Justin Hunt has proven himself quite comfortable both in front of and behind the camera. And while Hunt, the owner and founder of White Whale Pictures Inc., has been behind award-winning documentaries narrated by some very recognizable names in the entertainment industry, he also produces marketing and training materials for small businesses.
Hunt, who has been in Colorado Springs for five years, said we live in an age when anyone with a cell phone can be a videographer, but it’s White Whale’s ability to tell a story in 30 seconds that sets it apart.
Born in Grand Junction to parents who were part of the state’s horse-racing circuit (his father was a jockey and his mother a trainer), Hunt moved to New Mexico at a young age following their divorce. He bounced around during college, even attending a year at Mesa State University in his hometown. But it was while studying journalism in New Mexico that Hunt was given his first break. He began working at the Farmington-based NBC affiliate, KOBF TV, while still a teenager, earning a spot on his first show at 19.
“I anchored when I was going to community college, then went to Mesa and helped teach a journalism class because I was already doing it,” Hunt said. “When I graduated from college, I went back to the same station and was a morning anchor for six months. Then they sent me to Roswell, [N.M.] in 2000 where I became the youngest news director in the country.
“It sucked. Roswell sucked.”
‘In my wheelhouse’
Hunt began his first company, Time & Tide Productions Inc., while still living in Farmington. That was toward the end of 2002.
“I saw a need for it,” he said of his company. “In Farmington, there aren’t a lot of video production companies, but there’s a lot of business, and I was getting tired of the dynamics of corporate broadcast journalism.”
Hunt said, in the beginning, he documented weddings and would follow sports teams for a season and create highlights.
Those projects were meant to pay the bills, but Hunt’s passion became film.
In 2007, he created his first feature-length documentary, “American Meth,” which is narrated by Val Kilmer.
“I decided I’d try to do a feature-length documentary, which is just a long news story,” he said. “I felt like it was in my wheelhouse.”
The film took 15 months to produce.
“Back then, nobody was talking about meth,” he said. “The first half of the film looked at communities and how they are dealing with it. The second half was footage of me living with two meth addicts with four kids.”
Hunt stayed with the family for a few days just as they decided they were going to kick their drug habit.
“It got tense in there,” he said. “I was sitting on the couch (because I was not going to sleep in this house) and ‘Deliverance’ was on. It was about 5 a.m. The parents were crashed out and the kids were waking up. A 2-year-old named LaLa had the same diaper on since I got there. She crawled into the fridge to get the milk out herself. It’s the most iconic shot of the film, it’s dark and I’m following this girl and she opens the fridge and the light comes on. …
“There were times when the boy was eating out of the trash. The school bus comes and goes. That was ‘American Meth.’”
That film was pivotal, Hunt said, because he proved what he was capable of. Hunt moved to Arizona where he continued to make marketing and training films for clients and has since completed more documentaries, including “Absent,” which is about the impact of fatherless households, and “Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly,” which documents the effects of the adult film industry on cultures around the world.
The reception wasn’t what Hunt expected.
“That documentary took four years to finish. It’s what I’ve been doing most of the time I’ve been in Colorado. It came out year ago in April,” he said.
The film, narrated by Metallica frontman James Hetfield, was a trial to promote, Hunt said, despite the fact that it didn’t contain a single provocative image.
“The way people responded to it was challenging,” he said. “People get angry when they’re called out on something. But we looked at the effects of porn on individual relationships, the community and society as a whole. We had interviews from seven countries in the film.”
Hunt said he wrote curriculum to go with the film, but it failed to gain traction.
“Everyone is afraid of the topic. Churches would screen the film but wouldn’t promote it,” he said. “I got discouraged. I spent four years and $200,000 of my own money to make the film in order to make a difference and people fight you on it.
“People don’t want to talk about these things.”
Due to his latest film-making experience, Hunt, who moved to Colorado Springs from Arizona five years ago, said he decided to change the name of his company and refocus his efforts on the work that got him to where he is today.
“I decided to shift things, I changed the name of my company and I wanted to dial into the community here,” he said. “There’s a lot of business here and some good production companies. But there’s enough business to go around.
“I think that we separate ourselves a little bit in the way we do business.”
Hunt said his White Whale Pictures is very story driven.
“Just because you have a 4K camera doesn’t mean you know how to tell a 4K story,” he said. “But you can tell a really fascinating, entertaining, poignant, cute, emotional and fun story in a 30-second spot.”
A training video Hunt did for an industrial client, for instance, covered hand safety. But rather than regurgitate a list of do’s and don’ts, Hunt filmed workers trying to complete everyday tasks — opening a container or putting on a watch — with one hand.
“Everyone laughs, but then we send in a 6-year-old kid and his shoe is untied,” Hunt said. “He asks these guys if they can help him tie his shoe. One guy gets down and tries to tie the shoe [one-handed] and it dawns on everybody that if they’re not careful, they can’t do these things with their family.
“That rippled through the employees. I think that’s what sets us apart.”