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

480-727-4433