In his first week of film classes at New York University, Ari Novak was told something along the lines of “in the history of Hollywood, no talking dog movie has ever lost money.”

“Then they said never to make films with kids and animals, but I stopped listening,” Novak said after the first screening of his latest movie “Sk8 Dawg,” which will be released on Tuesday.

Novak watched the film with star JD Hoppe on Sunday in the Tiny Theater in the back of Belgrade’s Movie Lovers, where Hoppe works part time. This is the 16-year-old Belgrade High School sophomore’s second film with Novak. The unknown and totally novice actor starred in 2016’s “Timber the Treasure Dog.”

“He’s a very natural actor,” Novak said, “someone people could really connect with in a film.”

Hoppe is always prepared, understands subtext and creates real, believable people when he is portraying characters, the director said.

Before “Timber,” Hoppe’s only acting experience was as a fluffy dust bunny in the background of a play. Yet, he beat out 400 actors auditioning for the role. Hoppe didn’t plan on auditioning until prompted by sister Katie.

Hoppe’s family is nothing if not supportive. Younger sister Maggie is his biggest fan. She giggled happily each time Buddy the dog talked in the movie and Hoppe said he found her sitting in front of “Timber” on the TV last week.

“I asked her why she was watching it and she said ‘because it’s my favorite,’” Hoppe said.

Novak, too, has become something like family.

“I always like to say when I grow up, I want to be a Hoppe,” he said when introducing the screening.

The film is Novak’s first to be released by a major studio, a feat he said is the culmination of 20 years of work. Now, the Bozeman-based filmmaker focuses on the craft in the summer and ice climbs in the winter. His films draw on his ironic sense of humor and love of hidden “Easter eggs." One character wears a “Timber” T-shirt in “Sk8 Dawg.” Another name drops “Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs,” a 2015 film directed by Novak.

“Sk8 Dawg” features Hoppe as Tommy, an uncoordinated teen who is challenged to a skateboarding competition by a neighborhood bully. Tommy’s parents own a skateboarding company. His sister is the company spokes-athlete. Even dog Buddy knows his way around a board.

Hoppe said he is just as bad at skateboarding as his character.

“I’m right where I was in the film,” he said.

When he landed a trick in the movie, a friend at the screening leaned over to whisper “is that you?” in Hoppe’s ear. It wasn’t.

The movie stars Babs the bulldog as the title character voiced by David Arquette and Joey Lawrence of ‘90s teen sitcom fame. Pro skater Tony Hawk also makes an appearance.

“Some people don’t like to be pigeonholed as the talking dog guy,” Novak said. “I like it... I don’t let people talk crap about my sweet talking dog movies.”

“Sk8 Dawg” will be released on DVD and digital on Dec. 11. In January, the movie will start making its way onto streaming services.

Friends and fans are invited to meet Hoppe at the Movie Lovers Tiny Theater on Sunday, Dec. 16, for three showings of “Sk8 Dawg.” Shows are at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are $6, including bottomless popcorn. Stop in the store at 303 W. Madison Ave. or call 388-0744 to purchase over the phone with a credit or debit card.

Rachel Hergett is the editor of Ruckus, the arts and culture publication of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She can be reached at or (406) 582-2603.

Rachel Hergett can be reached at or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.