In December, our founder Alma Har’el received the huge honor of being included in the AdAge/Creativity 50 for her accomplishments with Free The Bid over the past year. It was incredible to be included among such cultural game-changers as Patty Jenkins, Rihanna, Reed Morano, and Jordan Peele.
“Prior to 2017, lip service was pretty much all that was paid to upping the number of female spot directors, which is why director Alma Har’el stepped in last year with her Free the Bid initiative,” writes Ann-Christine Diaz for AdAge. “Har’el, repped by Epoch for commercials, asked agencies and brands to promise to include a female director on any triple-bid commercial project, and the movement hit its stride in 2017. As of its first anniversary, in October, Free the Bid had 40 agencies and 10 major brands on board. The latter include renewed support from HP, which last year donated $100,000 to the cause, and newcomers Twitter, LinkedIn and Levi’s. The results have been positive. Participating agencies BBDO and CP&B, for instance, reported seeing a 400 percent increase in jobs directed by women. Har’el herself, despite the time she’s spent working on the movement, scored a notable gig: an Olympics spot for Procter & Gamble.”
Read on for Alma’s interview with Ann-Christine on Free The Bid’s growth, communication beyond ego, the importance of intersectionality, and spending less time on her phone.
What was your biggest challenge of the past year–and how did you tackle it?
Figuring out how to balance my commitment to Free The Bid and people I love with my work as a director was definitely a big one. When I started Free The Bid, I didn’t know how fast it would grow, and at some point I felt that it had taken over my own creative and personal life.
I’m lucky that my team at Free The Bid (Executive Director Emma Reeves & Communications and Content Manager Chloe Coover) helped me find a balance that allowed me to stay fully engaged in both worlds.
What are you most surprised by when it comes to the development of Free the Bid in 2017? What are you proudest of when it comes to Free the Bid?
Definitely the proudest moments I have had over Free The Bid’s first year were hearing about success stories of women who tell me they are finally working and reaching financial independence, and some ad agencies who have taken their bidding and hiring women numbers up by 400%. One or two agencies are now reaching gender parity thanks to Free The Bid, and we hope to make this a reality for more of them.
Did you ever have any doubts that Free the Bid would not take off?
I felt a strong conviction that I had to do it and that people needed me to do it. The doubt came when I realized I would need a team to run it and some financing. I was under a spell for the first few months and didn’t realize how big it would become. Even though people are pledging to Free The Bid all around the world and we are now in Mexico, Brazil, Australia and UK, it was important to me that we stay a non-profit. If it wasn’t for Antonio Lucio, who took it on himself to help me, I think we would have had a hard time. HP and Visa‘s donations been a huge help in making it possible for us to keep growing.
Overall, what was your proudest accomplishment of 2017?
Being at the Women’s March and seeing women in their 60s and 70s still fighting for the same rights for their bodies and safety after they had spent their whole life protesting. I felt that it is the responsibility of our generation to realize that only through intersectionality we can make the change we’ve been waiting for – intersectionality with women of color and the LGBTQ community. I felt proud to be there. It felt like a moment in “herstory”. I also filmed a woman named MILCK on my phone that day. She was singing a song she wrote called “I Can’t Keep Quiet” with a choir of women. The video I posted went viral all around the world, and choirs of women sang it everywhere. I feel it helped many women to express what they were feeling. I see it as a big part of what followed with “#MeToo”. MILCK then got signed to Atlantic Records and I hope we get to hear her for years to come.
You directed an Olympics spot for P&G–a commercial everyone has come to look forward to. What were your biggest challenges on that? What was that experience like?
When you come on to one of the most successful campaigns ever, after directors like Gonzales Innaritu, there’s a sense of wanting to make sure this one has it all. I wanted it to have a subjective and emotional tone that carries through my work, but for the sport scene in the end to have an impact that usually is only reserved for male directors. I wanted to show it’s possible to have both.
Creatively, what are you working on right now?
I’m writing from Mexico while shooting my first Superbowl commercial and right afterwards I hope to start prep on my first narrative feature. I’m also working on spending less time on my phone.
What can we expect from you in 2018 (related to Free the Bid, or not)?
In terms of Free The Bid, we’re constantly expanding our reach, appointing ambassadors all across the globe and making inroads into the industry in each new territory. Currently, we’re working on launching Free The Bid Germany, Chile, and Turkey. The thing that I find the most jarring on sets is how hard it is for producers to supposedly find women for other jobs on set, especially women of color or people who are gender nonconforming.
So in 2018, we want to make a point to shine an even brighter spotlight on the work of women of color and the trans & gender nonconforming community – we won’t be equal until we’re ALL given an equal shot, regardless of intersectional identity factors.
We’re also going to start a whole database of women editors and collaborate with existing women cinematographers websites to extend their reach. I want to come to set and hear no excuses when I ask why are there not more women in each department.
What are you most inspired by?
This week, it’s the way people communicate with each other when there are no big egos around and the endless reserves of resilience women carry and bless us with. Last week it was the desert and my mother.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to make a huge change (as you did with Free the Bid)?
Know that there are probably others who feel just as strongly as you. Seek them out and light the world on fire together.
Also, don’t make it about your ego and your legacy. I never thought that getting more work in advertising was going to be what would get me on this list or another list, but I was in a moment in my life where I saw that I could help with this specific issue. There was a momentum and the right people around me who wanted to support it and make it happen, so I picked up the flag as my dear friend, PJ Perreira, who helped me start it all, told me. If you see a way to bring change, pick up the flag. It’s not about you. It’s about all of us.
What are your strategies for getting out of a creative slump?
I go to nature or somewhere wild and learn again to speak the unspoken.
Breathing fearless life into the child of imagination and memory.