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Tal Zagreba Is on a Mission to “Reveal Myself to Myself”



The Great Guns director shares the moment he realised art was also therapy, and why he always trusts his imagination’s instinct

Tal Zagreba Is on a Mission to “Reveal Myself to Myself”

Tal Zagreba never considered becoming a director. He went to university to study maths and physics and when that didn’t feel like the right path, he got a skipper licence to sail the Mediterranean. A short script competition caught his eye; he submitted and forgot about it, until a notification that he won changed the course of his professional life. 

The fortuitous win led to him making his first short film, Humor, which incidentally also taught him a lesson about art as therapy, and the way life throws curveballs when you least expect it. That experience wasn’t just about pivoting creatively, but about locating an authentic directorial voice and trusting it enough to shift the essence of the project. 

Since then, Tal’s career has gone from strength to strength. He has won a Gold Young Director Award at Cannes Lions for his second short film, Vow, and he was featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. Signed with Great Guns UK, USA and ASIA, Tal has also been busy making some of the most interesting and culturally relevant spots, like Samsung’s Way Out, that spoke to Gen Z directly in their own visual language. He’s also recently worked on a hilarious spot for Fiverr, and with big names like SK-II, Pringles, and Volvo. 

Today, Tal tells LBB about why he always trusts his imagination, the intricacies of adapting someone else's script, and how his autodidactic approach means he’s always pushing creative boundaries. 

LBB> What was your path to becoming a director? Was this always the plan?

Tal> I had never thought of becoming a director. I studied mathematics and physics at university and dropped off. I started looking for meaning in life, got a skipper licence and started sailing in the Mediterranean. In between, I heard of a short scripts competition and decided to try and submit. After a few months I was notified that I won, so without thinking twice I decided to invest all my savings in making my first short film, Humor. The plot of the film tells the story of a frustrated street artist that tries to entertain the passers-by but is ignored, while his facial expression moves onto people’s faces and conquers the city. 

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the set on the first day of the shoot I got a break-up phone call from my then-girlfriend – suddenly I didn’t feel like making the same film. I decided to change the facial expression from a smile to a scream that captured my true emotions. This moment taught me how cinema could function both as art and as therapy.  

The film was officially selected to the New York Film Festival (NYFF) and screened at the Lincoln Center. It was an emotional catharsis, and for the first time I felt that I knew what I wanted to do in life - I found my meaning.

LBB> As a director, what do you look for in a script? What sets a good one above others? When working with commercial clients, what kind of briefs do you look for? 

Tal> I’m usually looking for a witty insight, a clever concept, or an authentic dramatic piece. I like when things start normal, so the viewer thinks they know what’s about to happen, but then it suddenly escalates into epic, whimsical, surprising places. 

I love capturing powerful cinematic moments, and then distorting them with different techniques like CG, lighting, sound design, choreography or animation.

I’m an autodidact, and therefore very curious, so I love reinventing myself and my directorial approach. I like taking projects from different genres – to get out of my comfort zone and explore my artistic boundaries. That’s my biggest passion in every project: to reveal myself to myself.  

LBB> You’re also a scriptwriter - is there a difference in approach to shooting a script you’ve written yourself versus one written by someone else?

Tal> For me, being a director and a scriptwriter is one package. In all my projects I’m deeply involved with the creative, to the point that my first request with every project is to allow me to bring my own take on the script. I embrace cooperation, and I find the creative process between me and the creative team super important for achieving outstanding results.   

LBB> How do you decide which one is right for you? How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Tal> It’s very simple and depends on one thing: can I imagine it or not. If I can imagine it, I can confidently take the project on because I know how to navigate it and bring my vision to life. However, If I can’t imagine it, I usually turn down the project because it means that nothing inspired me - so apparently it isn’t right for me. 

That’s also why creating treatments is a pretty easy job for me: once I imagine the result – I just need to write down the details. This ability to visualise is my ace card, and what makes me self-confident throughout the whole production that we’re about to deliver a killer ad.  

