George Lopez's 'Car Dogs' Gives University Students Entree to Hollywood

Car Dogs - H - 2017

The film, which is just hitting iTunes and Amazon VOD, provided 85 internships and practical filmmaking experience.

Joining the list of new movies like The Promise and The Boss Baby hitting iTunes and Amazon VOD on Tuesday is a low-budget feature called Car Dogs, which may not have made much impact at the box office but which ultimately could launch a number of Hollywood careers.

That’s because the film, funded by private equity in partnership with Arizona State University, employed a professional crew that was assisted by 85 student interns as well as another 15 recent ASU grads, providing them with the beginnings of a résumé that could help open film industry doors for them.

Car Dogs, set in a car dealership, stars George Lopez, Nia Vardalos and Octavia Spencer alongside Patrick J. Adams (Suits) and Josh Hopkins (Quantico). It was directed by Adam Collis, who has been teaching film at ASU since 2009, commuting between his home in Los Angeles and the school in Tempe, Ariz. He’d been teaching directing and also supervising the school’s capstone classes, in which students shoot senior thesis films. And he’d also begun setting up video conference and Skype sessions to introduce his students to Hollywood figures like director Jason Reitman and producer Bill Mechanic. When Jake Pinholster, associate dean for Policy and Initiatives at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, suggested to Collis that he put all the film students on various capstone projects to give them all practical experience, Collis recalls, “I jokingly said, ‘Why don’t we just make a feature film and give them all internships?’”

As it happened, one of Collis’ former students, Mark Edward King, had written a script for a short film about a team of car salesmen trying to sell more cars than they’d ever sold before in a single day, and Collis had encouraged King to develop it into a feature script. The idea had the advantage of requiring just one location, and, additionally, Collis says, “Everybody in America has a relationship with buying a car. In America, it’s baseball, apple pie and buying a car. Buying cars in America is a universal experience, and this is the real deal. It’s not a caricature about schlocky car salesmen.”

Another ASU grad put Collis in touch with casting director John Jackson, who frequently works with Alexander Payne, who came aboard and started lining up talent, making a number of suggestions that helped shape the film. “We took a role that had been written for a young 25-year-old Ben Affleck-type — a hot, white-stud cocky car salesman — and John inspired me to think out of the box,” recounts Collis, “to think of it as one for a 50-year-old Mexican, and I just knew George Lopez would be perfect for this movie.”

Collis found further support from F. Miguel Valenti, Lincoln Professor of Ethics and the Arts at ASU, who founded the school’s film production program, and a financial backer in James Miller, who lined up the private equity behind the project that shot on an abandoned car lot in Scottsdale. Collis declined to divulge the budget for the film, which was shot under SAG’s Low Budget Film Agreement. “It was not a lot of money, but it wasn’t a micro-budget either,” he says.

Ultimately, Collis was able to secure a theatrical release for Car Dogs by striking a deal with the Arizona-based Harkins Theatres chain, which opened the film in 11 theaters in and around Phoenix earlier this year. The pic has since gone on to Dish Network and DirectTV before making its debut on iTunes and Amazon.

But while Car Dogs didn’t make much of a mark at the box office, Collis says it has served its larger purpose, since several of the students who worked on it have since gone on to find employment in Hollywood as they begin to stake out their own careers.

Impressed by the experiment, ASU president Michael Crow, whom Collis credits for encouraging “an incredible culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” and the school’s dean, Steve Tepper, formally established ASU Film Spark at the ASU California Center in Santa Monica to connect Hollywood filmmakers and executives with ASU students through a series of programs. “Our mission,” says Collis, “is to help Arizona State University become a valuable part of the entertainment industry.”