The Great Guns director on masterminding the epic branded content music video and surviving shooting in the hottest place in Israel
Just over a month ago, Volvo’s Israel office shifted gears with its advertising strategy, wowing audiences with an explosive branded content music video. A bold move for the automobile manufacturer, ‘Call My Name’ is testament to what can be achieved when brands give free reign to creativity.
Incredibly, the car giant let its creative partners take the wheel - entrusting the entirety of the project to up-and-coming director Tal Zagreba, producer Lior Miller, animation director Robert Moreno, and co-producers Great Guns.
A thoroughly enjoyable break-up fantasy set to the thumping tunes of alternative Israeli rock band, The Goldman Brothers. Starring one of Israel’s biggest actresses, the music video shows her in an epic battle against her animated partner from behind the wheel of a Volvo V40.
LBB caught up with Tal Zagreba to find out how he brought the heart-racing, half-live action, half-animated film to life – and how hellish, 50-degree heat shooting conditions nearly defeated him...
LBB> How did the project come about? It’s an interesting mix of parties – you, The Goldman Brothers and the Volvo team. Who approached whom?
Tal Zagreba> I had the idea in my mind for a long time - about a half-animated breakup video where the vehicle links the two characters - and had been looking for a car brand that would agree to take up the gauntlet. The perfect opportunity came about when I met with Lior Miller, an entrepreneur and the producer of the video, who was working with Volvo on music projects.
Volvo’s management were very open-minded and gave us the green light in our second meeting. Robert Moreno, the animation director, created beautiful sketches that helped illustrate the idea for them.
The final question was the soundtrack. Out of the three options from young bands we liked, ‘Call My Name’ by The Goldman Brothers hooked us all in immediately. Then, once we got the guys at Great Guns on board as co-producers, we were good to go.
LBB> The road-side zoetrope effect is mind-boggling and looks like it would have involved a fair bit of maths! How did you and the team figure all of that out?
TZ> Thank you so much. It was definitely one of the biggest challenges of the shoot. I initially intended to capture the zoetrope animation in-camera but, after some exploration, I realised that printing thousands of to-scale cartoon figures would cost us twice the video’s budget. In the end, we opted for post production. Robert Moreno and his team invested a huge amount of work on this. There are hundreds of different layers in every frame and it consumed a lot of time and hand-made work. I’m very proud of the result.
LBB> And on a practical level, how did you get all the parts for the practical in-camera animation designed and made?
TZ> That was our second biggest challenge: to use various visual languages that will work together in a harmonic way. It was pretty complicated, and required a detail-specific pre-production process. To help us, Robert created an elaborate animatic of the whole video that allowed us to analyse what we needed to shoot in-camera and what we could do in post.
On the shoot day, I arrived to the set with a serious pile of notes and instructions for every scene. Ironically, after all that preparation, the desert confronted us with much tougher conditions than we had anticipated. We ended up totally changing our plans and the conditions left us no choice but to improvise. But that’s filmmaking, I guess!
LBB> It sounds like the Volvo team were really hands-off and let you do your thing – did that add pressure in some ways? Or did it all just help the creative process?
TZ> Volvo were amazing and gave us total creative freedom. When a brand invests that level of trust in you, it adds an extra weight to deliver - which can be stressful - but most of the time it’s just a great catalyst to help you rise above yourself.
It was so rewarding for us to initiate this idea ourselves and to be entrusted by Volvo to create a film that was so true to the original idea and which had such few limitations on creative direction. Honestly, I’m not sure we would have been able to make it any other way.
LBB> You worked closely with animation director Robert Moreno – what did he bring to the process?
TZ> Robert was there from very beginning. He’s a brilliant artist and one of my best friends. We went through every stage of this video together - from storyboarding to final colour-grading. Robert was my right hand and in addition to being the animation director, he also served as the post supervisor, editor, compositor, colourist, character designer and storyboard artist. We have a natural chemistry. We understand each other without words and every time we’re working together the sky is the limit. Our previous project, the “Legal Eyes
” music video for Infected Mushroom and Hadag Nahash, which was nominated for the Young Director Award in Cannes Lions 2017, was a similarly rewarding experience because of this. When you find such a strong creative bond with someone, you have to keep it alive and kicking. Hopefully we will do many more jaw-dropping videos together.
LBB> Was it always in the treatment for the physical flickbook-style animated dude to become a fully blown animated character?
TZ> My initial idea was to make the whole video in the flickbook style animation. After Volvo decided on ‘Call My Name’ as the soundtrack, I listened to the song over and over again while imagining the video in my mind. I connected to the drama in the song and felt that the ex-boyfriend character really needed to be transformed into a full character at some point. I wanted his character to have a soul and be more than a flickbook gimmick - a touching, broken-hearted human being.
LBB> And what sort of references did you have for the animation – the giant woman towards the end of the video made me think of a psychedelic ‘60s album cover but also a little bit of Terry Gilliam?
TZ> Bravo, love your analysis. I don’t want to reveal all my cards – but Terry Gilliam is a god and the ‘60s psychedelic era is my favourite decade, so I’m really flattered that you’ve found their fingerprints on my work. Quick shout out to the talented Anna Strebkov, who designed the specific frame of the giant woman-mountain, by the way.
LBB> The casting is pretty impressive, with Yuval Scharf. What does she bring to the piece?
TZ> Yuval is one of Israel’s top stars, and is now starring in the BBC 1 drama ‘McMafia’. She is a virtuoso actress who gave an amazing performance – without saying even one word during the whole film. Her acting is what fuels the drama in the video – and it’s a dozen times harder to do that when your partner is a cartoon. I feel so fortunate to have Yuval in our video. It just wouldn't have been the same without her.
LBB> I read that the temperatures were so high that you had issues with equipment – how did you overcome that?
TZ> The film was shot over two days, in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Jericho in Nabi Musa, Israel. It looks and feels a lot like Mars and it provided the stretch of land for the vehicle’s course. Filming in the peak of summer, however, brought some challenges. We were, after all, filming in 50-degree heat, in the hottest place in the country. It actually got so hot that the drone overheated. We had to take a forced break until the heat calmed down and the drone could be flown again. What started as a 10-minute break soon became a four-hour crisis because the temperature just refused to go down. We continued shooting after a four-hour delay. These were undoubtedly a very intense few hours! There were some bold improvisations to gap the schedule crisis but somehow, we managed to survive - and get out of there in one piece, thank God! Next time, I’ll probably reconsider before going to shoot in hell!