Elisha Smith-Leverock, Free The Bid Germany Ambassador

Free The Bid is a global movement in response to a global need – talented women directors all over the world just aren’t being given an equal chance to express their vision, expand their reels, and book commercial jobs that could help financially sustain their film and documentary careers.

We’re happy to announce that Free The Bid Germany has officially launched, kicked off with a pledge from German agency Serviceplan. “At Serviceplan we fully support the initiative to Free The Bid, and embrace the ethos of more gender parity in the advertising industry,” said Florian Haller and Alexander Schill, Serviceplan’s CEO & Global CCO. “We are proud to be the first German agency group to take the pledge to Free The Bid, and hope that we can discover and promote more women directors from Germany and the rest of the world.”

Florian Haller and Alexander Schill, Serviceplan CEO & Global CCO

It will be exciting to see how Serviceplan’s commitment will lead to more and more pledges from like-minded German agencies. “We’re so glad that Serviceplan has joined us as a powerful ally in support of women directors, bolstering our efforts to promote equality across international markets,” said our Executive Director, Emma Reeves.

Our expansion into the German advertising market is a welcome addition to our ever-growing list of terrorities where we’ve established a presence. To date, Free The Bid has launched in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, UK and was founded by Alma Har’el in the US, with more territories to be announced soon. 

In each country, an experienced woman director acts as ambassador. Free The Bid Germany couldn’t have become a reality without the efforts of our amazing German Ambassador, Elisha Smith-Leverock. Elisha has been our on-the-ground representative, reaching out to directors, production companies, and agencies, running the Free The Bid Germany Instagram account (which you should follow!) and organizing the first of many meetups between some incredible German women directors (pictured below):

(l-r) Susanne Schmidt, Sylvie Weber, Hanna Maria Heidrich, Lisa Wessman, Elisha Smith-Leverock

“I am really excited to be working with Free The Bid as their German Ambassador,” Elisha said, “and I am looking forward to helping them shine a light on our homegrown female talent. Another aspect that I want to focus on is building a community of women directors here where exchanges, creative or otherwise can happen. It’s amazing that a big German Agency like Serviceplan has decided to lead they way by supporting Free The Bid.

The numbers of woman directors in the German advertising industry are small, but maybe in opening up more opportunities, there will also soon be more support from production companies, for example, in actively seeking out and developing female talent.”

To celebrate the launch of Free The Bid Germany, we spoke with Elisha about her latest work for dairy brand Emmi, her desire to establish community between women directors, and why the advertising industry needs diversity to avoid being an echo chamber.

We’re so glad to have you on board as an ambassador for Free The Bid Germany! Can you tell us about why you think Free The Bid is such a necessary movement?

Thanks to initiatives such as Free The Bid, there is a growing awareness of the quite substantial disparity between the representation of men and women in the advertising industry. Free The Bid’s work is vital in redressing this imbalance and creating opportunities for women, and I could not be more excited to be a part of this!

We loved the photo that we saw of the gathering of Free The Bid Germany directors you recently organized. Can you tell us about building community with the women directors here and what you’re most excited about, in terms of connecting with the rest of the Free The Bid Germany directors?

I think directors in general work in a way that is quite isolated from each other, and there is not often the opportunity for exchange amongst each other. I do believe that being in the minority, woman directors might experience this even more so.

When I first started reaching out to directors here to tell them about Free The Bid, a lot of them mentioned a desire to meet up, so I spontaneously organized something. It was great to hear everyone talk about their work, how they got into directing, their approach and to have an exchange of genuine advice and creative ideas. This was hopefully the first of many gatherings!

Who are some of your favorite women directors, either in advertising, film, documentary or any other form of content?

In terms of film, the women who have directed some of my favorite movies ever are Lucile Hadžihalilović, Claire Denis, Amy Heckerling and Susan Seidelman. Their movies have meant a lot to me at various points in my life.

