Ex-Sylvania man makes ‘family’ film


Joe Burke wanted to make movies. So he left Sylvania for Hollywood. And he isn’t the only one. Friend Oliver Cooper, the star of last year’s R-rated epic high school party comedy Project X, is there, as are Burke’s brother and sister. In fact, many of Burke’s Los Angeles friends are from his hometown, and while he’s never met Toledoan Eric Kripke, creator of sci-fi network series Supernatural and Revolution, the Los Angeles resident has mentored the young filmmaker with advice and support.

“Really, it’s a Sylvania family out here,” Burke said of his L.A. residency. “It’s really, really special.” It’s only fitting, then, that for his debut fulllength feature

film, Four Dogs, the 29-year-old Southview High School graduate would rely on area support as well as on family members and friends who helped fund the quirky comedy. Four Dogs was co-written by and stars Cooper, in a semi-autobiographical story of a struggling actor named Oliver living with his flight-attendant aunt in her Los Angeles home.

In the movie, Oliver’s daily ritual includes getting stoned, improvising various characters (a soldier barking orders during combat, dressing up as an elderly lady) for his own amusement, walking his aunt’s four dogs, and hanging out with what appears to be his only friend in L.A., an older struggling actor named Dan (Dan Bakkedahl) who’s similarly spinning his wheels. In reality, Cooper was a struggling actor who lived with his aunt Rebecca Goldstein, who plays herself in the movie. Four Dogs was also filmed at her home.

“Four Dogs is based on his life. We shot it before Project X was released, and it reflects on his move to L.A., his first year living with Aunt Becca ... that period. I wanted to make something very honest,” Burke said. “[Cooper] was open and vulnerable in sharing his life and his aunt too, which is interesting for me as a filmmaker to take in this world. It just kind of shaped itself.”

Inspired by favorite filmmaker John Cassavetes, Burke wrote only a 45-page detailed outline with input from Cooper, preferring that the actors improvise much of the dialogue to best capture the “humor and drama in everyday life.”

Set in Hollywood, Four Dogs is far from a Hollywood movie, he said. 

For starters, the narrative is driven by character, a la director John Sayles, rather than by plot, as with most mainstream studio offerings. Burke also captured a less Los Angelesspecific aesthetic to better convey the film’s universal theme of drifting souls struggling to chart a course for their lives.

“It’s set in the outskirts of it all, in middle-of-America neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s got that Sylvania quality, family quality.”

Four Dogs isn’t the first collaboration between Burke and Cooper. In his first paid filmmaking effort, Burke directed Cooper’s Bar Mitzvah video. Six years older than Cooper, Burke considered him more a younger brother than friend at the time. But once they met again as adults in Los Angeles, the two began hanging out. Their friendship is the partial inspiration for the Oliver-Dan relationship.

Four Dogs premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June as a festival programmer’s best-of selection, and played to sold-out and near-soldout audiences. Burke said he would like to tour the film in major cities (New York, Chicago) or possibly universities, and then to find its way to Video On Demand and Netflix for everyone else to have the opportunity to see it — including northwest Ohio residents.

“This is my first feature, so it’s new for me,” he said. “Even though it’s a small movie, what we made is something special, and I think people will respond to it.”

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724- 6734.