Imagine a world where everyone could see one another through a mother’s eyes.
P&G‘s magnificent Olympics 2018 campaign, continuing their ‘Thank You Mom’ series of ads, showcases the beauty of #LoveOverBias. The kind of love that rewards determination, perserverance and ambition even in the face of bullying and black eyes. A mother’s love is an incredible force, and the ad (which features a brand new cover of “Ooh Child” by MILCK), beautifully illustrates its transformative power.
This landmark ad was shot by Free The Bid founder Alma Har’el with agency Wieden+Kennedy, and marks the first time that a woman director has been hired to shoot a P&G Olympics campaign. The ad premiered on The Ellen Show on November 1st.
We spoke with Alma about how the shoot was conducted, the importance of casting, her personal connection to the ad’s theme, and how founding Free The Bid has changed her career. We also had the opportunity to speak with W+K creative team Patty Orlando and Kervins Chauvet about working with Alma and the importance of inclusivity.
Alma (left) with crew on set during the shoot for the skiing finale (photo by JC Molina)
ALMA HAR’EL, Director/Founder of Free The Bid
You’re the first woman to shoot for a ‘Thank You Mom’ Winter Olympics campaign by P&G, which is a huge deal! Since Free The Bid is an intervention into the bidding process to allow more women to compete for advertising jobs, can you break down how you won the job on this latest work for P&G?
I’m very honored to join a list of some of my favorite directors and I think it’s important to understand how the bidding process works and why Free The Bid is disrupting the part of it that made it hard for women to break into commercials. It all ties in with the lack of opportunity for women in filmmaking, since the filmmaking and ad worlds both feed into each other.
A commercial is usually triple bid between 3 directors. That means that the ad agency comes up with a creative idea which they need to find a director for. They get 3 directors, along with the production companies that work with each, to compete to direct. The directors that get chosen to bid and compete on the commercial are chosen based on their reels.
Now take into account that in 2016 women directors made up just 7 percent of all directors on the top 250 films, a 2 percent decline from 2015. This is after ALL the talk and workshops that we hear about. All these ideas of “shadowing” and initiatives that don’t get actual work for women. The numbers are proving that year after year.
As a result women don’t have the same kind of reels and films under their belts that can compete. To give some perspective on what women are up against, I want to list some of the men that directed prior commercials on this campaign. This includes Jeff Nichols, who directed Mud, Take Shelter and Midnight Games; Lance Accord, who was the DOP on films like Adaptation, Lost in Translation and Where the Wild Things Are; and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who directed films like Babel, Birdman and The Revenant.
Even if you look at ALL women directors, you can’t find more than a few women that will have that kind of body of work. So it’s an endless cycle of lack of opportunity. Add to that the fact that directing commercials allows for filmmakers to try new equipment, work with new collaborators and make money that will allow them the focus on more independent projects, and you can see how they both feed each other and how men enjoy a much better chance to succeed as filmmakers.
What we’re doing with Free The Bid is disrupting this cycle. We got over 50 agencies and top brands to take a pledge and guarantee that ONE of every 3 directors that triple bid will be a woman. This is a principle, not a rule, and it is also meant to inspire the practice of discovering women’s talent, which we support with over 400 women directors’ reels in our database, searchable by category.
Wieden+Kennedy, which is one of the leading agencies in the world and produces some of the most creative work year after year, haven’t taken the pledge, but they prove how much they do in the best way – by constantly working with women directors on jobs like this one! The bidding process can take up to a month or two months, in which the directors submits their proposal for how to take the creative idea they had and turn it into an ad. The production company has to support the ideas of the filmmakers with a budgetary bid. As a woman director, you come to a campaign like this with a lot to prove and I keep in mind all the women that need to follow.
What was the initial brief? What ideas did you bring to the project personally?
The initial brief is always the essence of the campaign, which in this case is #LoveOverBias. Scenes that show us how a mother is challenged constantly by seeing her children in a world that doesn’t accept them or make it easy for them to shine. “Imagine if the world could see what a mom does when she looks at her children.” It was very moving.
