This week I spoke with Award-winning director, writer, digital storyteller, and startup advisor, Rylee Ebsen.
I would love for you to tell us who you are and how your passions have led you to where you are today.
I'm Rylee Jean Ebsen and I am an LA born and raised filmmaker and startup advisor. I went to Crossroads High School with Evan Spiegel, worked at Snapchat for many years, and then left to pursue Live Action Directing full time, but I'm still in the startup world. I enjoy it all-- writing, filmmaking, creative directing, & advising startups on strategy, creative, and marketing.
I have this startup side to me which has really been a surprise having gone to NYU film school. I don't find a lot of people who went to film school in the tech world, so bringing storytelling to the tech space has been fun.
I work with a lot of startups and I just talked to an engineer who said, “Wow, I've never met a tech minded person who really cares about tech and is equally passionate about creative. It's hard for me to understand how you do both”. And I think it really is just because I went to film school, learned how to tell stories the traditional way, but then got an honorary MBA by being at Snapchat from when it was 10 people to then well over thousands of employees. My experiences shaped me to love both.
What kind of storyteller would you describe yourself as?
I've watched a lot of really depressing films lately. I feel like in 2020 a lot of filmmakers and storytellers were in a tough place, just as the whole world was.
I don't want to make things that shield away from the truth of the darkness, but I really love comedy. The only way to get through tough times is to laugh. My family, who's very dysfunctional and really insane actually, laughs when we're going through tough times. My grandfather was a really famous satirist and comedian in the fifties and sixties. He made fun of a lot of current events and that's how he kind of got through some of the tough times that he lived through in history.
I think that we all need to look at ourselves and laugh and have perspective about pain, trauma and trying to get through it. Otherwise, what's the point? If you can't have a good time and laugh, I don't know how anyone makes it through.
The stories that I want to tell have a foot in truth and are grounded stories, but are also sort of magical and fantastical and funny. They take you on a journey and take you a little bit outside of yourself, but then hopefully bring you back to yourself because I'm tapping into universal truths.
That's so beautifully put, I love that. And having seen a lot of your work I definitely think that humor and that vulnerability and authenticity and that magic is definitely there! So, what would you say is one of your passion projects that you would love to take on if given the resources?
I have a lot of passion projects. I definitely would love to make a female superhero movie. That would be a dream come true. There's so many great diverse comic books that haven't been told yet.
So that would be fun, especially because I like when the traditional sort of mega comic book movies are really funny these days, and there's a sense of humor within them. And I think Taika Waititi, all props to him, he kind of introduced the new type of superhero movie. These movies influence so many young kids. They all go see it with their families and I think it's great to be able to influence culture that way.
I would also love to recreate one of my grandfather's films. Honestly, directing the remake of Breakfast At Tiffany's would be a dream come true because my grandfather was in it. He played Audrey Hepburn's husband. I've been thinking about this movie for many years and I think it needs a redo, for many reasons!
Thinking about both the startup world and the film and directing industry, what do you feel are some of the biggest challenges that are facing both of those industries?
Look at the Golden Globes this year: Regina King, Chloé Zhao, Emerald Fennell--three people out of five were women who were nominated for best feature film directing. I’m seeing the numbers shifting and it's really exciting.
I do feel like studio executives and people who are in charge of making the big financial decisions are really thinking about who is telling stories, how do we read different scripts? Really rethinking how content gets made. And it's so great because there's so many platforms, there are so many opportunities to have a lot of different voices making content.
I think where we can still grow absolutely is in advertising. It's funny because commercials are the number one thing that we consume more than any other content. This is why I’m so excited to be at Girl Culture, an amazing production company run by Lauren Greenfield, she's a bad-ass director in her own right and has been such an advocate for diversity and inclusion.
We need DEI in tech too. We need to slow down. Because tech has to innovate and grow so quickly, we forget to go outside the referral pool. It’s important to make sure there’s a good amount of seats at the table for a lot of different people with different experiences, who grew up in different places. And when we do that, it makes the product even stronger and better in my opinion.
I think with tech we definitely need more funding for new startups created by people with all kinds of different backgrounds. I always say “Try to give someone their first shot.” Everyone who is successful was given a first opportunity by someone who took a chance on them.
I would love to know more about how you have been able to use this passion for activism?
I directed the first voter registration campaign with Snap in 2018, and after learning that 400,000 people signed up I was really inspired to continue this work. I was shocked to find how low voter turnout numbers are and, to me, it’s the number one way we can change things. When people show up and participate, our democracy actually works.
I got connected to a super inspiring group called I Am A Voter, which was started by a group of incredibly smart and talented women. The goal of I Am A Voter is to help people register to vote, to stay informed about elections coming up, and to find easy ways to show up. VOTING IS COOL! We should all do it.