Love the Coopers is a holiday comedy that revolves around four generations of the Cooper family and their arduous journey to come together for their annual Christmas dinner. This journey, which takes place in one night, throws the principal characters into situations that can only be described as unexpected, confounding and ultimately illuminating. And in the middle of this familial hurricane stands Rags, the family dog, a loveable St. Bernard who bears witness to the Coopers’ collective neurosis with a perpetual look of confusion and empathy. But we’ll get to Rags later. With a star-studded cast that includes Alan Arkin, Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Anthony Mackie and Marisa Tomei, you’ll be laughing, crying and probably thinking about your own family dynamic. Now, let’s get back to that cute dog, Rags.
Rags – and the other animals in the film – is why American Humane Association was involved with the film. For 75 years, we’ve work through our “No Animals Were Harmed® program to protect animals in filmed entertainment, covering 100,000 animal stars in some 1,000 movie and television production each year. So you can imagine how pleased we are when we get to work with a production as wonderful and caring as the one for Love the Coopers.
To put it simply, everyone involved with Love the Coopers, from the crew to the post-production team, was dedicated to the care and safety of the animal stars. From pre-production to the final screening, everyone was proactive, transparent in their processes, consistent in sending us updated script pages and schedules, easy to work with on set, and fully cooperative with our safety standards and recommendations. The trainers for the various dogs in the film worked closely with American Humane Association’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives (CASRs) to construct scenes with the dogs and in doing so, made sure the safety of the animal actors was a priority.
A good example of how well we worked with the Love the Coopers team can be seen in the scenes where we see the dogs Bolt, and his backup, Lewis (who both portray “Rags” in the film) walking and running in the snow. Since the film takes place in the East Coast during the holidays, yes, you’ll probably see lots of snow! Keeping the intense weather in mind at all times, the trainers and the American Humane Association Reps made sure all safety precautions were taken to keep Bolt and the other animal actors nice and warm between takes. While we were on set our CASRs reported that between takes the dogs were placed in heated vehicles, given walks, and provided with plenty of food and water. Together, the trainers and our CASRs were always watching and checking on the dogs to make sure they weren’t negatively affected by the cold weather. Bolt and Lewis were even provided with dog booties to keep their feet warm! Hey, every actor should be treated like a star. Moreover, if there was a snowstorm or the temperature dropped below a certain level, the dogs were prohibited from working.
Not only did the dogs work incredibly well with the crew, they shone! One of our Safety Reps, Dr. Robin Brennen, told a wonderful anecdote about Bolts’ last day on set: Apparently, after the director called cut on Bolts’ last scene, the crew gave him a standing ovation and lots of hugs! Way to go, Bolt!
As another example of how our CASRs and the Love the Coopers team made animal safety a priority, most of the scenes in which we see Bolt sitting in the backseat of the main characters’ SUV were filmed most of those scenes on greenscreen. In other words, the car was never on the road moving in those scenes, and therefore Bolt was one hundred percent safe. In the few scenes when they did film the car moving, traffic was closed to the public and the car moved at an extremely slow speed. The trainers made sure Bolt was safely secured in his seat.
As you’ll see, the animal action in Love the Coopers is very tame. However, when you see Bolt or Lewis running through the house, their trainers were always right there, off-camera, directing them to go from point A to point B. The trainers directed the animals to perform these actions by holding out food (always a wonderful way to get a dog’s attention) or using hand signals. Our attention to safety even includes checking out the cuisine: Whenever you see the dogs eating on-screen, the trainers made sure the food was healthy and okay for the dogs to eat.
The dogs who portrayed Rags (Bolt and Lewis) were a joy to work with. According to the American Humane Association’s CASRs on set, Bolt and Lewis were always happy, playing with crew members or resting in their heated trailers. The Love the Coopers cast and crew were also a joy. Their passion for animal safety and their gracious and pleasant demeanor in welcoming us on set and working so closely with our CASRs to achieve those wonderful scenes you’ll see in the theater reminded us why we love what we do here at the American Humane Association’s Film and Television Unit. Thank you to the production of Love the Coopers and happy holidays to everyone involved!