Arizona story man, that’s what we’re trying to tell people. The film was written by a guy from Scottsdale. Went to ASU. The movie’s set in Scottsdale, based on his like growing up in a dealership in Arizona, right? Shot in Arizona, made by a bunch of students from ASU. Being screened exclusively by Arizona’s own Harkins.  I think there’s a great Arizona story that’s being told here, with this new film commissioner we’re hearing about. I think that this could be the beginning of a real explosion of Hollywood invading Arizona. And I’m hoping that this little project that we did can help trigger some of that. 

Exactly. Now you’ve mentioned Mark King who was the writer of the story, actually grew up in this world of car sales.  Watching the film, I immediately wondered how much research had been done because the behind the scenes action seemed very authentic.

It’s totally real, ’cause of Mark. And it’s not biographical per say. I want to protect Mark in that regard. ‘Cause he always emphasizes, “It’s not biographical.” But he knew that world inside and out. So it gives this incredibly authentic look behind the scenes, into a world that everybody can relate to. The world of buying a car. Buying a car is an American pastime, man. It’s an American rite of passage. Everybody can relate, right?

It’s like – the only 2 things that are more American than buying a car are apple pie and baseball. Then next thing on a list is buying a car. And that’s where I think people really enjoy being able to watch the film and go like, “Oh my God.” Everybody can relate to the feeling – going to buy a car, wondering, “Did I get a good deal, or did I get played?” Car Dogs is a film that shows you whether you got a good deal or got played. 

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Well you always get played, right? Every time. 

Presumably, but as George Lopez liked to say, “The customer’s always got to feel like they got a good deal.”

Feels like they got a good deal. [Laughs]

Six months after graduating from film school, I’m directing a studio feature for 20th Century Fox. 15 million dollar budget, period piece, on the Sunset Strip. I’m painting the Whiskey A Go Go. I’m shutting down Sunset Boulevard, right? And I had a little extra money. So I go to buy a car, right?

My best friend in film school, he’s still my best friend – is Scott Derrickson, Director of Doctor Strange.  He grew up in a car lot. So when I went to go buy my first car, I called him and said, “Hey man, could you come with me? ‘Cause I’m kind of nervous about buying my first car.” He’s like, “Yeah, absolutely!” So we go there. He obviously didn’t tell the car salesman that I had just gotten this big feature film at 20th Century Fox, right?

We go to the dealership and I’m saying,”Scott, you’ve got to walk me through this. I don’t want to get fleeced.” And he’s like, “Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it. They always have sales quotas at the end of the month.” All the stuff that’s in the movie, right? So we negotiate, we negotiate, we negotiate. And then the guy says, “Oh I’ve got to talk to my manager” And he goes to talk to his manager.

Scott looks at me, he says, “Adam, what I want you to do right now is to pull out your check book. I want you to write the number down. Sign it. When he comes back he’s going to ask for X, and you’re going to say, ‘Would you take less than that?’ and he’s going to say, ‘Oh I don’t know.’ Then I want you to slide the check across the table. And I guarantee you, he will accept.” And that’s exactly what happened. That’s exactly what happened! I slid the check across the table and he accepted!

“Car Dogs” opens at Harkin Theatres across the Valley on March 24th

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