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The Significance of Inca
Writer director Jeff Kopas talks about casting his dog in his first feature film
Jordan Prentice as Harvey with Inca in Harvey's trailer.

In the new independent film, An Insignificant Harvey, the three-foot-four Harvey (played by Jordan Prentice) feels as insignificant as he looks. Orphaned, isolated and angry, he works as a janitor at a ski resort in remote northern Ontario. His lonely life promises to stay that way until he crosses paths with a stray Husky. Like they often do, this dog sends Harvey’s life in new direction—a warm-hearted paradigm shift that many of us have experienced first hand.

The dog star of the film is a five-year-old Siberian Husky named Inca who belongs to writer-director Jeff Kopas. In the weeks before his movie hits the big screen, Kopas talked to The Bark about Inca—the actress and the character.

The Bark: How did this story begin? Was there always a dog?

Jeff Kopas: We started by developing a story about how everyone feels at some point in their lives insignificant. As we developed the story, it became about somebody who is actually, I mean, quite literally small. And the idea was always to bring in the power that an animal can have in helping us feel loved and therefore not feel insignificant in the world.

It was my first feature, so I was trying to write something I knew I could execute so you try use stuff that is at your disposal. I have a small family ski chalet up in Northern Ontario area where it was filmed, and, obviously, I had a good-looking dog who was actually pretty well trained.

I think it’s funny you thought incorporating a dog into your film would make things easier for you. A lot of filmmakers talk about how hard it is to work with animals.

It is. I came up doing commercials and one of my niches was working with children and dogs. Everyone says that’s the hardest. So I think I overcame that quite quickly in the beginning. [Although] I was a little nervous as I went into production thinking, ‘how much of an idiot will I be if I use my own dog and she won’t listen to me?’

You talk about how a dog’s love can make you feel significant. My impression of what I’ve seen of the film is that you explore how a dog can open your heart.

You hit it on the nail. That ended up being one of the cruxes of the story. It’s that idea of that first step of Harvey taking the risk to open his heart to another living animal and that opens up of a floodgate of a new life for him.

In the film, he refuses to take [Inca] in at first but he was orphaned and obviously this dog is orphaned and she won’t leave him alone, she follows him around for two days. And finally, she’s sitting outside his trailer in the middle of a farm and there’s this terrible storm, and he looks out the window and it’s just too much for him, he finally can’t say no. He opens the door for her and that’s it, once that happens it leads him on this journey that is life changing.

[You can catch a glimpse of this moment in the trailer.]

It was so great because they [Jordan Prentice and Inca] became quite good friends. They really bonded. So it was fun: When he opens the door, she bounds in and goes right onto the bed.

I was wondering about that. I imagine the chemistry between the dog and the actors is so important.

It is really important and I was nervous about that. And Jordan hasn’t had dogs, and especially big dogs like this, growing up. I tried to force them together before we shot, and luckily, she’s got a very sweet disposition (obviously, this is one-sided) and right away they connected.

Funny production story that I haven’t told yet: We had this fun night off [think: hot tubs and beer] and I couldn’t find Inca at the end of the night. She was always hanging around, but I couldn’t find her. So at four in the morning, I’m going, ‘Where the hell is the dog?’ And I finally found her; she was in bed with Jordan and his girlfriend.

I was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’ so I took her with me. Jordan was kind of mad at me the next morning. He’s like, ‘She wanted to stay with me and you took her away.’ It was pretty funny. In his words, she became part of the pack.

I’ve heard these things happen on sets.

Yes, we all bonded. She had this whole family for four weeks. She became very spoiled because she was the center of attention.

Was it fun having her on the set? It seems like it would give it a relaxed, family feeling.

It is. It’s funny you say that because when I am doing commercials, I bring her. I work with postproduction houses that are dog friendly; it just sort of fluked out that way. I’ll make sure the clients are OK with dogs, and then I’ll bring her, and it just calms everyone down. People can get very intense in those scenarios and it just has this amazing effect.

Do you think you’ll work with Inca again or is she retiring from film?

She’s actually been in a couple of commercials I’ve done, and she’s written into my next film, it’s a small scene.

She can make Alfred Hitchcock style cameos in the future—so we can look for her?

I don’t see why not.

You can look for Inca’s first film appearance, as an eight-week-old puppy, in Jeff Kopas’s short Dogasaur (at vitalitymedia.com in Narrative Film under “The Work”).

 

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

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