Alma Har’el, the driving force behind Free the Bid—a groundbreaking initiative that encouraged companies to provide more opportunities for women directors in commercials—is expanding the platform in a big way. Backed by major companies, including Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Facebook and Amazon Studios, Har’el is evolving Free the Bid into Free the Work, a database that she hopes will encourage the world of TV, filmmaking and music to employ a more diverse talent base.
"We live in a world where we are looking at diversity and inclusion in a bit of an echo chamber," she said in an interview with Ad Age at the Cannes Lions festival last week. "You can go to 200 conventions to hear people talk about it, but what you really have to do is get out there and discover new talent."
Free the Work officially launches in August but was announced in Cannes alongside news of its major brand production partners. The venture aims not only to increase the numbers of women, but also the representation of “trans identifying, non-binary and underrepresented creators” involved in all aspects of film making.
Free the Work will provide curated playlists of global talent and will recommend talent to users (see demo video below). The platform operates as a non-profit; while searching the database will be free, users can also pay extra for “pro” functions such as having their own personal account and sharing playlists. Other elements include giving emerging film-makers the opportunity to be mentored by professional film-makers.
Har’el—herself a commercial director whose first feature film, "Honey Boy," starring Shia LaBeouf, debuted at Sundance and opens in November—describes the design of the platform as “IMDB meets Spotify meets Instagram.”
“We all use services constantly to discover a new restaurant or a new song, so we need to bring that innovation into talent discovery,” she says. “Unlike IMDB, it will make recommendations about talent and, visually, it’s much more in line with the services that we appreciate."
Like Spotify, the platform, Har’el says, is designed to be “sexy” and “fun” to use; she hopes it will "get people excited to binge on a playlist.” It’s being promoted with a film (below) created by Wieden & Kennedy Portland and directed by Amber Grace Johnson, that poses the question, "Why haven’t we heard of Mozart’s equally talented sister?"
Free the Work will also allow users to track their own diversity efforts across industries with a customized dashboard. Har’el explains, "What we want them to have is real-time data so they can see, OK this production company has not signed a woman and we've worked for them for four years, and they've never offered us anyone other than white men—so maybe we should work with somebody else?"
"I don't want to be policing anybody ... but brands are asking those questions and TV studios are asking them too," she adds. "People who are trying to stay relevant should understand that they are going to perish if they don't understand that going to panels about diversity and doing lots of virtue signaling is not enough."
Since announcing the new venture last week, Har’el says there have been "thousands" of applications to join and an "overwhelming" response.
Her experience with Free the Bid, which launched in 2016, has already demonstrated that her approach has quantifiable results. It asked agencies to commit to including a woman director on every triple-bid project, production companies to sign more female directors and marketers to seek one female bid on each of their commercial productions.
Some industry heavy-hitters got fully on-board with the idea: in particular, Facebook CMO Antonio Lucio who, in his previous CMO role at HP, took the proportion of women directors hired on the brand’s commercials from zero to 59 percent. At Facebook, both he and COO Sheryl Sandberg are supporting Free the Work. Other advocates are AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter and P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard.