Even though the Israeli team didn't make it to the World Cup, and it's not clear when they will do so, there are still impressive Israeli achievements on the international stage - and one of them has to do with the World Cup, at least for a while.
You may not know the name Tal Zagreba, but the 33-year-old director can already look back on an impressive career of over a decade in show business, mainly overseas. Yes, he is the first Israeli to have been tapped to shoot an international ad for the Pringles company, which is now being shown all over the world (in three different versions) during the ongoing World Cup.
Zagreba and an international team worked on the ad, which was shot in three variations - one for Europe, one for Asia and one for the Arab world - for some months.
It was shot last summer in Bangkok in cooperation with the Ogilvy Advertising Agency and shot by photographer Andrew Strobridge, who among others has worked with leading fashion brands Vogue and Gucci.
So far, so impressive. But Zagreba's achievements, who started out as a screenwriter, are even more impressive. Before we tell Zagreba's cinderella story, let's talk about the auditions for the Pringles ad, which rattled even the director who in a personal conversation comes across as the most chill person in the world.
Against the clock
"The audition process took months. My agency suggested me as director as soon as the job offer went public, but at least ten other directors applied as well. Every week, when I passed another stage I waited for an answer and then I had to write more content. I think that before the last stage where I finally passed, I had at least 100 pages written."
Did they really want to know everything?
"Exactly. Every page has to describe exactly how it's supposed to look, what the clothes are, nothing is left to the imagination. The storyboard includes every frame. After this gets the green light, the real work starts, which is its own challenge."
I would think that the budget for an ad like this gives you a usual amount of creative freedom
"First of all we had to shoot the ad in a number of versions because it is broadcast in different regions, but we were constantly racing against the clock. Yes, the budgets are incredible and the production had a size that I had never seen before.
"All the time there are comments from the customer and sometimes you have to start over. We also had a tropical storm which kind of ruined some of the shooting days, so we didn't lack challenges. But in the end, the budget is what's less important here. What is important is that we give from ourselves creatively, that we arrive with a vision and of course in the end, that the customer likes the product, but there is a very big focus on creating."
How much pressure did you feel after getting the "Yes"?
"I experience pressure as a feeling. I surf, for example, and when surfing I can choose the place where I want to sit in order to catch a wave that is on a bigger or smaller break and is better to surf, and I'm always looking for the big waves - I even get excited seeing the challenge and walking towards it. So the pressure can be satisfying and creative. So last summer Pringles came. All of a sudden, as far as I am concerned, this is a milestone in my career, a huge event. The World Cup really is something big."
Zagreba (33) started his career as a screenwriter and sailor. "In the evening hours I wrote scripts and during the day I worked at a shipyard after getting a skipper's license, that's how I made my money. Mainly I wrote for the Fringe Theater for performances in Zavta and the Tmu-Na Theater and I really was looking for my place in this space." He finished his army service as a writer in the Machane newspaper, even though he was meant for bigger things and everybody was sure he would get to 8200, but he knew he only wanted to write, just wasn't sure what to write.
"Parallel to writing for the theater, I enrolled in cinema studies at Tel Aviv University but left after a year because the studies were too theoretical and I really wanted to work already," said Zagreba.
So he submitted a script to the New Cinema Fund, answering a call for films under five minutes, and forgot about it. One day he got a call, saying that he won a small but respectable grant of ten thousand shekels. "In truth, I had never directed before and didn't really know what to do there, but they told me the grant would go to somebody else if I didn't use it, so I took it."
With the help of university friends (one of them is the producer of the film Atara Frish, creator of the series Hamefakedet) and no knowledge of directing whatsoever he took the small budget and made Humor, which by using the rest of the budget and some savings, he sent to festivals around the world. Luckily he won first place on the first opportunity at the Festival for Independent Cinema in France, in the category of short films, and later also at a festival in New York.
You didn't even start your career here in Israel and you already are an international star?
"That's not exactly how it is. On the one hand, yes, it's from zero to a hundred. On the other hand, after finding myself at parties next to Ethan Hawke and Richard Geere I returned home and had to try to make a living. It was a hard landing on the ground."
Because nobody waited for you here?