Recently, I really liked Raw by Julia Ducournau and Wild by Nicolette Krebitz.

Since you’ve lived all around the world, what are some of your favorite things about living in Germany? Do you notice any major differences between the German advertising industry and other markets?

In a sense, Germany is home to me. I spent a lot of my formative years here. The work/life balance is great but I also feel there are so many opportunities, it’s a large market and boards are getting more and more creative.

I do, however, feel that the numbers of women directors in the German advertising industry are way lower than the UK for example, an advertising market of a similar size. Although things are slowly shifting, I also feel that the type of boards offered to women here are more stereotypical, where people feel a woman is ‘required’ – for instance, films that involve children and beauty products.

There is a strong market for cars here. I would love to see more women getting offered these types of jobs or others that people place more value on, where the potential for growth and recognition as directors is greater.

How did you originally get started as a director? What were some of your earliest cinematic influences?

It was probably an amalgamation of horror movies, MTV and fashion magazines that really set me on my path to becoming a photographer and later a director. I’d consume a lot of that kind of pop culture as a teenager, but I really learned when I started shooting on a little ‘point and shoot’. That was the thing that got me hooked.

Coming to directing from a career as a still photographer, what do enjoy most about each medium? Does your approach to photography differ much from your approach to video?

I think it has been a cross-pollination of sorts. I learned a lot about lighting and framing from still photography, which I find useful when shooting films, but I also learned to give my photographs more depth and scope from filmmaking.

Quintessentially, I find the two disciplines quite different, though, and from the start I always wanted to elevate my films to be more than just moving images.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve gotten to work on in the past?

I got to shoot a couple of films for an online retailer last year that were all about female empowerment. Therefore, I suggested the idea of assembling an all female crew for the task. Although in the end the client wasn’t quite ready to be as diverse and and inclusive in front of the camera as I would have hoped for, we did get their support to assemble a wonderfully diverse all female crew. It was a powerful experience to be on a set with such a large group of women.

What would a dream project be for you?

All projects where clients are willing to take risks. They are not only the most fun to do, but also everyone ends up happier with the results.

What would you say are some of the hallmarks of your work? What kind of projects are you drawn to? What visual or thematic elements do you find often appear throughout your work (if any)?

There is definitely a distinctive style about the way that I shoot and see things; however, I see my commercial work as being quite broad thematically. I completely understand the need to categorize, but  I love exploring new areas and creating challenges for myself.

Tell us about your latest spots for Emmi. What struck you most about the brief you were given? What initially excited you about the campaign?

The initial brief was a very different one, which was then changed to better suit the needs of the client. I had a very good rapport  with the CD so even though the brief had changed quite significantly and became much more ‘masculine’ he felt I would still be the right person for the job. Which was great because I really liked the idea of creating a sports film but with a little levity at the end.

Did this campaign take you out of your comfort zone as a director or allow you to try anything new? What elements of the final work do you feel most proud of?

It allowed me to display yet another side of my work. Coincidentally, I was the first woman director the agency had ever worked with – I’m proud of that.

How was the experience working with the cast on this shoot? Were there any challenges on set?

It was very very cold!

Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens, including the crew?

Nobody should be living in a constant echo chamber and if we want advertising to really reach all people, it has to be representative of all people. Surely we can all only benefit from being exposed to as many different perspectives as possible?

If we don’t actively support diversity we keep perpetuating the same stereotypes, and I personally don’t see how that’s good for anyone.

What advice would you give to a young director who’s just getting started?

Be fearless.


Agency: Erdmann Peisker
Creative Director: Gabriel Peisker
Production Company: Markenfilm Schweiz
Producer: Uli Scheper
Director: Elisha Smith-Leverock
DOP: Tanja Haering
Editor: Bela Adami
Colourist: Jürgen Kupka
Music Supervision: Pitch & Sync
Music: NKC – BTD150
Post Production: Markenfilm Schweiz
Set Design: Frank Niedorff
Styling: Tabassom Charaf