KEARNEY — After finding success in the film industry, Jon Bokenkamp returned to his hometown where he ended up saving The World.
Always a fan of movies, the screenwriter began shooting films and movies as a child with friends and family. He was involved in theater and music as a student at Kearney High School, attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then went to the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.
He waited tables at the Old Spaghetti Factory and parked cars as a valet while he built his career as a screenwriter.
His friend, director, film writer and producer Todd Nelson, a Holdrege native and creator of Nebraska Coast Connection, encouraged Bokenkamp to enter a script into a contest.
Bokenkamp won the contest and soon had an agent.
His first paying gig was a rewrite of a horror film directed by Billy Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist.”
After having more success as a screenwriter with films such as “Taking Lives,” “Perfect Stranger,” and “Bad Seed,” Bokenkamp and his wife, Kathy, decided to move back to Kearney to be closer to family.
“We still love and adore L.A. It’s a great city,” he said. “We wanted to be back in Kearney before the kids were in school.”
The Bokenkamps have two children — Jackson, 9, and Ella, 6.
The 2007 move back to the couple’s hometown created a unique opportunity for Bokenkamp — saving the dilapidated World Theatre, a former vaudeville house built in Kearney in 1927.
After four years of fundraising and gathering community support for the project, Bokenkamp’s dream of reopening the theater finally came true in June 2012. The grand reopening weekend featured a champagne reception, tours of the theater, a Q&A panel with Academy Award winner Alexander Payne and a showing of “Some Like it Hot.”
The World Theatre operates with more than 500 community volunteers. The theater specializes in reviving classic films and showing new art-house releases.
Bokenkamp’s work to save the World Theatre earned him the 2013 Hub Freedom Award for arts and entertainment.
Here’s what he had to say about his work in the movie industry, the World Theatre project and the Freedom Award:
What made you want to go into the entertainment business?
My big ‘ah-ha’ moment came when my Aunt Cindy took me to see “Star Wars” at the StuartTheatre in Lincoln. I was only 4 years old, and yet I can still remember it vividly. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. When I found out Luke wasn’t a real person, but an actor, I started making little 8mm films and movies with friends. That’s essentially what I’m still doing today. I never really set out to be in the entertainment business — I didn’t even understand movies were a business until college when a professor gave our class a bit of earth-shattering wisdom, “It’s not ShowArt it’s ShowBusiness.”
What inspires you as a screenwriter?
I’m always inspired by other great films. Good storytelling. For example, I thought “Argo” was brilliant this year, and it made me want to go home and be a better writer. I also always seem to be re-energized when I travel, or go somewhere new and, although it probably sounds cliché, I’m constantly finding inspiration in my family.
Why was saving the World Theatre such an important project for you?
The World Theatre is where I fell in love with movies. It was a magical place when I was a kid. Beyond what it meant to me as a filmmaker, and I never intended this, but the World Theatre project was a great way for me to meet people in the community. I don’t work in Kearney, or have business meetings here, or lunches with clients, so that project became a really great way for me to meet people. I’ve made a tremendous number of friends through the World, although that was never my intent.
What are you working on now professionally?
My most recent release was “The Call” starring Halle Berry. It was a TV show idea that I developed with a good friend, Rich D’Ovidio, over six years ago. The show wasn’t picked up and was just sitting on a shelf, which happens with many projects. During the Writers Guild strike, my writing partner decided to turn it into a feature-length film. He took our original pitch, all the scenes and episode ideas, and put them into one long movie. It’s a wonderful film. Kathy and I went to the premiere in Hollywood just this month with some very good friends and we had an absolute blast.
Currently, I’m working on a TV show that I sold to NBC this past summer. We’re shooting the pilot in New York and D.C. The show stars James Spader as a world-class criminal who mysteriously surrenders to the feds and offers to turn over all of the criminals he’s worked with over the past 20 years. TV is very different from the feature side of writing, it’s a tremendous amount of work, but I’m having a great time.
You’re a pretty well-known guy in the community, what is something people don’t know about you?
I wear a wig. I’ve been bald for years.
What does it mean to you to be awarded with a Freedom Award?
The Freedom Award is tremendous honor, it really is, but I’ve gotta point out that I was never the only person behind this project. The World Theatre has a dedicated board of directors, a very generous donor base, and a team of volunteers who are absolutely remarkable. It’s so wonderful to see the community step up and take an active role in the future of the theater. I feel we’ve come full circle. The World has become what I hoped it would — a theater that really does belong to our community.