Film-making adventure was a real ‘eye-opener’

Lisa Vargas, a graduate student in Global Affairs, hopes to one day work in the business-side of movies.

By M.V. Moorhead

“It was, oh man…it was eye-opening,” says Lisa Vargas. “I have this idea that I want to do films, but I’d never actually been on a movie set before.”

That all changed in 2013, when the ASU grad worked as a production assistant for about three months on the set of Car Dogs.

The independent feature, which opens in the Valley on March 24, was made with a professional crew behind the cameras, and a veteran cast of professional actors in front of them.

But it was also made with the help of more than 80 ASU student interns, through Film Spark, the university’s program of interface between movie pros and students.

Vargas was one such intern.

“I’ve always wanted to do something that was creative, but would still include business,” says Vargas, a graduate student in Global Affairs and Management who hopes one day to work in the business side of movies.

A Valley native, Vargas notes that she“comes from an ASU family. That’s all I heard growing up.”

Adam Collis, who directed Car Dogs (working from a script from Valley native Mark Edward King), taught Vargas while she was an undergrad, so it’s unsurprising that she ended up working on the project.

Says Vargas, “I’ve always believed that the best way to learn something was to do it, to just get thrown in.”

Still, she admits to feeling a slightly daunted, initially, by her work on Car Dogs. “I was a little intimidated at first, because I didn’t know what my job was. But the second assistant director kind of took us under his wing. It was my job to help with the paperwork, directly under the second AD.”

An energetic, fast-moving, fast-talking comedy, Car Dogs is set in one of those snazzy-looking car dealerships around McDowell near the Phoenix-Scottsdale border. Full of salesmen and saleswomen working at fever pitch to hustle both customers and each other, it’s lightweight but snappy and fun to watch, with an extra charge added by such recognizable actors as Nia Vardalos, Octavia Spencer and George Lopez.

Later in the shoot, Vargas was given a new position: assistant to Lopez.

“It was my job to make sure he got his lunch,” she recalls.

So, what did she learn from this heady experience?

“I found that there are different ways to address people, like any work environment,” Vargas says.

“You speak to the girst or decond AD differently than you do with the actors. When you talk to your first or second AD, if they ask you a question, you need to be very direct, know what answer you’re going to give them, know it’s the right answer. With the actors you want a little more personality, because they’re more on the creative side.”

Also, says Vargas, “I learned to take a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose to my work on film.

“So when you do a task, you need to do it with urgency and purpose. Because time is money.”

She sounds like a Hollywood pro already.


Car Dogs is rated R and is scheduled to open on March 24 at Harkins Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion 20, Arizona Mills and several other multiplexes Valleywide. For more information on ASU Film Spark, go to



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