Q&A: mtvU Veteran Filmmaker Justin Beckenheimer

  by Kate Spalla.

Justin Beckenheimer is just four years out of Towson University and three years into work on a feature film, “Heaven Burns.”

Back in the day when mtvU’s College Filmmakers was known as Best Film on Campus (BFOC), Justin was churning out commercials and silly shorts. His 2007 clip “Chinese Food on Christmas” went viral, and in 2008, he competed on the winning team of mtvU’s College 500. The rest is history.

How did you get started on “Heaven Burns?” Were you waiting until graduation to start a big feature?
Back in college in a screenwriting class, basically we had like a week to come up with an idea for a script, and the teacher just kept emphasizing, ‘Write what you know’… I had some leftover money from school that I didn’t use, and I figured why not make try to a feature out of it? … I was able to actually make it look really nice and have so many people that believe in the story. They provided film equipment, food, they dedicated their time. I was able to stretch that small budget.

Back in the day, when mtvU’s College Filmmakers was living on a different platform, Best Film on Campus, you were uploading short commercials and music videos. What was that experience like for you?
There wasn’t that pressure in trying to make money. I really just did a lot of it out of fun and didn’t think much was going to come out of it. So, you know, I just kind of casually threw some videos up online on the website, BFOC. Next thing I knew, I was like “Top 5” in the country.

After your clip “Chinese Food on Christmas” went viral, why did you decide to form StataTek Studios, your own production company?
I just felt like it was sort of the natural thing to do, because after Chinese Food on Christmas, suddenly people wanted me to make videos and get paid. So I was like, okay, well I guess it’s time to make a little company and actually start doing this the professional way.

Did you ever feel overwhelmed by your big goals in the early days of your production company and “Heaven Burns?”
After college, before “Heaven Burns,” I basically took two months to not do anything, and just write the script, help produce it and secure everything. I mean, that was the most stressful time of my life, because I was essentially investing my own money, my own time. I essentially got migraines every single day, and it was awful. It was crazy. I thought something was really wrong with me, and then once we started production, the headaches went away. I actually haven’t gotten a migraine since then. It was really a ton of pressure. When you’re making an independent movie, everybody’s looking at you for the answer and the direction. It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but overall it was an awesome experience and I’m so happy I did it.

What advice would you give to mtvU’s College Filmmakers who are still in school today?
It’s definitely important to just take advantage of any opportunities thrown your way, big or small. When I first heard about mtvU, I was in I think an editing class and the teacher mentioned the BFOC competition, and you know, out of everybody in that class, I was probably the only one to sign up. The next thing I knew, I made it to “Top 5” and so on, etcetera. But you know, it’s so easy to just kind of dismiss things and write things off… Good things can really only come out of anything you do if you put all your effort into it.