Sydni Chustz is an associate producer at Saatchi & Saatchi LA. But that’s not her only role within the advertising industry. She’s also the founder of Bid Black
, an online database that’s highlighting Black talent within the commercials production business.
The idea for the platform initially sparked when Sydni was an intern while studying marketing at Loyola Marymount University. She began doing a little informal research and reached out to the producers that were working on the same brand as her to see if they’d ever worked with a Black director, DP or editor. “The answer was a resounding no with the exception of having worked with three Black editors,” Sydni tells us.
Platforms like Free The Work have begun to bridge the gap of female talent representation within the production industry but Sydni couldn’t find any formal data on Black production talent. “I knew there was a major gap to be bridged at that moment,” she says. “And it was bigger than just my current place of employment. It was an industry wide problem that needed to be addressed.”
Sydni’s foray into advertising began in 2017. She grew up in South Central Los Angeles and the neighbourhood that she lived in was 36% Black. “It was a bit of a culture shock for me entering into a predominantly white atmosphere,” she says. “I felt different, sometimes I felt invisible, and I was still learning how to use my voice. I was learning so much about other people and what was creatively relevant to them, that I wanted to do something that affirmed and shared what was creatively and culturally important to me. Bid Black was my way of introducing my culture to people who may not have been familiar with it.”
After collecting all of the relevant information, Sydni set out to create a beta website on her own as a way to pitch the idea to others. She says that having a visual representation of what she wanted the platform to look and feel like helped her with identifying allies who were willing to help and provide resources. From there a small team was assembled to help with web and UX development with the finished product launching in 2019. “At the time, the appetite for a platform like this wasn’t as great and I hadn’t fully planned out a public roll out. We officially launched on June 15th as the climate around police brutality intensified and the need for the industry to have this resource became more apparent than ever.” Since then, Bid Black has evolved into a global community of Black-identifying filmmakers and is also now the largest database of Black talent in the industry with just about 150 people represented “with many more in the pipeline”, Sydni says.
Over the past few weeks Sydni has experienced an outpouring of support from Black filmmakers, producers, and professionals in adjacent careers. “Everyone is really excited about the resource existing and it’s been a pleasure to get to know some of the people on the site. Black talent in other types of roles (such as colourists, producers, below the line roles, etc.) have also reached out to express interest in joining the community. We are really excited to continue advocating for these filmmakers and placing their work at the forefront.” What’s more, to get the platform going Sydni relied on cold calling agents and gathering information on Black talent that they represented. But as its popularity has grown people have actively contacted her with talent to add the site, helping to further grow the database through word-of-mouth.
Looking at the need for a platform like this more generally, Sydni speaks to the issue’s systemic nature. “Its origins date back to before any of us were born,” she says. “None of us single handedly created this problem, it’s been the residual accumulation of racism and privilege going unnoticed and unchecked by those who benefit from it. No matter what end of the stick you get, we’ve all inherited these systems and institutions and it is our jobs to restructure them now that we know the situation. I think many people are afraid of losing ‘power’, and fearful of trying something new.”
When it comes to production more specifically, Sydni sees problems with terms such as ‘verified’ and ‘trusted’ and a tendency to hire people that you are ‘comfortable’ working and spending money with. “All of these terms lend themselves to the continuation of bias in the industry and ultimately lack of opportunity for POC,” she says. “Black filmmakers go completely overlooked with this mindset and the myth that they are not capable enough, talented enough or experienced enough continues.”
To help end that trend, Sydni hopes that agencies and clients can make “bidding Black” the industry standard by taking an active stance within their organisations to integrate the platform into their bidding process. She is also keen to invite patrons of the site to reach out via the contact page to provide any feedback or information they might have about ways we can improve or grow the database. “Most importantly, we want to stress that one of the main goals of the site is to get agencies and clients to interact on a meaningful level with the talent and their representatives,” she adds. “Whether that means bidding them for a project, scheduling a chat with their EP, or simply getting familiar with their work so that you can match them with a project when the time comes. We will soon be rolling out more ways to help people stay engaged with the work coming out of the community.”
On top of running Bid Black, Sydni is also a member of Three’s a Crowd
, a Los Angeles based community of Black advertising professionals. They meet monthly to discuss how they can individually and collectively build space, influence and tangible power within the industry. Currently at over 150 members, Three’s a Crowd recently launched In for 13
, a call to action for companies to raise the percentage of Black people in leadership positions to 13% by 2023. “I’m really excited about this because it is addressing what I think is one of the biggest pain points of our industry - lack of Black leadership. This gap trickles down in a sense that entry and mid-level Black talent do not see themselves represented in leadership and may feel like there is not an ascending path for them within the organisation. I would love to see agencies and brands prioritise normalising BIPOC and female representation in all tiers of their company.”
For the future of Bid Black, Sydni is focused on increasing the number of talent and countries represented on the website. She’d love for the platform to be the global go-to hub for Black creativity in the ad industry so building upon what’s already there is at the forefront of her and her team’s efforts. They also have plans to be more active in curating work from Black talent and highlighting it on the website and they’re working on launching a monthly newsletter to keep allies and the industry up-to-date with that work. Strong alliances are also being formed with other Black-led initiatives in the industry such as Change the Lens
, which launched last week with the aim of getting production companies to pledge to having 15% of their rosters as Black directors.
Sydni is also hyper-focused on her career as a budding producer. After falling into advertising by mistake, she’s held roles in the broadcast production department at RPA and is currently working primarily on social video content in her role as an associate producer at Saatchi & Saatchi LA. She has produced some short films and other types of content on the side and her goal is to become an integrated, cross-disciplined producer, with experience in social video, traditional broadcast video, as well as longer-form, narrative-driven content.
“Even though this is my first career stop, I’ve seen enough to know that this is the space where I feel I have the potential to make some considerable impact and change.”