Rylee Ebsen discusses taking the leap to direct fulltime after building a career at Snapchat

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Photos courtesy of Persona PR

The fact that Rylee Ebsen wound up at film school did not come as much of a surprise to her or her family. She grew up in Los Angeles and started directing and editing movies when she was 10 years old. Plus, Ebsen is the granddaughter of the late actor Buddy Ebsen, who is known for his roles as Jed Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and as the title character on “Barnaby Jones.”

“Having him as a big influence and watching him on screen as a majorly beloved old movie star, of course I was going to do something in front of or behind the camera,” said Ebsen. “However, I knew I wanted to forge my own path.”

After graduating high school, Ebsen landed at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she started to make some of her lifelong friends and creative partners. While she was building up her storytelling chops in school, she heard from Evan Spiegel, a friend of hers from high school in L.A., who was creating an app called Snapchat.

“[Spiegel] reached out to me and said he was leaving Stanford and made an app with his best friend,” said Ebsen. “This was 2011, so it was pretty exciting to have a new consumer app. He saw something in me and what I was doing and wanted me to make a commercial for the app.”

Ebsen agreed to help on the condition that the commercial is shot in New York because she was still in school. Spiegel agreed and headed out to the Big Apple to create the first ad for Snapchat. Soon after, Ebsen signed on to be a fulltime employee at Snapchat.

To see a group of really thoughtful guys from Stanford come up with an app and change the way we talk with pictures and self actualize was incredible,” said Ebsen. “They had big dreams. I quickly became an employee and never looked back.”

Ebsen went on to create every commercial for Snapchat. From pitching the commercial concepts to bringing them to fruition and shooting and editing the pieces, Ebsen wore many hats while creating the marketing campaigns, and she says that it helped her learn every bit of the business.

Over the course of seven years with Snapchat, Ebsen watched the company grow to employ thousands of employees. For Ebsen, working at Snapchat was a masterclass in business and was exciting to watch grown However, Ebsen was starting to feel a bit stuck where she was and wanted to flex her storytelling muscles further.

“I went to film school, my big dream was to make a feature film. It was exciting to realize that I could direct across platforms,” said Ebsen. “It was a really exciting time to make it as a director. I was excited to explore. After 7 years at a rocketship company, I needed to take a break for myself and figure out what I wanted to make stories about. As I approached 30, it was the time to make that leap.”

Ebsen’s background in tech quickly helped her create short films, commercials and more for some of the world’s largest brands, including Kellogg’s, Disney, Facebook, ESPN, and Zillow. Ebsen recently partnered with Lauren Greenfield’s commercial production company, Girl Culture, which represents A-list female directors such as Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”), Karyn Kiyoko Kusama (“The Invitation”), Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”), and Dawn Porter (“The Way I See It”).

As she transitioned out of working for Snapchat and began to forage her path as a storyteller and director, Ebsen was recognized as a 2020 Forbes “30 under 30” for their Marketing & Advertising category.

“It’s great to be seen as a storyteller and contributor, whether it’s telling stories for Snapchat or start-ups,” said Ebsen. “What a great community to be a part of. One of the biggest perks of being a Forbes 30 under 30 is meeting the next generation that is changing the world.”

When asked about a particular project that stands out to Ebsen, she referred to a project to help get people registered to vote through Snapchat.

That project at Snap instilled a passion in me,” said Ebsen. “While there I directed the company’s first voter registration campaign. We got 400,000 more voters signed up as a result. Young Americans tend to be the least consistent voters, so it was nice to see that connection through this campaign.”

Her work on that project led Ebsen to find I am a voter, a nonpartisan movement that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement. 

“It’s been incredible. I joined in 2019 and it allowed me to continue my passion to get people registered to vote,” said Ebsen. 

For those who are looking to make a career change but haven’t quite built up the courage, Ebsen has one piece of advice: go for it.

“I think that no one can really tell you what to do next and you have to come to the conclusion on your own,” said Ebsen. “You can get a ton of advice, and I definitely did, too. My advice for young storytellers is to figure out what you want to do, make a plan to do it, don’t take no for an answer, and don’t absorb negative energy. You have to answer the question, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ Once you know that, you need to figure out how you are going to make that happen and who can help you along the way.”

Stay up to date with what Ebsen is working on by following her on Instagram @directorrylee or visit ryleejeanebsen.com.