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Here's a plan to get women into the boys club of directing TV commercials

Director Alma Har'el on the set of Coca-Cola's 2018 Super Bowl commercial.
Director Alma Har'el on the set of Coca-Cola's 2018 Super Bowl commercial.
Byron Bowers
Director Alma Har'el on the set of Coca-Cola's 2018 Super Bowl commercial.
Director Alma Har'el on the set of her commercial for Procter & Gamble. Har'el won a Director's Guild award for the ad.
Courtney Hoffman

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When we talk about the underrepresentation of women in the director's chair, usually it's a conversation about hiring practices in film and television. But what about advertising? As it turns out, maybe not surprisingly, they face similar obstacles in the ad business.

One woman who's looking to change that is director Alma Har'el. If you're someone who watches the Super Bowl for the ads, it's likely you've seen her work. She directed Coca-Cola's "The Wonder of Us" commercial this year:

Among those much-seen ad spots, Har'el was in the minority. This year only eight percent of Super Bowl commercials were directed by women. In an effort to improve those figures (not just for the Super Bowl, but for commercials in general) Har'el started a campaign called "Free the Bid."

It's essentially a pledge that ad agencies, brands, and production companies can take to give more women the chance to direct commercials. Three directors typically are chosen to pitch to direct a commercial. The companies that sign on to “Free The Bid” pledge to have at least one of those people be a woman.

"Which I think is a really good deal," Har'el says, "because we're half of the population and I'm asking for one out of three. So that was the offer and people jumped on it."

If you're wondering why it matters whether a woman or a man directs the commercials you see, one big reason is that working in advertising is often a gateway to feature films for directors.

Filmmakers including Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, and Spike Jonze all made commercials early in their careers. And, as Har'el explains, if women are excluded from those advertising jobs, that can mean fewer opportunities down the line in film and television.

"When we look at film schools we see that [representation] is like 50/50," Har'el says. "There's just as many women going to study film as men. And then there's a huge drop to four to seven percent, and where are all these women? They're not all pregnant at home. A lot of them have been trying to survive, to sustain themselves financially, and have not succeeded because it takes a while to break into filmmaking. And a lot of them haven't gotten the experience that men [like Bay, Scott and Jonze] got on sets." 


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