The ideas a director brings into a spot range include ideas for scenes, casting approach, where to shoot and what to focus on, how to shoot it, who to use for each department, etc.
Some of the things I focused on were the approach to the casting, which was very rigorous and included finding real people who went through similar situations, as well as actors who could embody the roles we were trying to find. I looked for details for scenes that the agency wanted, like the girl cutting her hair or the skater who shows his mother a dance move and bows to her.
I also wanted to take a different approach to this campaign and capture a moment that takes us out of reality and into the mind of the child and their imagination. It resulted in the scene on the mountain of the girl jumping on the bed. Another idea was taking out the voiceover and doing a song with MILCK.
But in commercials everything comes together from discussion after discussion, thought by thought, day by day. It’s a very collaborative process and the creatives on this project, Patty and Kervins, were very involved and very influential on how everything came together. I loved their vision and their input.
I love working together with people whose sensibilities I appreciate, and the discussions we had making this spot were deep. We wanted to make sure that it’s done with respect to the issues we were tackling and that the details speak to the people who live those realities. We conferred with them and interviewed people, their stories inspiring us all the way through. For me, it’s always exciting to work on a team that has women and POC on it like the one we had on this. There’s just a sensitivity to certain issues that can be communicated and discussed.
The spot demonstrates the power of a mother’s vision in such a heartfelt and moving way. Can you talk about your personal connection to the ad’s content?
I’m currently with my mother and we watched it together on The Ellen Show when it came out. My mother had always been in my corner. I was constantly bullied as a child and even ended at the hospital one time. It lasted throughout the whole time I was in school, and I also couldn’t study and focus. My whole childhood was full of conflict and my mom was always there, never doubted me and always made me feel that love and hope are abundant. Even when I didn’t get my high school diploma and didn’t go to the army or college she always supported me. I was a waitress from the age of 12-18 and then a bartender. We grew up struggling to pay rent and my mother worked 6 days a week and made sure we had food on the table. So I always tear up when I see these commercials. I always think about all the things mothers do for us that we don’t even remember. Of course relationships with your mother are very complicated but that kind of inspiring #LoveOverBias attitude is something I was very lucky to have.
How was the experience of shooting this spot? What were some of the moments that stuck with you most?
It was a fun undertaking. I had never filmed competitive Olympic spots before and I was adamant to figure out a moment that would stick out and feel dramatic even after all the prior commercials. I kept thinking, “I don’t want to do Rocky 5 or 6; I want to do Creed.” So I would go back to the hotel and watch hours of documentary films and Alpine skiing competitions. I wanted to do the leap from behind so we could reveal all of the Olympic crowd as the camera goes up, and to have the skier come very close to the camera in full speed when she reaches the finish line. Then you spend days on ski mountains and ski mobiles creating all that and making sure it’s true to the Olympics and I found that to be really exhilarating and different from the work I usually get. Women are usually not trusted with big sports commercials of this kind and we can obviously kill it. So when we get the chance, I think it’s a high. It was also such a nice balance because I got to do all the human moments that I care about.
Casting in a shoot like this is so crucial. Can you talk a bit about what this involves?
On this spot, I decided to go a month early so we could do long interviews and workshop some of the scenes. We wanted to make sure that we had racial representation of the actual people who are in the film and that the people we worked with felt good about how we were portraying them. Commercials that deal with diversity can turn very cynical or exploitative, but we had our heart in the right place when we approached it. I feel that the faces of the people in the spot and their authenticity is what makes this spot different.
This spot premiered on The Ellen Show, with Ellen specifically choosing to shine a spotlight on it. Can you speak to how this came to be?
Ellen shines one of the brightest lights on these issues so it was such good news. It’s funny because a month ago I was in a meeting in LA and when I left the place she came in and open the door for me and let me come out first. I stopped and told her I can’t believe she just opened the door for me. Like a real dork. She smiled at me and said, yes I did. And I was happy the whole day. I’m a big fan of hers. I was so happy when Obama awarded her the medal of freedom. I was tearing up.
How has founding Free The Bid affected your life and work as a director?
