Off the Clock: Communication Professor Creates Movie Scripts outside the Classroom

Posted: June 25, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Running through the mind of Communication professor Mike Dickerson are terrorist plots, international scandals, and action sequences. Sometimes, there is even a poignant love story. That’s because when he is not teaching, grading, or volunteering in the community, Dickerson is writing screenplays–an interest he developed in a rather unusual way.

Dickerson, who retired at the rank of colonel after 26 years of U.S. military service, had many interesting jobs during his career, including serving as a military advisor for the entertainment industry. Based in Los Angeles in the Army’s Public Affairs Office, Dickerson answered questions and granted permission for producers and directors to use various military sites when shooting movies or television shows. He would read scripts submitted to the office and send them to officials in the Pentagon for approval.

“It was a delicate balance. My job was to make sure the producers portrayed the military correctly. I had to help our image,” Dickerson says. “If the people at the Pentagon didn’t like what they saw, I would get a call.”

His biggest project was the well-known television series MASH. For three years, Dickerson worked closely with the show’s writers and was on set every Tuesday. He would make sure the show accurately portrayed uniforms, weapons, and other equipment. If a uniform was not buttoned correctly or a military term or jargon was not used in the right way, Dickerson would suggest changes.

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The cast of MASH autographed this picture for Dickerson.

Years later, still influenced by his experience with the entertainment industry, Dickerson became part of a screenwriting group called InterMedia with documentary producers Lisa Johnson and Joel Ratner. Since the group’s inception, the threesome has written four screenplays, which their agent is in the process of marketing. Dickerson feels the group is particularly strong because he and his partners have so many varied ideas. “Our goal is to write across the board,” Dickerson says. “We don’t just want high-tech thrillers or action movies.”

The group meets two to three times per week and tries to have specific writing objectives for each session. “You have to really think about how the scenes will look visually,” he says. “It’s a completely different way of writing, and it has a formula to it.

“Working in Hollywood has given me a unique perspective,” says Dickerson, who wrote his first screenplay as a requirement for his M.A. from Loyola University of Los Angeles. “It takes discipline to keep going–sometimes you have good days, and sometimes you have very bad days. But the most important thing is that it’s a lot of fun.”

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