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I was born in Portland, Oregon sometime in the ‘80s.

My dad worked in a sheet metal fabrication factory and my mom had different part-time jobs. 

I was the first person in my family, as far back as anyone can remember, to graduate from college. All the credit goes to my parents for working really hard so they could make that happen.

In high school, as part of my advanced classes, I’d take a bus to see a cadaver at Oregon teaching hospital. I still think about her pink acrylic nails.

As a kid I made a lot of comedic films with our beta videocam. I loved writing scripts and I was always memorising radio and TV jingles. My favourite was probably the rap Kris Kross did for Sprite: "You put your hand on the can and just pop the top!"

My entire childhood, I wanted to be a doctor. As a junior in high school, as part of my advanced classes, I’d take a bus to see a cadaver at Oregon teaching hospital. I still think about her pink acrylic nails.

Above: O Positive's Jess Coulter. 


I get a surge of adrenaline around dead bodies, seeing injuries and blood, or watching myself get a shot. Not a lot of people can tolerate that sort of thing, so I figured it would be a waste if I didn’t go into that field. But I also loved performing. My plan was actually to be an actor as well as being a doctor.

Whenever Field of Dreams was on TV, my dad would mutter under his breath: ‘that bitch’.

I auditioned for the role of ‘the nerdy one’ in the Babysitters Club movie and got down to the last two. That was my first taste of something potentially life changing. I was going to move to LA! But then my dad had to break it to me that the part had gone to Kevin Costner’s daughter, and although I was obviously the better actor, I couldn’t compete with nepotism. Afterwards, whenever Field of Dreams was on TV, my dad would mutter under his breath: "that bitch’" Years later, I looked [the cast] up on IMDB, and it turned out my dad had made the whole thing up. Which is really sweet, in a way.

After a year on the pre-med program at the University of Kentucky, I got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Long stints in the hospital and major surgeries meant I’d lost the heart for going into med school, so I switched to journalism at Oregon university. My professors were essentially creatives from Wieden+Kennedy Portland: I took copywriting from Jelly Helm, for example. At the same time, I majored in video production and started the university’s first television show, and I minored in poetry.

Progressive – Lucky Larry’s Landscaping

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Above: A recent spot for Progressive, directed by Coulter. 


A really good creative brief is being able to sell something you might not know a lot about – convincingly! So, for our thesis in college, Dan Wieden set us the challenge of getting hired for random jobs. Mine was a pastry chef at a very fancy restaurant, and my then boyfriend (now husband) was an accountant.

The thesis was a hard lesson in making sure my hustle serves me and not other people. As well as doing my own research, I simultaneously shot my husband’s challenge for the video production program. He ended up getting an awesome internship at Wieden+Kennedy by submitting the documentary I made. That was a very old-school female move, to set the stage for someone else’s success. It certainly planted a seed of healthy rage.

I’m not a struggling artist, and I insist on being paid properly. Understanding that copywriting is like poetry you get paid for is why I joined the advertising industry.

I’ve always been a realist when it comes to art. I’m not a struggling artist, and I insist on being paid properly. Understanding that copywriting is like poetry you get paid for is why I joined the advertising industry.

My first job was at R West, a small agency in Portland. I found out later they hired me not only because they loved my book, but also because they thought I looked like Britney Spears.. The next few years were spent following my husband back and forth from Seattle to Portland, trying to build my book and working as a professional burlesque dancer.

It wasn’t ever my plan to do advertising in the ‘biggest’ way, in New York. But one day, when I was feeling kind of lost, I got a call out of the blue from a recruiter: Gerry Graf at Saatchi & Saatchi had seen my website and he was wondering if I would ever move to New York. I genuinely didn’t know who Gerry was. I had to ask what kind of ads he made!

It was great to be part of that dope group of creatives at Saatchi: they were like an iconic Saturday Night Live cast. When Gerry left, a lot of us went to BBDO New York which had really cool leadership under David Lubars and Greg Hahn.

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AT&T – Radio Contest Winner

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AT&T – AT&T: Flash Mob

Above: Some of the spots from the AT&T campaign, the shoot for which Coulter worked through while in labour.


I’d been thinking about directing for a while. I knew I’d be good at it, and I’d have a lot of fun, but thought I needed a male cohort to find my way there. One day, while at BBDO, I was on set for a FedEx spot that [O Positive director] Kenny Herzog was directing, and he said: "Someone was asking me recently, do you know any strong femalecomedy directors? And you’re the only person I could think of." And I was like: "Yes, but I’m not a director." And Kenny just gave me this look. That really planted the seed.

After the birth of my first child, I was having a really hard time at the agency, juggling work with pumping milk in the boardroom. Simultaneously, my husband wanted to switch jobs, so we decided to move to Los Angeles. When I went in to quit with Greg Hahn, he essentially pitched me a job where I could work remotely from LA and direct everything I wrote.

After the birth of my first child, I was having a really hard time at the agency, juggling work with pumping milk in the boardroom.

Jim Jenkins at O Positive had given me some good advice when I told him I wanted to be a director, which was: don’t sign to a production company right away, try out as many production companies as you can and direct as much stuff as you can while you still have your advertising job. I needed that financial bridge to feel confident. So what Greg was offering was the perfect opportunity: I couldn’t say no.

One ad that has a special place in my heart is You’ve Got Time, a project I directed for the Red Cross once I was on the roster at O Positive. Writing the script was a really collaborative process with BBDO: it involved a song, and as I love writing music, that brought me so much joy.

