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L.A. Film Festival: 'Four Dogs,' one aunt and a deeply personal tale

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Oliver Cooper awoke to the sound of his director’s voice.

“Stay in bed, Oliver, when I say action wake up for the camera.”

What would likely seem an odd occurrence for most actors was commonplace for Cooper, an actor and writer of the film "Four Dogs." The film focuses on Cooper’s aunt’s home in Encino, where Cooper lives, his aunt Rebecca Goldstein's interesting personality, the goings-on within the house and, of course, the four dogs that live there.

CHEAT SHEET: Los Angeles Film Festival 2013

“The house itself, in the most beautiful way, is stuck back in time,” said Dan Bakkedahl, who plays Oliver's friend. “That house and that world are the character.”

After talking about options for a feature film project, Cooper and director Joe Burke decided to make a slightly fictionalized story about Cooper’s relationship with his aunt and his life in her house.

“It just made so much sense. Their unconditional love for one another, this incredible house and the dogs, no one could have better written a story,” Burke said.

In the film, Oliver, a college dropout, gives in to living with Goldstein, serving as her live-in dog sitter and pool boy. He passes time by getting high and going out to lunch with a friend from acting class, until a female house guest changes his outlook on life.

Burke wrote a screenplay before filming that left out dialogue, knowing there would be a great deal of improvisation in the film. The crew filmed extra scenes of Goldstein and her friends, some of which were filmed without their knowing.

The effect is what Burke hopes will come across as a very natural film, but not a documentary, with realistic qualities. Bakkedahl said the filming was so realistic that he often could not separate reality from the fictional scene.

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“If it weren’t for the camera being present I wouldn’t know where the shoot began and where life ended,’ Bakkedahl said.

For Cooper, who was living in the house and filming there each day, it was confusing and at times depressing.

“It was a very personal experience. I was living in that house, even though it was a fictionalized scenario at a lot of points it was hard," Cooper said. "They would leave and I was still stuck in that world."

Cooper has since moved out of the house. Now Burke lives in the house’s guest room and has spent months there editing the film.

“I love that I’m living the movie right now,” Burke said.

The Los Angeles Film Festival will screen "Four Dogs" at 5 p.m. Sunday,  7 p.m. Monday and 9:40 p.m. Saturday.

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Eclectic mix of movies takes off at Los Angeles Film Festival 2013

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dana.ferguson@latimes.com

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