Wednesday, July 18, 2018
  • Monday, Oct. 31, 2016
Fall 2016 Director's Profile: Alma Har'el
Alma Har'el
Creating opportunity

Alma Har’el—whose spotmaking/branded content roosts are Epoch Films in the U.S., and B-Reel Films, which she recently joined, in the U.K.—has created many of her own opportunities as a director. Now Har’el is proactively looking to generate more opportunities in general for women filmmakers across the board.

Last month Har’el launched Free The Bid, an initiative designed to put female directors more consistently in the running for commercials and branded content projects. A Free The Bid website (click here) has been activated with information on the program which calls for agencies to bid a woman director on every ad assignment. Several agencies have already pledged to do just that, including FCB Global, DDB North America, BBDO North America, McCann New York, JWT, Leo Burnett, Pereira & O’Dell, Mother, Joan, Phenomenon and 180LA. Free The Bid is also reaching out successfully to clients and production companies, a number of which have also committed to the program.

Born and raised in Israel, Har’el, at the age of 22 hosted a music TV show and was offered to do the same for another such program. “I said I would only do it if they let me direct it,” she recalled. “That was my first directing job that I got paid for and the only way I could get it to happen. I had to use the fact they wanted me in front of the camera in order to get behind it. The advertising world and the film industry feels much more comfortable paying for women’s bodies and beauty than for their directing skills and point of view. It’s always a constant battle for each woman to be taken into account. It is ingrained and rooted so deeply that most people are not aware they’re doing it. Women do it to other women too. They have an easier time imagining a woman as a producer taking care of a man’s needs than a creator and a boss. I have no bitterness about it and I always believed in being creative at every point in order to get to do things that come naturally to men. I actually wasn’t even realizing I was doing that until I started to listen to women who spoke about it. When I directed music videos even though I was winning awards, I wasn’t trusted with bigger budgets and bigger artists so I stopped making them and set out to make a film. I couldn’t raise the money for the film so with the support of my dear ex-husband, I had to shoot it and do the sound myself. That’s actually how I became a DP. After the film [Bombay Beach] won the Tribeca Film Festival [in 2011 as Best Feature Documentary] I started to get offers to direct commercials. And once a woman can sustain herself financially, she can take more artistic chances and invest in herself the way men can. This is just one of the reasons I started Free The Bid. I wanted to make sure other women filmmakers and people of color have the same chance to sustain themselves while being creative and shaping the way women are represented in advertising.”

Har’el has seen her experience in one discipline inform another. For example, her first film, Bombay Beach, had music by Bob Dylan and the band Beirut led by Zach Condon integrated into it in a way that grew out of her work on music videos. “I used choreography and gestural dance to tell the stories of the people I was filming. When I did my campaigns for Airbnb and Facebook I brought my work from documentary into situations that required a spontaneous response and an immediate connection with the subjects we were filming around the world.

“I think that for me it’s very important to learn from each thing I do but also to actually know the difference between them. I feel uncomfortable when people approach advertising without an idea and hope to just document something and create a mood—too much of that lately. I equally feel uncomfortable when people approach documentaries as an advertisement for their stories and their personas as opposed to an exploration of the truth or the fantasy of truth. I actually try to avoid both of these situations and I’ve been very lucky to work with creatives who have ideas and in my docs, with people who can be themselves.”

Har’el made a triumphant return to the Tribeca Festival this year with LoveTrue, which earned a nomination for the Best Documentary Feature Jury Award. “I made LoveTrue over four years and I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. From not being able to finance it for a year until Shia LaBeouf stepped in, to breaking my back midway and spending seven months in a back brace and then discovering something about one of my main characters that required a very big moral decision about how to end my film if at all. It took me a while to watch it with clear eyes. I love it because it is truly such a personal deep exploration of all my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to love and filmmaking, and it’s equally this far away essay about love and intimacy and the way we change our view of love as we get hurt and grow older. Filmmaking to me is the best way to grow up and this film made it possible for me to love again. So the biggest creative challenge was to learn how to love again while doing justice to the stories of the people in my film. It was deep.”

Commercial appeal
Har’el has found her commercialmaking exploits gratifying and wants to do more. Looking back on her most memorable spot fare, Har’el related, “I got pretty lucky because I got to go around the world both with Airbnb and with Internet.org. I’ll never forget the children I met in Bolivia and India on the Internet.org spot and I’m still in touch with them. My favorite spot that I did was probably “Airbnb Views” because I just loved the idea of seeing the world through other people’s windows and since I was using Airbnb a lot at the time I was trying to capture something I fully connected with. Rafael Rizuto and Eduardo Marques who were the creatives on that spot were so keen on capturing the poetic essence of that experience and that’s a challenge I enjoyed more than anything.

“I also loved working on Stella Artois because it was with a woman creative named Sasha Markova whom I adore. We got to do a commercial for beer with a fully dressed woman who kicks ass. It was the first time a woman directed a commercial for Stella Artois and I remembered all the Jonathan Glazer and Wim Wenders commercials they did so I liked adding a woman’s name to that list.”

As for her production company homes on both sides of the Atlantic for commercials and branded content, Har’el shared, “I love Epoch Films and B-Reel Films because in both of them I get to work with interesting and inspiring women. Mindy Goldberg [founder of Epoch] and Margo Mars [managing director/partner, B-Reel Films]. I’ve been working with Mindy in the past few years and she’s one of the funniest and loveliest women I know, and I’ve known Margo for years and always felt we had a true kinship and similar taste in films and in people. We met at a screening of my first film Bombay Beach but only now was it possible for us to work together. I think that both of these companies know how to work with filmmakers who bring something from their approach to life into the craft.”

Big picture
Har’el noted that Free The Bid has been “such a big surprise to me. I get very frustrated sometimes seeing all the seminars and the lists that they make for women. Trying to help them in magazines to dress for success and all that shit... It just makes me laugh sometimes. It’s so patronizing. Women are ready to direct and they don’t need new shoes and a mentor. They need a job. I wanted to do something very practical but I couldn’t imagine that it would be a historical move and that all the big agencies will sign up. We’ve seen a change in ten days in the numbers. More women get work and more women get signed to production companies. Our next big step is working with brands. HP has taken a global pledge to have a woman director bid on EVERY commercial they produce around the world.

“We live in a time when we watch people becoming brands and it’s actually interesting to see that brands are realizing that the only way to grow stronger and stay relevant is to become more human and care more about people and the world we live in. So we see a lot of the excitement coming directly from brands. To me it feels natural that the creative process will only grow stronger when we hear new voices.”

Har’el affirmed, “I very much believe that more women directors in advertising can change the way women are perceived and see themselves as well as affect the whole film industry. It’s not an easy fix but the more women and the more people of color will be making decisions behind the camera, the faster it will happen.”