LBB> What was your most recent project and why did you choose to work on it? 

Tal> My most recent project is a global Fiverr TV commercial called “Team Up” (AKA “Bye Bye Marco”), which will run this summer in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Australia. The spot was co-produced by Gigi Productions and Great Guns, and created by Fiverr’s own creative team. When I read Fiverr’s first script it made me smile, and I thought it would be funny to take it up to eleven. I had this feeling of taking a small office farewell party and shaking it up a bit with massive camera movements and sharp scene transitions. My challenge was to take a simple monologue with a lot of text and make it as epic as possible - so the twist at the end will punch harder and nail it like a pin exploding a balloon.      

LBB> Of all the work you’ve done so far, which one is the most memorable? Why?

Tal> It’s hard to say which is my most memorable piece because I have quite a history with every one of my projects, but If I had to choose one it would be my second short film - “Vows” - a Gold Young Director Award winner at Cannes Lions Festival. It was this film that caught the eye of Great Guns, they loved it and signed me.

“Vows” is based on a screenplay by Tal Miller, and it tells the story of a couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary while the husband plans to announce that he wants a divorce. It was my first time directing someone else’s script, and it taught me how to develop a symbiotic connection between another person’s idea and my own vision. It was a great school for finding the soul in another person’s words, and how to shape together a completely new artistic result. It was amazing to deliver storytelling through audio-visual experience rather than just words, and I’m pleased to say that the end result was picked for NOWNESS and a Vimeo Staff Pick. Since then, taking the viewer on a ride rather than just showing them a scene has become my artistic signature. 

LBB> Your spot for Samsung spoke directly to Gen Z. What kind of ads, in your opinion, does that generation want to see?

Tal> Gen Z was born into a world flooded with visual content on hectic social media platforms. These guys have seen everything and are way too smart for old school marketing. From my point of view, they appreciate only one thing: honesty. In my “Way Out” video for Samsung I tried to be as honest as possible: casting real youngsters with real issues, wearing their real clothes, moving in their natural environment. My only instruction to my DP was to be as physically close as possible, to feel their skin, to reach maximum intimacy, uncover their truth. I hope we achieved that.      

Samsung - Way Out from Tal Zagreba on Vimeo.

LBB> You were chosen for Forbes 30 under 30 and then covid hit soon after. How did this impact your career?”

Tal> It smashed it. I had worked scheduled for almost a year ahead, and then suddenly everything was cancelled. That was frustrating, but I preferred to look on the bright side: all of a sudden, I had plenty of free time – so I could read, surf and watch a gazillion films on my watch list. Almost like a long, never ending, holiday… from hell.    

LBB> Where do you look to for inspiration? 

Tal> I just live my life and sometimes it hits. Most of the time, these are small inspiring moments that capture my attention: pink sunset light poured on puffy clouds like technicolour; robotic people moving down the street like electrons in the veins of a huge electric metropolis; or every one of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films.     

LBB> When it comes to other filmmakers/directors, is there anyone’s career you particularly admire?

Tal> I’m a big fan of François Rousselet, Ian Pons Jewell, and my friend Oscar Hudson. 

LBB> Looking to the future, what's upcoming for you? Any dream projects you’d love to work on?

Tal> I’ve just come back from Bangkok, where I shot an international campaign for Pringles for the upcoming soccer world cup (produced by Great Guns). It was a crazy experience shooting there, right in the middle of the wet season. There was a tropical storm arriving and it got pretty edgy. Luckily, we were able to wrap the shoot on time, just before the whole city was flooded.  

To be honest, I try not to make any big plans because, when I did, covid arrived and showed me who’s boss. So now, basically, I just want to make beautiful projects with beautiful people and enjoy every moment I’m alive. 

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Great Guns London, Tue, 30 Aug 2022 14:54:00 GMT