Free the Bid’s Alma Har’el: ‘Ad land has proven diversity change can happen’

Free the Bid’s Alma Har’el: ‘Ad land has proven diversity change can happen’

After seeing the success of Free the Bid in advertising, founder Alma Har’el recently revealed a new project aiming to shift the dial in the TV and movie world.

Free the Bid launched in 2016 with the backing of several major advertisers and agencies. At a time when less than 7% of directors were women and only 9% of commercials were directed by women, the aim was to ensure that at least one female director is put forward by an agency for every project bid.

“When I look at the numbers in the advertising world and see our work with HP and how it went from 0% to 59% [female directors on projects] in 18 months, or creative agency 72andSunny which went from 1% of female directors to 35%; these aren't single digit improvements,” she said.

But it’s a different story in the TV and film industry. Despite movements like TimesUp and Reframe, born from inequality in these industries, Har’el says change in filmmaker diversity on shoots is too slow and shows no signs of improving quickly.

“I was trying to figure out the difference. Is it that brands have more power - so if they're committed, they can create the change more easily? Or is the film and TV system more complicated and that's why it's not happening? Or is it that we also gave people [in marketing] a really clear mission and a call for action and teaming that with a tool that's a lot more effective in terms of the database functionality?” she says.

Her solution was to address the final point. Free the Work is a platform inspired by Spotify and IMDB which showcases work from not just women, but that of trans identifying, non-binary and other underrepresented creators.

It’s easily searchable and thanks to artificial intelligence will highlight people’s work that might otherwise be overlooked. Users can build shortlists of filmmakers they like and then contact them.

A crucial component is the ability to track across an entire organisation whether change is actually happening. Amazon Studios, for example, will be able to gauge how many female filmmakers have been hired to work on productions across the company.

“Brands, producers, agencies, streaming services – all to have a private dashboard and can track in real time these efforts.”

Since its launch at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity last month, companies including Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Facebook and Amazon Studios have come out as supporters.

“What I hope the people in positions of power gain is not even to have to think about this as an excuse or not an excuse [for addressing gender imbalance] but a renaissance of creativity. There's a pool of outstanding talent that's not been celebrated in the same way that men are. Men can do one short, be called a visionary and are given the keys to the biggest tentpole. We have people [on Free the Work] with a body of work of 10 years that would make your head spin and they’re not being called those things or being given those chances,” says Har’el.

“We are extremely lucky to live in a world with a generation that's beyond speaking about [gender] as something that's a political issue. They see themselves in a certain way and the idea that older people have to go do conferences to understand and learn that gender identity is not binary, and that talent is not just white men is comedic, satiric and surreal for younger people. I want [TV and movie production companies] to binge on discovering talent or they'll become irrelevant.”

This will not come as a surprise warning and many in the industry have embarked on their own, smaller projects to encourage better diversity behind the camera.

This week, for example, MTV Staying Alive Foundation partnered with MetFilm School to launch a new scholarship helping women to take directing roles while just a few weeks earlier Disney revealed its Launchpad: Shorts Incubator programme that will give six filmmakers from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to produce short films for the studio.

According to a recent study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, men comprised 68% and women 32% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on films screening at festivals in 2018/19.

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