Free The Bid has been quite a journey. I had to take a break from directing commercials and focus on it for four months and then a few people around me told me it was a mistake and that I would never work again. I’m a creative person and going to corporate conferences and trying to raise money for it took its toll on me for a while.
But now a year later, when I see what we’ve achieved and having Emma Reeves as the Executive Director and you [Chloe Coover] as our Communications and Content Manager has made it into one of the most meaningful things in my life. I’m so proud of the work we do and when women tell me they got signed because of us or got hired after being found on the site I get filled with energy to do more.
What’s next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects that we can look forward to?
I’m working on a TV mini series and a narrative feature. I can’t wait to share the details when it’s possible.
Any final thoughts for women inspired to pursue careers as directors?
Keep working and finding ways to show what you can do and please let us know about anything we can celebrate. Our newsletter goes out to top ad agencies and brands. We like to interview women directors and feature their work. You never know who will see your work and connect to your sensibility so keep putting it out there. The hustle is real.
All photos in slideshow taken by Alma Har’el
PATTY ORLANDO and KERVINS CHAUVET, Creatives at Wieden + Kennedy
Can you go into your initial conception for this P&G spot? This has been just a successful campaign. How do you challenge yourself to try and do something so powerful that stands on its own?
Well, this is part of a long running campaign, which presents challenges in and of itself. How do we elevate the message? How do we pay homage to the legacy of the work? How do we evolve the work? And this one has been particularly tricky because we had so many elements to thread. Deciding on making our message about not just honoring moms, but about how a mom’s love can overcome the world’s bias made the message more poignant and timely but also gave us one more thing to work into the spot. There were moms, there was sport, there was the Olympics, there was bias and ultimately there was a brand. We landed on a voiceover written from the perspective of a mom in this predicament where she could either inform her child about the world’s bias or just prepare them to overcome it. Everyone was really loving and feeling the VO so much that it essentially became the skeleton for the spot that’s in the world today. We felt the message was equal parts challenging and tender, timely and necessary. So we ran with it. We got to a point where we realized we didn’t need the VO anymore because the sentiment was coming through on it’s own. That’s how we ended up with the soundtrack-driven visual story.
There’s a moment in the spot with the girl jumping on the top of the mountain that really takes the idea of potential and dreaming somewhere special. We haven’t seen anything similar in the other spots on this campaign, which were more realistic. How did this moment come about?
That’s probably our favorite moment of the entire spot. This is the moment we wanted to grab people and leave an impression on them that transcends advertising messages, touching them somewhere deeper. The idea for that magical scene fell out of a conversation between us and director Alma Har’el. We knew Alma would bring something special to this work. As the first female director of this iconic campaign and also given her cultural background and what she cares about, we knew she would help this work stand out from previous iterations. Alma is such a soulful human with a knack for creating a world in her work that takes the imagination to that visceral place. This scene is the Alma magic we were hoping for when we chose her to direct. She was the right one for this job for so many reasons.
Previous directors on this campaign have been very high profile male directors, such as Gonzalez Inarritu, Lance Accord and Jeff Nichols. What made you decide to work with Alma Har’el on this shoot?
We felt it was time to work with a women. This is a spot about moms and bias and working with a woman seemed like the right thing to do. We also tried to embrace this idea of building our team to include a female editor, Lisa Gunning, and other women, people of color and people in the LGBT community to make this work. We honestly want to make change with the work and make more opportunities for people who don’t always get them.
How do you approach the challenge of getting a client to go with women directors whose reels can’t compete with some of the rich reels men have, even if their approach does?
It’s tricky because it’s true that most of the A directors are men. And their A reels keep on getting them the A jobs. And of course on a project like this, we wanted to work with the best. But we wanted to do something different, and make something different from the past work. We were drawn to Alma’s documentaries. We loved the emotion, the humanity, the weird way she would reenact stories. We liked that she wasn’t a commercial director. We took a chance, but felt that she was the right one for this campaign. And that’s how we sold her to the client, that there are other great directors but that she was the right one for this film.
What qualities did Alma bring to set and to the final product?
