Arts & Entertainment

F.C. Filmmaker Finishes Long Journey To Release 1st Feature-Length Movie

THE RELATIONSHIP shared between a homeless man (left, played by Cliff McMullen) and a young boxer (right, played by Hayden Livesay) serves as the foundation for Falls Church’s J. Michael Whalen’s first feature-length film, “Canned Hunt.” (Photo: Courtesy J.Micahel Whalen/Torasu Productions)

With the release of Torasu Productions’ first feature-length film “Canned Hunt” just around the corner, the company’s founder and the film’s director/creative mind, Falls Church’s J. Michael Whalen, shared some insights into how the project finally came to fruition and what audiences should expect from the Little City-centric production.

Whalen’s passion for film stemmed from an early age and kept him energized even when job prospects were few and far between. He started out by making films with his parents old Super-8 cameras, and by the time he entered college, Whalen majored in filmmaking to further clarify his career aspirations. However in the years following college, Whalen was filming sports for local high schools while struggling to land his first real job on a set.

Turning his passion into profession seemed impossible, until Whalen stumbled across a Craigslist ad looking for a cinematographer. Though unfamiliar with the exact responsibilities of the job, he was hired and adapted to his role on the fly. One project lead to another and then another – suddenly, 10 years had passed and Whalen had put together a hearty portfolio. From there he founded Torasu Productions in 2006 with a focus on rich storytelling, and now Whalen’s finally seeing that come to the fore with his inaugural film, “Canned Hunt.”

The plot of the action-thriller movie is based around three white collar professionals who carelessly assault a homeless man, thinking their actions will have no consequence. However, the assailants are ultimately held accountable by a friend of the homeless man, who happens to be a boxer and doles out justice with his fists. Moviegoers can speculate how the story will unfold, but the film attempts to be an allegory for how modern life is less concerned with the strength of our values and when we act on them.

Canned Hunt essentially comes down to living by a code,” Whalen said. “It’s not to say that people in this day and age don’t live by any sort of standard, but it’s just a little too easy to say ‘who cares’ and have no thought process on how to handle something that affects a person unattached to our lives. We’re very ‘every man for themselves.’”

Falls Church residents will find some of their favorite spots around town making cameos in the film as Whalen kept the setting firmly grounded in the Little City. From scenes at Victory Comics on Washington St. to shots near Smoot Landscaping on the north side of City to the final fight staged at Mad Fox Brewing Company, Falls Church has its fingerprints all over the film.

Keeping the production close to home was a nice touch as well as a necessary choice by Whalen. Budget constraints limited the production team to just five actors and two other crew members alongside Whalen so there wasn’t much financial wiggle room for travel. Though staying local and filming in public settings also gives the final product a quintessential indie film vibe that harkens back to the 1990s, where off-camera mishaps and actors stumbling over lines couldn’t be edited out of the theatrical version.

The small budget did its most damage to the film’s release. Initial shooting took place back in 2013, where Whalen put together a teaser to help raise money. The teaser fell way short of its goal, and the film hit another major bump in the road when its protagonist announced he was moving to Los Angeles shortly after Whalen started shooting. So after four years of orchestrating shootings around the lead’s temporary visits to the area and cobbling together more funding, the film is finally set for release. And while Whalen acknowledges his own ability to juggle is impressive, he prefers to highlight the actors unreal commitment to their roles for so many years.

“To the credit of the actors, they kept the characters in them for so long, and were so consistent, it was just remarkable to see them when they were back on set,” Whalen stated. “I just want people to see it because the performances are great.”

Now that Whalen’s crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s on the final product, at last he’s able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor. All Whalen hopes is the film drives some sort of strong reaction from its audiences, though preferably in the form of squirming.

“Canned Hunt” will be screening on Sunday, July 9 at 7 p.m. at the Cinema Arts Theatre (9560 Main St., Fairfax) and can be found for purchase at Whalen’s website,