At an age when most teenagers were learning how to drive, Justen Turner was comfortable co-producing a film short for one of the longest-running and venerable children’s TV shows in history.

When his friends at Ohio State were busy writing papers and completing group projects as first- and second-year students, Turner was directing and working alongside some of the most recognizable athletes, celebrities and brands in the world.

The last few years for Turner, a marketing major and fashion and retail minor, have been a whirlwind. He’s created a film company ― Dreadhead Films ― with his older brother, Julien; been recognized as one of the country’s top up-and-coming filmmakers; landed a full-time job at a leading fashion retailer; and will graduate cum laude as a member of Ohio State’s Class of 2024.

Before officially earning his degree, Turner spent some time reflecting on how his passion for creativity intersected with his time as a Business Buckeye ― and how the experiences of the past four years prepared him to succeed.

Justen Turner speaks in an interview.
Justen Turner (BSBA '24) talks about his career as a young filmmaker.

What drew you to filmmaking?

What drew me to filmmaking was being able to see and imagine myself in alternate universes, especially where I could control the stories around me. This intrigue was sparked by a huge interest I had in fantasy and sci-fi films, particularly superhero films.

What are some other creative areas you’re passionate about?

I grew up playing the piano, so music is another big passion of mine. I’ve also picked up music production and writing as of lately.

How do the areas of filmmaking and business intersect for you?

Much of my work has come from the advertisement space, allowing me to flex my creative muscles in the business world through creatively directing ad campaigns from start to finish.

At what point did you realize that filmmaking could be a possible career path?

I truly realized this after I completed my first short film after moving to Ohio — it made me realize that films could be produced at higher qualities than those I had ever worked on before, and that was extremely motivating.

What’s it like being in business with your brother?

Working with my brother is now a breeze, as we are usually on the same wavelength. Our brains work in different ways, but often converge on the same vision, which is really helpful and synergetic, especially in settings where we both need to be directing or completing the same task and need consistency across the project. Early on, though, it took us some time to figure this out. 

You were honored as part of Forbes’ 2023 30 Under 30: Hollywood & Entertainment. What did that recognition mean to you?

This was the biggest recognition for me so far, and it was so exciting to see how I could blossom in the film industry — it feels like it was just the beginning. Being selected in the Hollywood & Entertainment category was also very funny to me, considering that we have never done any work in Hollywood. Most of our work has been done right here in Ohio.

You’ve worked with some big brands and big names, including creating a Sesame Street short, working on a Taco Bell commercial featuring NFL star Davante Adams, and working with Nike. What was it like being so new to filmmaking and working with such recognized brands?

These were pretty incredible experiences and, luckily, I was able to work with some very talented individuals on these projects. They stuck with me and learned the way I worked, just as I learned how they ― and the industry ― work. Originally, I felt a bit of imposter syndrome, but being with my brother allowed me to break out of my shell easier and keep production moving along.

Justen Turner being interviewed.
Justen Turner (BSBA '24) talks about the passion he has for his creative pursuits, including filmmaking and fashion design.

You’ve said that mentoring younger filmmakers is important to you. Why?

What I’ve learned is that the next generation usually builds on the talent and hard work of previous generations to create work that amazes and inspires. I recognize that investing in our youth is essential in not only pushing the boundaries of the craft but in keeping young creatives encouraged in their filmmaking and art pursuits. I wish that all young artists could be afforded the opportunity to continue to develop their craft so we may see greater and more diverse and unique stories.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given?

The best piece of advice I’ve gotten is to just “go and do it,” which Spike Lee shared with me in our singular encounter many years ago. There was nothing else to his advice but to go and figure out a way to bring your idea to life if you truly believe in it ― regardless of what others think.

The best advice I’ve given is to continue to work while you wait, whether that be personal/passion work or not. The arts and the film industry are so volatile that you can’t just sit and wait on an opportunity to come along — you must create them. In doing so, you improve and hone your skills as an artist as well.

What will you remember most about your time at Fisher and Ohio State?

What I will remember most is the multitude of connections I have developed with my peers and supportive faculty and staff. These connections have provided me with insight into the professional world and networks of business professionals who are looking out for my well-being, and I can’t ask for much more than that. My classmates are amazing, and I can’t wait to see them succeed in the future as well.

What’s next for you as a new graduate?

I am now getting ready to start in art direction at Abercrombie & Fitch this summer, where I’ll be able to help shape campaigns and tell stories for one of the biggest fashion brands in the world. I am super excited to see what we can do to push boundaries and go above and beyond. I am also stoked that my brother and I will begin working on our first independent feature film this summer as well.