My Creative Journey as a Teenage Commercial Director

I directed my first ad at 15. What I've learned so far

Growing up in a huge artistic family makes it nearly impossible to escape the desire to be a creator as well. This is what happened to me. 

When I was 11, I began my pursuit of photography and the camera became my closest friend. I took pictures of my friends and things I found interesting, and eventually explored moving image through homemade music videos and stop-motion films. With the combination of my personal support system and the birth of social media, I began to really understand and trust the power of my creative voice. I saw that I could engage, move and inspire people. 

This is where my path as a director began, but I didn't even know it yet. I was having fun, but never thought what I was doing would lead to the kind of work I am creating now. At 15, I joined the roster at Adolescent Content and directed my first huge project—a short film for Disneyland that aired in theaters nationwide. I am 19 now, and since those early days I have directed commercials and short films for Target, Hasbro, American Girl and Netflix.

Claire Jantzen | Disneyland | Soar

My name is Claire Jantzen and I am a director and photographer. I used to be scared to tell people that. I was so young and I felt like I didn't have the validation, knowledge or experience to go around and make that claim. Still, to this day I sometimes fall into the mind-set of "What I'm doing isn't professional or real enough" or "I won't be taken seriously." 

I know I'm not alone in this feeling. So many young people feel incapable of taking big chances and putting themselves out there because they don't think they can. Others feel they don't have anything valuable to say. The system claims that in order to be successful, you must first finish college, get your degree and spend time at an internship and understand everything before you begin in the "real world." I used to think this way, too, but my experience directing has proven this wrong. Creativity truly is, at its core, about what you say and feel, not necessarily who or what you know. 

I am fortunate that I had someone believe in my voice—Adolescent Content took a chance on me at only 15 years old—and the Target back-to-school campaign in 2016 was the turning point. Having not only one commercial but an entire campaign in my hands gave me extraordinary motivation and confidence. The ability to ask questions and learn while still remaining the leader of the project is an experience very few can say they've had. I felt incredibly honored and inspired to work with a team of adult creative professionals. (I always do, no matter the project.) 

This summer, I directed a web series for Hasbro's Baby Alive and an anti-bullying PSA for the Ad Council—the "Because of You" spot below. I hold the Ad Council piece very close to my heart. Being 19, I witness unkind words and actions be exchanged among my fellow peers and students almost daily. I strongly feel that the path to bettering our society begins with empathy. That’s what this project was all about, and that has always been my core value as a human. 

Because of You | Bullying Prevention | Ad Council
Because of You | Bullying Prevention | Ad Council - BTS

These opportunities and environments, made possible through Adolescent, have propelled my creative growth. Being entrusted and mentored by a group of people who want to push your original, unique and youthful vision forward is a golden path. It is really something that is so special to a young person, not just by in the director's seat—but by being valued as a young voice and influencer around the globe.

It is true that I don't know everything. That's obvious jumping into an industry at my age, but the greatest aspect of being a (really) young director is having that exact freedom. Whenever I begin a project, there are no limits. From my view, I don't first think about budget, legal or what simply "goes"—or doesn't—in the industry. I'm not fully an "insider" yet. I don't have to think about being outside of the box; my age makes it so that I already live outside of the box. 

Of course, as I take on every new job, I learn more of the ropes. However, I still have the approach of thinking big, like a child, and narrowing down as I need to. By doing this, I've learned the most valuable aspects of a story and portraying a message. I don't let the can/cant's or do's/don'ts take control, but rather what I want to say and do in that particular moment. What pushes me forward is the constant change within myself. 

I have been learning the skill of communicating via image ever since that first moment I picked up a camera. At 11, the deepest thing I had to say was probably something about having a crush, feeling embarrassed by my acne, or how I wanted to have cool siblings like my friends. At the time, those circumstances were my entire world, and they shaped my creative vision. Now, I see those moments adding up to the creative I am today. 

This is the golden aspect of starting young. I'm 19 now, and that eight-year period of growth is all documented, from middle school to high school to, now, just having finished my first year of college. Everything I have felt is somehow threaded into the images, videos and films I have created over the years. I have grown up, right alongside my passion, and in many ways my passion assisted that growth. 

I know that what lies ahead of me is still an infinite amount to learn. I haven't had twenty-something years to develop my "cinematic style." I was fortunate to be given these opportunities without school, an internship or a degree. I was trusted to explore my creativity and the purity of creative freedom that comes with being a young person. I drew upon my imagination and youthful voice to create what I thought my peers could relate to—in middle school, then high school, and now college. It was timely, fresh and true. I don't have to force myself to think as if I were a teenager—I am one. And as I change and grow, so does my creative voice.

All I know is what I know now. That is my style. That is my muse.

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Claire Jantzen
Claire Jantzen is a director repped by Adolescent Content, a media company that develops Gen Z and millennial directors working in youth advertising, entertainment, and marketing.