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Five questions with School of Cinematic Arts alumnus Kevin McGrail

Kevin contributes to the growing entertainment business in Chicago and has produced a number of high profile productions for award-winning networks.
Kevin McGrail contributes to the growing entertainment business in Chicago and has produced a number of high profile productions for award-winning networks.
Kevin McGrail is the production manager on Amazon's new series "Paper Girls," which currently is filming at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. His previous production credits include "Fargo," "South Side" and "The Shop," for which he received a 2021 Sports Emmy.  

Managing productions is not new to McGrail. As a child in Michigan, he organized a “crew" of friends to write, act, build sets, and scout locations for films they would make together. In 2009, McGrail​ made the decision to pursue his lifelong passion for making movies and moved to Chicago to enroll in DePaul's master's program in digital cinema (now known as the master's in film and television). He graduated two years later, becoming one of the first graduates of the program. Since then, he has supported the management of over 100 productions.  

We caught up with McGrail to learn more about his work and success in the industry. 

Congratulations on your Sports Emmy for "The Shop." What was a highlight from your time on the show? 

The best part of doing "The Shop," aside from getting to travel all over the country, is hearing stories from athletes, musicians, politicians and others on how they got to be where they are today.  The platform of the show is structured to create a chill and open environment to allow the guests to talk openly.  Being in the room to watch the conversation unfold in real time, and truly "uncut," is a great part of making the show.     

What have been the top contributors to your success in the field?  

The team: The people I work with on each show have been the main contributors to my success.  Making a movie or TV show takes a lot of teamwork and an enormous amount of time.  It has always been very important to surround myself with smart, hardworking, dedicated people to help each show find success. 

Positive attitude and a solution-based process: Every day I'm faced with a lot of challenges.  It's important to address each of them with a positive attitude and always seek a solution that is best for the show. 

Sincerity: Building relationships and treating people with respect goes a long way. 

Knowing what you don't know: In order to be a step ahead, it's important to accept what you don't know and build connections to help bridge those gaps.       

What was the most impactful or influential step in your career, and what was your top takeaway from it? 

A sports analogy I often make is, "One lucky bounce doesn't win you the World Series—it's the seven months of hard work that does." That bounce seems to be the only thing that gets remembered, though. 

I don't think there is one defining moment in my career that has led me to where I am today.  There have been many small decisions and choices that have built me up to this point.  It was grinding through hard situations. But always having a great team and network of colleagues to rely on made a huge impact.    

How did your time at DePaul prepare you for your career?  

Producing is all about using whatever resources you can muster up at that point in time to make the best project possible. When I went to DePaul, the program was all about the idea of "make as much as you can, while you can, using whatever you can." That mindset and approach are​ what spring-boarded me into the industry as a producer. My professional career started on micro-budget projects and with their successful completion, came bigger opportunities.  The "Here, We Do." attitude allowed me to say "Here, we did. Now, what are we doing next?"   

What advice would give to your past self while you were still at DePaul? 

Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. 

To anyone who wants to work in this crazy business—and to myself—I say work as hard as you can and seize every opportunity.  With each experience you learn something new, even if it's "what not to do," and that makes you a smarter, stronger and better person.  Eventually, when the right opportunity comes along, everything you've done up until that point has prepared you to succeed.   

Hear more from McGrail in the Here, We Do. video below.

Elly Kafritsas-Wessels is the communications manager for the College of Computing and Digital Media. Emily Holland is a senior in the School of Cinematic Arts and a student employee in the Production Office.