Graduating film student sets out to create meaningful entertainment

December 2, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Jayla Johnson always knew she wanted a career in the entertainment industry and to make movies.  Photo of Jayla Johnson smiling and wearing a striped dress against a partly purple background Jayla Johnson graduates this fall with a BFA in film and media production from The Sidney Poitier New America Film School. Photo courtesy Jayla Johnson Download Full Image

“I used to walk around hugging my VHS tapes, ready to put them in the player,” she said.

“Growing up, movies were my escape from the fear of the world. I suffered from severe anxiety as a child, and the only thing to help me cope was to turn on a happy movie. My mom knew this, and she knew what movies, whether I'd seen them before or not, would soothe me and make me put a smile back on my face. Growing up and embracing those challenges helped me recognize an appreciation for the filmmaking process and how those stories that helped me as a child are created.”

Johnson, who was born and raised in a small town in Wyoming, said she decided to get an early start on pursuing her passion, earning an associate degree before even graduating from high school. 

“I have always enjoyed school and aiming for success in my life, so in my final two years of high school, I worked toward earning my associate degree simultaneously.”

Johnson earned her associate degree in communications multimedia, saying it was the closest she could get to starting her practices in filmmaking.

“I made this decision to pursue a degree in high school because I quickly learned how a career in film/television is a long journey, and I wanted to start that journey as quickly as I could to reach my goals,” she said. 

Johnson continued her path at Arizona State University and is graduating this fall with a BFA in film and media production from The Sidney Poitier New America Film School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and a business minor in the W. P. Carey School of Business. 

“My ultimate goal in my career is to be a film producer or creative executive,” she said. “I came into ASU wanting to strictly be a writer, but quickly learned that I enjoy the creative side and the business side of crafting a film or television show. Through being a producer/creative executive, I'd love to develop and create stories that are not only entertaining but are meaningful for both the filmmakers and the audiences.”

“I love how such a passionate story developed by an even more passionate filmmaker can change someone's life, and there's truly nothing else I could see myself doing.”

While at ASU, Johnson also served as a leader in multiple student organizations and worked with fellow film students in creating their short films. She received the New American University Provost's Award and the Sun Devil State Award scholarships.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Aside from learning about the technical aspects and business practices of film, I believe the most impactful lesson I learned at ASU was how to step out of your comfort zone. This isn’t something that is taught in a classroom, but it is something that is so important when making the jump into adulthood. Prior to coming to ASU, I was shy, quiet and nervous, but upon arriving at the Tempe campus, I knew I wouldn’t be successful if I continued like that. So, I did what I never had done before and started reaching out to people and going to club meetings, and now I can say that by doing so I am on the right track toward reaching my goals and have met amazing, unforgettable people along the way. I continue to learn more and more about myself by taking chances and would never be where I am today if I hadn’t stepped out of my personal comfort zone. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A:  I know many people choose ASU because of the nice weather, but I, personally, didn’t consider weather when choosing a college. I had applied to a few schools and planned for ASU to be my backup since I had some family in Arizona; however, once I started researching each of my options, I realized ASU had exactly what I was looking for. Just scrolling through the website I found that there were many academic and professional opportunities I was excited about. There was also the news that ASU was the 50th film school in the nation, which I thought was pretty good! 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Chris LaMont was the first professor I had a one-on-one conversation with at ASU. I had met with him about academic and career goals, but left in tears. That meeting was the greatest lesson I had learned, and I believe it was the catalyst for my decisions moving forward. He taught me that the film industry is really hard — it’s that simple. He told me I needed to work for it every day and learn the industry inside and out. It was a lot of information for my freshman self, hence the tears, but it was the greatest motivation for me to move forward and become the hardest worker in the program. 

Q:  What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Work hard and build connections with your peers and faculty. This advice may be straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. Through hard work, people will begin to notice and admire what you do both professionally and personally. By building connections you can land friends, gigs, job opportunities, etc. You never know how much someone will impact your life if you don’t build that initial connection. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My absolute favorite spot was the Pringles, the sitting area outside the ASU Art Museum and the Music Building. The area was shaded, nearby and every once in a while you’d hear a music student practicing their music, which was a nice ambience for studying sessions. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: After graduation, I am moving to Los Angeles to pursue my career in the film and television industry. I’m hoping to land an entry-level position at a major production company or talent agency.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle the major issue of garbage pollution. It is an issue that is often overlooked by people (and causes) so many health issues and inhabitable environments for animals. Thinking that there is an island of garbage floating in the ocean right now is devastating. The Earth is such a beautiful place that humans take for granted and neglect, so I want to bring back that beauty of our planet.

