Coming into the University of North Alabama (UNA), Paige McCay was a History major aspiring for more. After leaving UNA in the spring of 2017, she will be remembered as a film major, a founder of the film club, an entry in the George Lindsey Festival and most importantly, a director.
Paige’s interest in film started with watching movies late at night with her father.
“My dad would surf the channels and find weird movies, which I know as classics now.” Paige said, “No one else liked our ‘weird’ movies.”
“It really got me interested in film a long time ago.” Paige is from a small town of Locust Fork, just outside of Birmingham. “There you can learn you can be a teacher, nurse or engineer, but you don’t hear a lot about the stranger things such as directing, film and journalism,” she said.
“Filmmaking wasn’t really an option for majors, so I went with History because I liked it.” After majoring in history for a little while, Paige switched her focus to Theatre after getting a part in the department’s annual Christmas production. “I had always been interested in Theatre and my parents encouraged me to try out,” Paige said. “I went into Theatre knowing I didn’t want to act, but direct.”
At the time, UNA had no other options. “After half a semester of Theatre, I realized we had a film program all of the sudden.”
Paige quickly transferred over to the film department and hasn’t moved since. Paige said during her first semester, the program was having a bad period. “They only had one professor, no film clubs and myself and a few others were thinking of switching to English or Creative writing or something,” she said. “Then JP showed up and he kicked me into gear, really hard.”
JP, also known as Jason Pangilinan, assistant professor of Film and Digital Media Production at UNA, became a driving force in Paige’s accomplishments.
“I remember walking into JP’s office one day to talk to him because I was in one of his classes,” Paige said. “It was the first time I was in his office and the first time I had met him.”
“He looked at me and told me I wasn’t a film major and that I needed to really consider if this is what I wanted to do because clearly I didn’t want to.”
Paige went home and cried. “I didn’t know what to do, I thought I had ruined my life.”She called her dad, concerned of what to do. “I told him I didn’t think I could do it and it was too much, then he told me something that stuck with me from then on out.” Paige said “My dad told me ‘You know you picked something so incredible, so unique to do with your life that it is going to be harder than anything else you could have done. It’s going to be really really hard for a really long time, but you can do it, I’ve seen you do incredible things and if you put your mind to it I know you can do this, you’re going to be fine, I can tell you want this, don’t give it up, and you’ll be fine, just keep going.’”
After that, Paige went back to JP’s office, told him she was a film major, and walked out.
“Since that day there has been a begrudging respect with us,” she said. “I took a lot more of his classes and became super involved with film club.”
Paige then became the first female director of the film department and one of the seven founding members of the film club.
“Once we met each other and started film club it kept us going.”
The semester after JP’s arrival, members from the film club began working on a short film to submit to the 2015 George Lindsey Festival.
“I put together the first film crew of our ‘generation’, asked JP a gazillion questions and did months of prep work.” Paige said, “That October we filmed ‘Stay’, my first production.”
“Stay” is a short film about a girl leaving her boyfriend to venture out and live her life. The film was screened at the George Lindsey Film Festival in March 2016.
“It’s been the first year in a while since a UNA student’s film has been in the George Lindsey festival,” Paige said. “It was crazy, because it’s our university’s film fest.”
The film was given a great amount of approving feedback and was positively received at the festival.
“I felt a lot of pressure, because in the film industry, women are not in positions of leadership, especially when it comes to directorial roles,” Paige said. “I’m always open to learning more, but when it comes down to it, I like directing.”
Paige and the film club will have another film, “I Promise,” to be screened at next year’s New York International Film Festival.
“It’s about a drag queen and drag king on Halloween in 1993, talking about HIV/AIDS and the future,” Paige said. “It somehow caught the attention of the festival from this rather ignored area.”
“I believe the content caught their attention,” she said. “Usually, Alabamian films are overlooked, but the subject matter is fresh for this area of the country.”
Paige is currently working on attending CalArts in California for graduate school. “I think the major fear is going to film school and getting stuck in the makeup and costume department or acting,” Paige said. “I’m going to try and make my stand to be a director.”
“You have to work twice as hard as any guy on set and three times as hard as any girl,” she said. “I work hard and I never believe anyone when they tell me I can’t do something.”