Academy recognizes alum's screenplay

by Annie Huang / Beacon Staff • September 23, 2015

John Bickerstaff advanced to the quarterfinals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Award.
Courtesy of John Bickerstaff
John Bickerstaff advanced to the quarterfinals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Award.
Courtesy of John Bickerstaff

John Bickerstaff is living his LA dream. Immediately after graduating in spring 2014, the Emerson alum began working for AMC’s television series “Mad Men” as a production assistant.

But before Bickerstaff even moved to the West Coast, he finished his first screenplay, “Dangerous People,”which advanced to the quarterfinals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Award for unproduced screenplays. The award is administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, renowned for its Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars.

“Although [the screenplay] did not make it to the semifinals, it’s very gratifying for the academy to acknowledge me as part of the top five percent of submissions,” Bickerstaff said.

“Dangerous People” centers around the main character, Laura, who investigates the suicide of a gay freshman and homophobic bullying in a corrupt fraternity. 

“[The script] was brought up by how sex violence and homophobic violence on campus have defined our generation of college students,” Bickerstaff said. 

Bickerstaff applied to Emerson as a transfer with the first 10 pages of the screenplay, at the time a work-in-progress that got him accepted to the college. He finished the script, now over 100 pages long, right after his graduation. 

“[The Academy Nicholl Fellowship Award] confirmed all of my choices,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s a big thumbs up for having gone to Emerson and worked on this story for five years.”

Originally from York, Maine, Bickerstaff said he had no prior film experience aside from being a regular attendee and volunteer at the New Hampshire Film Festival. He said it was at Emerson that he met most of his collaborators and landed his first job. 

“I would not have my job if I didn’t have professors who looked out for me,” Bickerstaff said. “I would not have made my BFA film without friends who would be willing to get up at three in the morning to drive to New Hampshire with me.” 

Bickerstaff’s BFA film project, “Advent,”was nominated for four student EVVY Awards. It was screened at film festivals, including Creative Minds in Cannes and the New Hampshire Film Festival.

Bickerstaff said he was able to work on “Dangerous People” with some of his classmates thanks to the strong community at Emerson. He was also able to meet individuals who are interested in teaming together to produce the script in the near future. 

Although the script is still in pre-production, Bickerstaff has already gathered some of his production team, including cinematographer Matthew Tompkins, a fellow recent Emerson grad.

“I've worked with John for years now and the experience is always the same,” Tompkins said. “He's driven, compassionate, and always knows exactly what he wants. He's always in the driver’s seat, but does so with the grace and poise of any great leader.” 

Currently, Bickerstaff is working as a Clearances Coordinator for ABC’s upcoming television series, “Wicked City.”He is also directing and producing Emerson alumnus Luke Palmer’s web series, “2 Kawaii 4 Comfort,” which will be shot in Los Angeles in January 2016.

Bickerstaff said that it’s important for him to have his screenplay produced before he moves on to another project. He also plans on returning to Boston with his team to produce the screenplay during fall 2016. Currently, the script is 101 pages long and being read by companies in Los Angeles, and it is projected to be produced and finished by early 2017. 

“Every director that I have admired has directed their first feature before they turned 30, so that’s the goal for me,” Bickerstaff said.