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Catalysts for a nature-based future

December 2, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

When you spend most of your time as a child in the same city, you become more aware of shifts in the landscape over time that aren’t always for the better. On one of a few trips home to Philadelphia after 20 years in the Marine Corps, Nick Heier noticed the anaerobic state of the creeks he used to spend time in. This was an initial spark that eventually brought him to Arizona State University for biomimicry and construction management. Nick Heier smiling with mountains and water in the background Photo courtesy Nick Heier Download Full Image

“I had this compelling need to do something and make it worthwhile,” he said. “This isn’t too far gone. We can reverse some of these negative impacts and make better places to live.”

He looked into various career fields, such as landscape architecture and civil engineering, but most of them didn’t offer remote opportunities or the flexibility he was seeking. After a period of introspection and extensive research, Nick found Arizona State University and hasn’t looked back. As an online student, he found the flexibility he sought but still felt deeply connected to the ASU community. He was able to connect with researchers and professors in his field, work collaboratively and even had the opportunity to conduct research overseas in Norway to advance his understanding of nature-inspired innovation in existing urban environments. 

Heier compared his experience at ASU to catalysts and enzymes, where catalysts make the chance of a chemical reaction more likely.

“It’s really important to understand that function in a huge school like ASU. What are the chances you’re going to run into people in that ecosystem? If I’m walking around campus carrying a bunch of ideas in my hand, then I bump into somebody else carrying a bunch of ideas and the papers fly, we’ll sit down and reshuffle those ideas. That’s what I felt was going on. They could see what you were doing, and they would hand you a paper and say, ‘Hey, did you read this?’ or ‘Would you like to meet this person?’ I’m meeting people that are basically superheroes in this arena, and it’s a very cool experience.”

Nick Heier is graduating with two master’s degrees — a Master of Science in biomimicry from the School of Complex Adaptive Systems within the College of Global Futures, and a Master of construction management and technology from the Del E. Webb School of Construction within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. With the skills and tools obtained from these programs, Heier hopes to build nature-inspired solutions to modern infrastructure issues. After graduation, Heier plans to research biomimicry and nature-inspired solutions for the built environment in relation to the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane, Australia. Additionally, he will be working with Biomimicry 3.8, continuing his work with Dayna Baumeister. 

Read on to learn more about his ASU journey. 

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Right now, I’m going through the process of refining my education portfolio and looking at all the work I’ve submitted. My work, from what I posted very early on and what I thought I would be doing in comparison to what I am doing now, didn’t have a massive pivot by any means. Rather, the amount I was able to develop these ideas at ASU is profound. It sounds patronizing almost, but I was able to ask questions, bounce ideas off people and grow mature ideas based on my earlier work. I know that I can help advance frontiers in this manner, and that’s 100% because of the faculty I had here like Janine Benyus, Dayna Baumeister and Kristen Parrish. They were ready to take a very rough form of what was going on in my mind and helped me to advance it, which says a lot about them. I give them a lot of credit. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school? 

A: Reach out and make those connections. You have to do your part to be the substrate or enzyme in that reaction. If you’re present, if you show up and knock on doors, then these connections will happen. You’re going to do a lot more because we do a lot more together with the right people than we’re ever going to do on our own. I think that a lot of people, especially in the online environment, perceive that there’s a barrier there, and maybe they don’t allow themselves to seek out these connections. But I’m telling you, I have met superheroes that are changing the world because of this program. I would read a paper and then I would call that person, or I would go down to campus and I would meet them and they would walk me around. I got a lot out of it. That’s what I would say to people. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? For online students, what was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: In Colorado, I had three or four cafes near my house that I would rotate around. When I had the ability and really wanted to power study something, I would go to the Denver Botanic Gardens. They have a really nice library there. I’d be able to go and walk around the gardens and look at things while having a little bit of nature, to check the box that I went outside and wasn’t just stuck in my room at home. Here in Norway, I’ve mostly worked in their libraries — they have incredible public spaces, so I’ll just post up there and get work done.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I thought about this one. What I would tackle is the problem that $40 million is not enough to solve a problem. Not any of the big ones, anyway. The way to do that is to take the $40 million and empower as many people as possible to be solving problems. So what I would do with it is probably turn around and endow it.

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures