The Diversity Option: Why It Could Widen Your Lens

'Include directors you are genuinely curious about, not just because they check a box'

We often get calls from teams who want to bring in someone from our roster with a fresh point of view and an amazing reel.

The mandatory triple-bid can be an opportunity for a director with a different voice. Getting multiple points of view on your script or idea keeps the bidding honest, guaranteeing that you are all creatively and financially aligned before the award.

We have been "the diversity option" many times, and if it allows our directors to have their ideas seen and heard, we are all about it. Even if we might not be the favorite going in, often, with the right platform, we can become the favorite, or at the very least, a legitimate option on the next one. Many times, we might not have won the initial pitch, but word gets out about the directors; there is a comfort there with the creatives because they have already aligned once, and we have a real shot and often win a second opportunity.

Where this process can go wrong, however, is when you are treated as less than equal in the process. You may be bidding against a prominent director—the famous auteur everyone has aspired to work with. The team knows they want that big director, so the CDs don't want to waste their time on a call with a diversity option they know will go nowhere. For us, it's a red flag. But we spend the money, build out the treatment, and spend a week of late nights with service companies and early morning meetings with bidders trying to work this constant puzzle of money vs. expectation.

And you hope that maybe the junior creatives on the call will share the news about how well the meeting went, how much they enjoyed their conversation, and possibly the CDs will care enough to get on the follow-up call.

That doesn't always happen, and it's defeating for us all. It's also a missed opportunity for the creatives and producers. You can hear a unique voice and gain a new perspective. It may not be perfect for the project we are bidding on, but it could be perfect for something else in the future. I'm not suggesting you go for the diversity option each time. I am saying that you just need to hear them. Give them the same seat at the table you give to everyone else.

Production companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on bidding and treatments. So much money and time is spent to win projects with shrinking margins and higher expectations. When agencies and clients are expected to pay a fee for the treatment and bid, everyone will be treated more respectfully. When you pay for someone's time and treatment, it gives it value. I have seen agencies bid four or even five directors. So, our odds have gone down, but we are still expected to take the gamble, fund the exploration and support the indecision without knowing whether decision-makers will show up for the call. Why is it a radical idea that the bidders who don't win should get compensation for the time and resources we put into the project?

I have some ideas on how we can make the entire interaction more meaningful, because if you think the directors don't notice how things appear on the agency and client side, you are wrong.

  • Include directors you are genuinely curious about, not just because they check a box but because they are brilliant.
  • The entire team should show up to the calls. We are spending a lot of time and money on this opportunity, and we need you to hear our ideas. The fact that we can do that without the courtesy and respect of those higher up and making the final decisions is beyond problematic.  
  • If you have a solid production partner, who truly supports the process and their directors, take a chance. We all know how everything too safe and, in the middle, becomes white noise in a saturated world. Take chances and make an impact. Fear-led decisions are always the most boring.  
  • Give feedback on why they didn’t win. As we develop careers, knowing the best way to pivot and evolve our process is hugely helpful. Our directors get stronger with every call, and feedback is incredibly valuable.

There is nothing wrong with working with an established white male director. If you have someone you admire and would love to work with, that's great. But because we are all pushed into this triple-bid process, please treat all bidders with the same time and respect.

I know the entire creative team is showing up for Derek Cienfrance, and they should; he's magic. But show up for everyone. You asked them all into the pitch for a reason, and it's because you saw their magic, too.

Kelly Bayett
Kelly Bayett is co-founder and creative director of award-winning sound studio Barking Owl and managing partner of newly launched production company Love Song.

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