Snickers – First Visitors

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Above: Coulter's hilarious post-pandemic spot for Snickers. 


I’m also really proud of Snickers’ First Visitors, because it felt like an elegant way to be comic about the pandemic rather than making light of all of our fears. Like all the best humour, it took a tiny human truth that could theoretically happen in real life. There was no reaching for the joke, no archness.

Based on the last five shoots I’ve done, the production industry is returning to normal. I’m really enjoying shooting and being on set with creatives and clients again, and making work feel like a party for everyone. Zooms are here to stay. Because everyone’s a little more spread out, and creatives aren’t always in an agency, there’s an opportunity for us all to collaborate more. Particularly with comedy dialogue, where there’s a lot of writing to be done, and jokes that I want to try in casting.

If you’re a female creative in advertising and you are in a partnership, sync up with your partner about your salary. Don’t be awkward about it, because it’s just numbers.

I have a superpower, and that’s the fact I don’t drink. There’s this culture, as a young female creative or director in advertising, of needing to hang with the boys, and drink with the boys, in order to bond. Something that pushed me beyond that was taking a UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] improv class. Someone was doing a monologue about going out drinking with friends, and the teacher stopped them and told us: "If you’re spending even a night a week drinking instead of doing something else, then you’re wasting your time. Think about it: it’s a trap." I quit drinking eight years ago, and it feels like a secret I’ve unlocked. It’s almost socially rebellious.

A bit of advice that no one gave me, but that I would pass on is: if you’re a female creative in advertising and you are in a partnership, sync up with your partner about your salary and raise each other up. Don’t be awkward about it, because it’s just numbers. A year into my first big job in New York I found out that my [male] creative partner was making more money than me, and we were at the same level.

It’s weird being a woman in this industry. When I was coming up in advertising, female copywriters were still really rare, so I was always being mistaken for an art director (no shade to female art directors). And as I started directing, I would show up to set and get shown to where the actors go. Just recently my line producer got a call from an agency, saying "We love Jess’s reel so much, we’re wondering if HE’s available to sit on a call". This is still happening, all the time. But I just bulldoze through it. I see it as putting my energy towards the women that will come after me.

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Above: A selection of Coulter and her family's annual holiday card.


Juggling family and work life is fucking terrifying, horrible and tortuous. There’s very little separation: thankfully I have childcare and an incredibly involved and supportive husband. I don’t know how I would do it without a true 50:50 partner.

The worst day of my career was when I was nine months’ pregnant with my third baby and shooting [a series of spots] for AT&T with celebrity talent. We had 12 scripts to get through in one day, and in the middle of it I started feeling contractions. I have an extremely high pain tolerance, I’ve been through multiple surgeries, but this was just the worst. I did that entire shoot with a smile on my face and the next day I dropped my kid off at school and drove myself to the hospital. It turned out I was in labour the whole time, and I also had a huge kidney stone. That’s the kind of experience that, from a purely biological point of view, only a woman would ever have to deal with.

I did that entire shoot with a smile on my face and the next day I dropped my kid off at school and drove myself to the hospital. It turned out I was in labour the whole time.

Our holiday card tradition started 11 years ago, before we had kids. I love performing in front of the camera, and posing in pictures, and I really wanted to do a yearly photo. My husband is the opposite: he hates being photographed and he won’t smile in a forced way for anything. So, we came up with this concept of where the two mentalities meet. As two creatives, it’s nice to come together once a year, by choice.

We start working on a concept around September and thinking: is there anything about the year that we want to express? It’s a real family affair: my husband’s brother is a professional photographer, and his sister helps with styling as well. Once we have the concept and wardrobe locked down, we start figuring out a shooting schedule around October. We shoot in November, do some retouching, print it and usually get it out the beginning of January. This year is going to be really hard, because it’s the first year our fur baby Walter won’t be in it.

Above: Coulter with her three children.


If I could time travel, I’d go to the future. I’d want to see my kids during the time I would inevitably miss because of being dead.

The closest I’ve been to death was on my first date with my now-husband. We went to see a movie and I ended up getting very sick so he rushed me to the ER. I was in so much pain they gave me morphine and I ended up near-flatlining.

My friends are my comedic heroes. They could be directors, or actors, or therapists, or stay at home moms, marketing executives – whatever they do, I surround myself with people that make me laugh. It’s the number one thing that attracts me to people.

The Covid vaccine is the single greatest human invention. The patriarchy is the worst.

I’ve looked very seriously into cryogenically freezing myself. Although, right now, I can only afford to freeze my head.

If I was President for the day, I’d like to think I’d ban guns and open borders but, in reality, I think I’d just be sad about how little could be done in one day and take cute photos of my kids in the Oval Office.

I’d like to toggle back and forth between more narrative work and commercial work. I have my first short film, a horror [called SKINCARE, DoP'd by Academy Award-nominee Robert Yeoman] coming out on Hulu in October. It’s the first narrative piece that I wrote and directed, and I felt like it really filled up my cup.

My greatest fear is mortality. I’ve decided that life’s a party and I don’t ever want it to end, so I’ve looked very seriously into cryogenically freezing myself. Although, right now, I can only afford to freeze my head.

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Above: A still and behind the scenes shots from Coulter's first short film, called SKINCARE, which was released this month on Hulu. 
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