Alma is brilliant with casting, which is one of the reasons we wanted to work with her. She just has a way with people and a special eye for humanity. We loved that she wanted to cast real people and find people who had actually faced bias and could relate to the stories. She was also so great at directing them—very warm, personal and nurturing.
The music for the spot is a rendition by MILCK – an artist who was discovered by Alma at the Women’s March. Had you already been aware of the viral video Alma shot, featuring her song “I Can’t Keep Quiet”? How did working with MILCK come about?
We were thrilled with this selection because it was another reminder that we made the right choice with Alma. When it came down to finding the right music for the spot, we spent a lot of time listening to different music that had to do with our message. We found the song “O-O-H Child” and decided we wanted to get a current female artist to cover it. Alma suggested MILCK and we also looked at other musicians. Because Alma had a connection to MILCK, she just texted her and asked her to do a demo. Getting demos from other more established artists was more challenging. We loved MILCK’s demo and decided to use her. It was all just meant to be.
How do you find ways to promote and prioritize gender parity and diversity in the work you do?
Well that’s simple, we just make an intentional effort to not be driven by how things are always done in making decisions regarding a project. Intentional is the key word. You have to go out of your way to influence change. We knew, given the history of this campaign but also just general awareness of the industry, that the amount of ad projects, especially the big ones, that go to male (often white) directors is disproportionate. So we tried to make an intentional effort to think about this one differently. And that didn’t stop at our female director. If you go down the list of people who worked on this campaign, you won’t find any of the usual suspects. You’ll find the unlikely candidates. The ones who we feel don’t get enough of these kinds of jobs. And not because they don’t deserve them, but just because that’s how things have always been done. Change has to be intentional.
What do think the ad industry could do to improve inclusivity?
BE INTENTIONAL. We need more diversity at the very top. It starts from the top and works its way down. Not the other way. If overseeing the work is from one group, who shares similar cultural backgrounds, the POV will be their POV. We need more female Creative Directors. We need to change the narrative such as you can’t be a mom and be a good creative. Or black creatives work on sports, or women work only on girl brands. And we need to pair people with people who are different from them, to create challenging conversations and get interesting and creative work. Change comes from getting out of our comfort zones.
CLIENT: Procter and Gamble
PROJECT NAME: Love Over Bias
FORMAT: Broadcast / Digital
CLIENT CONTACT: Tom Duncan / Janet Fletcher
LAUNCH DATE: November 1, 2017
Executive Creative Directors: Susan Hoffman / Mark Fitzloff
Creative Directors: Susan Hoffman
Copywriter: Kervins Chauvet
Art Director: Patty Orlando
Producer: Hayley Goggin Avila
Account Team: Trish Adams / Marcelina Ward / Ebony Francis
Strategy: David Terry
Business Affairs Manager: Anna Beth Nagel
Production Company: Epoch Films
Managing Director: Mindy Goldberg
Director: Alma Ha’rel
Executive Producer: Melissa Culligan
Head of Production: Megan Murphree
Line Producer: Chris Leggett
Director of Photography: Matthias Koenigswieser
Production Designer: JC Molina
Wardrobe Stylist: Courtney Hoffman
Canadian Production Co: Suneeva
Editorial Company: WhiteHouse Post
Editor: Lisa Gunning
Assistant Editor: Nick O’Neill
Post Producer: Leah Carnahan
Post Executive Producer: Joni Williamson
VFX Company: SAINT
Creative Director: Rob Trent
Flame Artist: Dave Stern / Michael Vaglienty
VFX Producer: Kristina Theogersen
Executive Producer: Helen Park
Music Company: WALKER
Song + Artist: “Ooh Child” Connie “MILCK” Lim (Original Song by the Five Stair Steps)
Song Produced By: AG
Executive Producer: Sara Matarazzo
Engineer: Graeme Gibson
Sound Company: JOINT
Sound Designer: Noah Woodburn
Producer: Jen Milano
Mix Company: Eleven
Mixer: Jeff Payne
Assistant Mixer: Jordan Meltzer
Executive Producer: Melissa Elston
Producer: Maddee Bonniot