At the Sundance Film Festival in January, director Alma Har’el scooped up a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft for her new film Honey Boy.
Har’el, founder of Free The Bid, the nonprofit initiative advocating equal rights for women to bid on commercial film production jobs in global advertising, received the accolade for her first narrative film. Honey Boy is a pseudo-autobiographical tale penned by actor Shia LaBeouf. It was sold to Amazon to the tune of approximately $5 million, per Hollywood Reporter, and is awaiting a release date, with theatrical on the horizon.
Honey Boy captures memory—and the pain of memory—in a beautiful gauzy haze. Har’el notes that LaBeouf’s exploratory script came together from the work they did on her documentary, Love True, which he financed.
“It employed this device of psycho-drama, which is a method of allowing people to recreate their memories, their trauma and then enter it into through role-play,” she explained. “In the documentary, [the subjects] were playing with their younger selves, which in a way this is [about]: Shia playing his own father and against his younger self. So it was very much an organic development of our last project.”
Har’el credits spending years working in the advertising world as the foundation for her narrative work. “I benefitted a lot from directing commercials, working with exceptionally creative people and creative teams,” she said. “I had a certain readiness that I don’t think I would have had if I didn’t make those commercials.”
She plans to continue on the narrative path, with a few projects that will see her as writer-director. But, such is her passion to see women directors rise, she remains focused on Free The Bid.
Free The Bid, which she founded in 2016, now has roughly 1,000 women directors on its roster, a presence in over 10 countries and works with over 160 agencies and 122 brands. Emma Reeves, executive director of the organization, highlights that 85 percent of consumer decisions are made by women, and as more authentic storytelling is coming from the consumer, hiring women directors is essential. “You could never say that you have the best person for the job if you’re really only tapping a small pool of talent and ignoring over 50 percent of the population,” she said.
Reeves spends a good deal of time expanding Free The Bid’s reach—which will imminently add Spain and Sweden as territories—and appointing ambassadors in each country. These are female directors of standing who are in the bidding system and will source talented women coming up in the industry via music videos, branded content, shorter form digital content and the like. “We will be doing everything we can to find women who are not necessarily visible because of the lack of representation,” added Reeves.
Har’el is also turning to the issue of shadow practices—initiatives where women shadow (often) male directors with the goal of getting hired to direct a future episode (in the TV landscape). Har’el’s issue is that at times they don’t even get paid minimum wage or have their travel expenses reimbursed. “A lot of times [these women] come out feeling used by the system instead of being supported by [it],” she said.
“We’re going to keep pushing in the direction—to educate and also make sure that our database isn’t just used by the advertising world,” Har’el emphasized. “It’s for anybody that wants to discover new talent. We’re going to try to make sure that this year it’s going to get a lot more exposure beyond the advertising world.”