Kyla McFalls “A Reel Story”

Kyla McFalls

“Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are two of the most successful films of all time, and they have something more local in common: both films have University of Central Arkansas graduates listed in their credits.

Magnolia native Kyla McFalls ’11 worked as an art assistant on “Jurassic World” and Little Rock native John Hockaday ’14 worked in post production on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

McFalls, a Schedler Honors College alumna, was originally a journalism major who became a digital filmmaking major by happy accident. Her sophomore year, she unintentionally signed up for the Intro to Film class and learned that it was for those majoring in film, a major she didn’t know existed. When she spoke to teacher Chris Churchill about it, he encouraged her to stick with the class.

“I was like, ‘Maybe this is just something that’s telling me that I need to do this,’ so I declared my major the next day in film and the rest is [history],” said McFalls.

The UCA film program offers classes in many areas of filmmaking, including screenwriting, editing, cinema history and classes that require students to make their own films. McFalls said it’s important to gain practical experience by working on sets, but she credits her passion for film to studying the subject in the classroom.

“If you want to write or you want to direct, you need to know cinema history, theory and all this kind of stuff,” said McFalls. “I wouldn’t keep going to work every day if it didn’t fill this passion for it that I got from UCA. I feel like passion is the thing that I learned in college more than any technical skill that somebody can just teach you later on.”

This passion certainly helped her in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she lived on couches so she could work on films like “Pitch Perfect,” her first feature film as an intern. McFalls then moved to her current city, New Orleans, where she has worked on projects like “The
Maze Runner” and “Left Behind,” for which she got approval to use UCA’s athletic logo on the lead actress’s jacket. Her biggest film credit to date is “Jurassic World.”

“Working on the film was an absolute delight,” said McFalls. “The art department [was] mostly based out of Los Angeles, but they were my favorite crew so far. We were based at the NASA facility here in New Orleans, [as well as] the abandoned Six Flags,” said McFalls.

McFalls’ current job is in research, which is in the art department and requires her to work with every department on set.

“I become the expert on whatever the movie is about. I’ve decided that if I do this for years and years, I’ll be great at ‘Jeopardy’ because of all this random knowledge,” said McFalls.

Along with a friend she met on the film “Deepwater Horizon,” McFalls started a production company, Page Turn Inc. With the company, McFalls hopes to continue doing research and also write and produce films.

“[I thought], ‘Why not? At least try it.’ If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” said McFalls. “But if it does, how awesome?”

In New Orleans, McFalls helped out fellow alumnus Hockaday by recommending him for “Deepwater Horizon” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Hockaday relocated to Los Angeles after working for about a year in New Orleans.

“[Kyla] was my way in. I owe it all to her,” Hockaday said. “It’s also worth mentioning that her final film at UCA, ‘Danger Jones,’ is freaking fantastic. I still watch it from time to time. Definitely an inspiring film for my own final film.”

That film, “Stuck,” earned Hockaday awards for Best Production Design and Best Picture at the 2014 UCA Film Festival and Best Director (Made in Arkansas) at the 2014 Little Rock Film Festival.

Hockaday said that the film program’s focus on storytelling was a factor in him choosing UCA. “Learning to tell stories is the pillar of filmmaking. Once you have that, building the technical skills is next, which they also provide,” Hockaday said.

Hockaday and McFalls aren’t the only UCA graduates making strides in the film and television field — others are spread out from coast to coast, filming anything from reality television to videos for the Salvation Army.

Kim Risi ’12 worked in the art department on a Hispanic celebrity game show and the Comedy Central show “Drunk History.” Codi Bogard ’13 and Hunter Moore ’12 keep busy in New Orleans by working on shows and films like “Pit Bulls and Parolees” and “Daddy’s Home.” Travis Mosler ’13 produces, writes, directs, shoots and edits the hunting show “Spartan Outdoors” for the Sportsman Channel.

UCA is the only university in Arkansas that offers a bachelor’s and master’s in digital filmmaking. Dr. Bruce Hutchinson, director of Graduate Studies of Digital Filmmaking, believes classroom education is just as important for film students as working in the field.

“It’s just good to be an educated person who [knows] how things work and the classroom experience is part of getting that. I definitely think learning some history, learning theory, learning some story structure, all of those are just about making you a more thoughtful, more critical thinking, more well-rounded person,” said Hutchinson.