Maryland native John Beckham made a short animated film about a storm and a childhood prank. Credit: Via John Beckham

The D.C. Shorts film festival that opens Thursday will provide a platform for the talents of two Bethesda-area residents—a director and a writer.

John Beckham’s animated short film, The Most Wicked Storm, will be shown twice during the festival that runs through Sept. 17.

A screenplay, The Outlook is Grim, that David Stauffer co-wrote is a finalist in a competition that’s part of the festival.

Beckham’s three-minute film looks at a childhood prank from another perspective.

He said he was driving one day and saw a property where someone had tossed toilet paper on some tree branches. Beckham, who lives in the Grosvenor area, said he remembered “TPing,” as it’s known for short, from his youth.

This time, he thought about the act more existentially. Trees give their lives to become paper, and here was toilet paper being used in a prank against a tree—“like brothers in a family,” Beckham said.

“Wow, that’s really trippy,” Beckham decided.

He set out to make a film on the life cycle of paper, but it evolved into a shorter, semi-dark, animated mix of humor and philosophy. He kept it authentic for the type of tree (bur oak), setting (Ohio, a home to paper mills) and process.

The sound is as vivid as the images. Beckham, 39, said he wanted to evoke horror, or at least aggression, more than peacefulness and nature.

The Most Wicked Storm has been screened in Durango, Colorado; Sacramento; and Belarus.

Its East Coast premier will be as part of a showcase of short films at the E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. One screening will be at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 10. The second will be at 5 p.m. Sept. 13. Tickets cost $12 each, plus a $1.60 fee.

Tickets and festival information are posted at

Beckham grew up in Berwyn Heights, near College Park. He was a music producer, then switched to film work three years ago.

His goal was to complete a small film project, but he doesn’t plan to do more animation.

Instead, he is working on a documentary about Prince George’s County as a hotbed for producing basketball stars. This year, there are 14 NBA players hailing from the county, more per capita than anywhere else. That total includes Kevin Durant, who won an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors, and this year’s NBA overall top pick, Markelle Fultz.

Beckham hopes to wrap up the documentary around September.

Stauffer’s screenplay, which he co-wrote with Nancy Safavi, features the Grim Reaper plunked down in a bureaucratic office. He finds out he is being replaced by iReaper, which is more efficient and makes coffee.

Stauffer said the dark and foreboding Grim is framed in the spirit of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Safavi owns a D.C. theater company called Laugh Index Theatre. Stauffer is managing director.

Stauffer said the pair has used the Grim Reaper as a character in prior collaborations, so he was a natural starting point when they wanted to enter the screenplay competition.

Other characters in the story include Mary, mother of God; St. Peter; and a human who Grim was supposed to kill before he was laid off.

People will read the parts aloud for the final judging. The six screenplay finalists will be read from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at Miracle Theater, 535 Eighth St. SE, in D.C. Tickets are $15 online and $20 at the door.

The top prize is $1,000, plus $1,000 more to help turn the winning screenplay into a film. Stauffer said he and Safavi hope to make their story into a film either way.?

Stauffer, 24, grew up in Minnesota. He has lived in the metro D.C. area for six years and Bethesda for the last year or so.

His day job is working as a statistician for 451 Research in Bethesda, studying consumer technology and emerging trends.

He said that while growing up, he organized party games in the style of the comedy improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

In high school, he tried acting, then got into writing, before returning to improv and acting.

A short play he co-wrote, The Invention of Baseball, was later adapted into a longer play and performed last year at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Stauffer and Safavi are co-writers of a web series called Validation, about a casting agency for D-list celebrities. They are working on their second season.

Images: Still from The Most Wicked Storm, courtesy of John Beckham. Below, portrait of David Stauffer, courtesy of himself.