Flickreel recently sat down and spoke with Adam Collis, the director of the new film, Car Dogs. A bit like a modern Glengarry Glen Ross, the film centers on an auto dealership that must sell 300 cars in 8 hours. In addition to being fast-paced and funny, Car Dogs features an all-star cast that includes Patrick J. Adams, Nia Vardalos, George Lopez, and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. Collis told us what it was like working this this stellar ensemble, getting a film made in Arizona, and giving several local filmmaking students the chance to study on an actual movie set.
Q: Have you or anyone close to you ever worked as a car salesman before?
A: The writer – who I consider to be a close friend – Mark Edward King actually spent a good deal of time as a car salesman. The only other person close to me that I know sold cars was actually my best friend from film school, Scott Derrickson, who directed Doctor Strange. Scott actually helped me buy my first car. So I was able to get a really good deal on a 1998 Subaru Outback.
Q: Do you still have that car?
A: No. It’s funny that you ask because I eventually sold that car to my auto repair shop, which used it as their temporary car for people who left their cars at the shop. So I do see the old Outback from time to time.
Q: Was the film always going to be set in Arizona?
A: It was always set in Arizona, but we worked very hard to make sure it was shot in Arizona. That wasn’t an easy task because most film productions shoot wherever’s the cheapest to shoot. We felt the combination of grounding the film in those Papago Buttes, Papago Park, surrounding the dealership with those amazing mountains, and also giving our Arizona State University students the chance to learn filmmaking in this teaching hospital for aspiring filmmakers, we thought that was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Q: Is it safe to say that Glengarry Glen Ross was a big inspiration for this movie?
A: To say the least. Glengarry Glen Ross was the ultimate sales movie. We had a very interesting way that we paid homage to Glengarry Glen Ross with the famous ABC Speech, the Always Be Closing Speech. Originally, the way it was scripted was that Mark the sales manager tells his right-hand man and best friend, Boyd, to go put on a “training video.” Then the joke was that Mark comes down to the conference room and the training video is Glengarry Glen Ross. We were too low budget of a film to get the rights to use a big movie, even if it was just a small portion of the movie. So we had to get creative. Now in the movie, the way it’s done is rather than showing the clip from the movie, one of the characters is actually reciting the speech that Alec Baldwin gives, but it’s used in a way to kind of haze and put some heat underneath this new car salesman who hasn’t seen the film. It’s a great example of how you take a difficult situation, get creative, and create something even better.
Q: Would you say the film is something of a departure for Nia Vardalos and George Lopez, who are both best known for straight-up comedy roles?
A: 100%. I think George and Nia are so good in this film and deliver such unexpected performances that their fans will love. This gave them both a chance to really exercise their dramatic chops, but in ways that still keep their characters entertaining and funny.
Q: What was it like working with an Oscar-winning actress like Octavia Spencer?
A: First and foremost it’s just an honor because Octavia was so gracious to me and to all the students. She was really inspired by what we were doing with the teaching hospital for aspiring filmmakers. She’s very easy to communicate with. At the end of the day, pointing the camera at Octavia Spencer is like pointing the camera at a Matisse, or a van Gogh, or any great work of art. Just her presence, she can just sit there and she’s beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. That climatic scene between her and Patrick J. Adams is the one that everybody keeps talking about.
Q: Your last feature film was Sunset Strip in 2000. Why has it taken over a decade and a half to get another feature off the ground?
A: I think it’s because I’ve been on a journey to not just make another movie. I’ve been on a journey to learn how to finance independent features in a more innovative and better way. I’ve been searching for a way to make movies in a better and more innovative way by having this built-in teaching hospital for aspiring filmmakers. Now as we approach the release of the film, I’ve needed the time to take to learn how to create and innovate a new release model for independent films. So I didn’t just go out and try to get a gig as a director. I actually went into business school after graduating from USC Film School and directing Sunset Strip for 20th Century Fox. I realized that I really wanted to learn the business of my business so I went to UCLA and got my MBA and did a six-month study on new business models for independent film. We’ve built a new model, from the way we financed it to the way we made it. Now the way we’re releasing it, ASU and Phoenix have everything with this new, innovative way to release a film. How often have you seen a movie that is launched out of a non-LA, non-New York market that’s going to be in multiple theaters across that single market of Phoenix? If it does well in Phoenix, that would give us the opportunity not only to expand the release, but to say, “Hey, we did something extraordinary right here in Phoenix. We made a Hollywood movie that gave all these students this great opportunity to learn filmmaking.” Add to that the fact that it was written by a Scottsdale native, set in Scottsdale, shot in Scottsdale, and being screened at Phoenix’s own Harkins Theatres, that makes for a pretty amazing Arizona story and gives Phoenix folks a good reason to get out there and watch the movie. If that wasn’t reason enough, there’s this incredibly entertaining story about a car sales team having to accomplish task of selling more cars that have ever been sold in a single day.
Q: What other projects do you have in the works right now?
A: I wouldn’t call it in the works, but I will tell you my dream project, which is a big, huge dance musical about funk music saving the planet. I would like to do something really innovative, which would be to have people watching and experiencing this funk dance musical that saves the planet in movie theaters simulcast so that you’d have people in movie theaters all across the country watching and experiencing this dance musical at the same time. The goal of the movie would be to get them all dancing. I think that would be a lot of fun.