"Not exactly. I had beginner's luck because I arrived in front of everybody all of a sudden, ok, there was a movie. But the decline from Hollywood to here is very hard. On the other side, there also is a kind of opportunity. I told myself that I had to get back on set as soon as possible and clips were on the way. I thought I could direct a clip for an artist because he would have an interest that the work would be of good quality and be done fast, not in a few years."
The gamble on clips worked and he quickly started working with artists like Hadag Nahash, Infected Mushroom and Asaf Burger. Later he also worked with French artists until 2016 when he got signed by the international agency Great Gun, which represents among others the directors of Black Mirror and Game of Thrones and under whose umbrella he already won the Young Director Award at the prestigious Canne Festival in France and later other international prizes, among them a bronze medal in the Advertising Awards Competition of the New York Awards.
He also directed advertisements throughout his career and some of them have gone viral, such as commercials for Samsung, Volvo and McDonald's.
When I try to figure out the secret of his success, he replies that he never worked on two projects at the same time, even when he didn't have a stable income. "Everything I take, I work on it 24/7 and that's for better or for worse probably."
How do you deal with a success that looks meteoric? It's a bit of beginner's luck, like you said, from zero to a hundred - isn't that scary?
"It didn't happen right away, but in a three-or-four-year process actually. I directed Humor at the age of 25 and the signing at the agency was just before the age of 29. So, it's true that it happened at a very young age, but at the time every day was like a year because I 'committed suicide' on a project and then it took a while for it to be published. I think that period was very forging for me and in it, I learned what patience was."
Finishing the month
When I tell him it's a Cinderella story, he doesn't really think so but admits that since signing the contract with the IAEA, he's had more peace of mind and voiced that at the time were wondering how he was going to make ends meet from working as a screenwriter or director of clips changes with some calm.
"It was the first time I actually realized that I had a home to create in because until then I had created out of inspiration and love, but I never knew if it was good, how it would be received, if it had a place outside, how it would resonate and how worthy it was. I created a reflex and it was here that I suddenly realized that for the first time, I had an international home that really believes in my work."
Do you live here or there?
"I've had periods of time overseas, but I basically live in Israel. I'm currently in Jaffa. In ten days, I'm flying out to work on a secret project in London. But by and large, I'm here - my girlfriend is here, and my apartment is here. But I love the spaces that this job allows."
Do you still get to work in Israel or is it too small?
"I love working in Israel and still sometimes do projects here. In terms of creativity, ideas and daring, Israel is on the international map. The only difference is the magnitude of the budgets. In recent years, Israel has become very connected to the world. The world is a global village and I see the work of great directors and crazy works by Israeli directors, and I say to myself, 'We're killing this.'"
Have you had any failures?
"I don't experience this trajectory in a dichotomous way of success and failure, because at the end of the day any project I can break down into moments when I said, 'Wow, how do you solve this?' and in the end, we solved it. In difficult moments, I know that I mustn't stop or enter a phase where I said, 'I have no way to solve it' or be helpless. I have to act.
"When these tectonic plates move, there is always some kind of loophole. Even here at Pringles, we worked against the clock and suddenly a crazy storm started and we had to do something, otherwise, we would lose the advertisement, the advertising, the precious hours. I can't afford to work in a situation where I don't have solutions, because all eyes are on me, and all this budget is on me. So it's a very difficult moment when I say to myself, 'How are we going to get out of this?' and I get out of it."
Someone once told me that success in his eyes is when he can say "no" to projects. Do you feel the same way?
"When I start a project, creative freedom is important to me, 'I got your script and if you want me in this project, I need my creative freedom.' I need to be allowed to do whatever I want, but I've always been like that. I think anyone who feels like he wants to do his things, but is paralyzed out of a need to please a customer or people, is stuck. I don't mind giving up on a project if I feel there's no chemistry between me and the client."
What aspirations do you have that you want to fulfill before 40?
"The trust is that I don't make plans and mostly let life come as a surprise. After a global pandemic hit us, we understood that we need to go with the flow and let things happen. When I worked as a music video director and couldn't quite make a living the way I wanted to, I realized that I was approaching 30 and working on productions, but couldn't produce financial well-being.
"I was already thinking about doing professional retraining and then the film was accepted into Berlin and another win came out of nowhere. And so, like a new liar coming out of nowhere and taking me out of the shipyard, life always has a way to send us a lifeline, so I always prefer to just go wherever it takes me and I'm mostly curious to see what the day will bring."