If everything goes as planned, filmmakers Kevin and DeAnna Cooper hope to do for the Northwest suburbs what John Hughes did for the North Shore.
The husband-and-wife team filmed most of the movie "I Heart Shakey" in Naperville and Wheaton, and plan to make more movies in the suburbs.
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Where to see 'I Heart Shakey'The family comedy film "I Heart Shakey," also available in 3-D, will be on Netflix and in Redbox Aug. 28. It will be available in stores on DVD Sept. 4.
"We're hoping everything we shoot can be shot here," said writer and director Kevin Cooper, 45, of Wheaton, who also heads the film production department at Columbia College in Chicago.
"I Heart Shakey," a comedy about a family who is forced to give away their dog when they move to Chicago, stars 12-year-old Rylie Behr of Oak Park, Beverly d'Angelo, Steve Guttenberg and Steve Lemme. It played briefly in local movie theaters earlier this year; the film comes to Netflix and Redbox next week and will be in stores in early September.
While the movie features sweeping scenes of Chicago's skyline, most of it was filmed in the suburbs, at places like St. Peter & Paul School in Naperville and in an empty office-turned-movie studio next to the Hotel Arista in Naperville.
In the office space, the Coopers used video tricks -- including green screens and a re-creation of Chicago's DuSable bridge -- to film many of the movie's scenes. Because the technology is so advanced, the Coopers said they could make a Hollywood-quality film without the high expense and hassle of filming downtown.
"Anything we had to do, we could do in the suburbs. We created a little Hollywood lot, right there in Naperville," DeAnna Cooper said. "We were able to apply the knowledge and skill we had in Hollywood and apply it right here."
Shooting in 2010, they spent two days working in Wheaton and 20 days in Naperville, Kevin said.
The Coopers even tried to use a suburban dog to star in the movie. They found a great mutt from a West suburban rescue group and trained it for six months, but Kevin said the dog just wasn't a performer. Ultimately, they had to issue a last-minute, nationwide casting call and found a dog in New Mexico and a "double" from Wisconsin. Kevin said the American Humane Society was on the set every day of filming, and had very strict rules about things such as who could handle the dog and how long he was allowed to be under the lights. Being dog lovers, the Coopers were happy to oblige.
Kevin Cooper had wanted to make "Shakey" for almost 20 years, and the movie came to life serendipitously. One day, while Kevin was playing in the front yard with his kids, a neighbor he didn't know very well, Paul Payne, walked by and they started talking. Cooper told him he was a movie producer who had just moved to Wheaton from Los Angeles, and Payne said "Guess what? I finance movies."
Payne was a big fan of Cooper's previous movie, "Secondhand Lions," a 2003 coming-of-age story starring Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and Haley Joel Osment. So Payne's investment firm ended up helping to fund "I Heart Shakey." The story is based on Kevin's real-life story of moving from New York to Hollywood with his beloved Labrador mix, Chaplin. After plunking down thousands of dollars in moving-related expenses, Cooper learned from his landlord that dogs weren't allowed, and he had to get rid of Chaplin or face eviction. After grappling over what to do, he initially decided to give Chaplin away -- only to realize it was the wrong decision and his priorities needed realignment.
Chaplin died a few years ago, but not before he moved to Wheaton with the Coopers.
Since moving here from Hollywood, the Coopers say their quality of life has improved tremendously, and they appreciate being in a place where people share their family values.
"We were working such long hours in L.A. that we never saw our kids. Here, after school, our kids would come hang out on the set after school or camp. Keeping the family together is most important. If I'm traveling to L.A. all the time, I'm not going to be a very good dad," Kevin Cooper said. "We're just at the beginning of this journey, and we've learned so much. We're humbled by it, and we're energized. You don't have to be in Hollywood and take part in the craziness."
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good feature, email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.