Jake Schreier sits sipping a milkshake on a drippy fall evening at one of his favorite Manhattan hangouts, Waverly Restaurant, a cozy diner dive decorated with wood-paneled walls and headshots of B-list celebrities. At times he seems even younger than his 24 years, which might explain why "I get mistaken for a P.A. on almost every shoot I go on," he says. "I'm pretty young. I can understand why that would freak people out." But no freaking out is necessary once you look at Schreier's commercials CV, which already boasts well-crafted spots for Pontiac, Heinz, Dr Pepper and Comcast. There's also plenty of promising exuberance and hilarious storytelling in his clips, shorts and specs-which together comprise the rare kind of reel you don't mind revisiting for its pure entertainment value.
A graduate of NYU film school, the Brooklyn-based Schreier entered the spots world after working the front desk at Plum Productions and then directing an impressive spec for Fedex, which he wrote and starred in himself. Prior to that, NYU as well as projects via his affiliation with a directors collective he formed with his film school buddies, Waverly Films, had already yielded a wealth of crude but directionally sharp specs and shorts, including the black and white "Requiem" for Heineken, which humorously depicts a frat house party post mortem. There are also spare, affecting clips for The Thrills (co-directed with Smuggler director and Waverly buddy Jon Watts) and for Brendan Benson, which features the band's straightforward performance on white cyc, dressed up with charming, dark-minded stick figure animations created by another Waverly cohort, Christopher Ford, who happens to appear in some of Schreier's quiet gutbusting shorts like I Love My Cat and Christopher Ford Sees a Film.
When it comes to spots, "The biggest thing in directing for me is knowing what you want," he says. "If you know what you want, then you're in good shape." That was a lesson well-learned on his first big commercial shoot, for Pontiac out of Chemistri (now Leo Burnett/ Detroit). The spot features big car gloss without any sheet metal, featuring 3D type treatment raves roving through city streets like vehicles. "We were doing the tech scout and there were 20 people waiting around for me to say something, and I was working with David Darby as a DP and would ask him what he thought about certain things. He took me aside and said, 'Listen, we're all here for you. Do what you want to do and stop worrying about it.' And that made sense. The crews are great, but especially on a commercial, they're not here for art. They're working and want to do a good job, but they want to know what you want."
While Schreier says at this point he's up for almost anything when it comes to commercials, he's inclined toward a more quiet approach. "The only thing I suppose I could say about my own work is that I'm pretty into subtlety," he observes. "I'd much rather be subtle than not." That's apparent on his recent commercial for Comcast, out of Goodby, in which he chose to invest in dance lessons for elderly actors rather than employ professional groovers for a scenario featuring a seniors' shindig in a seventies-style dance hall. "That was more interesting than having some stunt dancers come in and breakdance," he says. " It's more fun to watch these people and what's going on in their faces. The best thing about an idea, especially when it's really short, is when it can connect to something that people recognize as being true."