Zack Grant

Shake With Me

Zack Grant


1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?

In the fall 2016, I was on the agency side producing a series of interactive social films for the mouse-trap brand, Tomcat. The concept was a "cabin in the woods" slasher featuring a cast of mouse puppets who all met violent and elaborate deaths. The agency ended up producing the job in-house for next to no money and by default I co-directed the project. The writing was spectacularly funny and the final result — albeit incredibly stupid — ended up winning a Gold Lion at Cannes.

2) How did you get into directing?

I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spent many hours in the television studio control room directing multi-camera work like student-led sitcoms or studio interviews with notable alumni. Multi-cam studio directing is a very technical craft, and while I also created short docs and journalistic type pieces, I didn’t really have much of a voice as a director. After school I fell into advertising as a junior agency producer, which became my crash course in film craft. Intellectually, I always knew I wanted to transition to directing. But emotionally, I struggled to articulate why I wanted to direct. My latest film, Shake With Me, was the first project where I truly understood that directing could be this incredibly powerful vehicle to express myself.

3) What is your most recent project?

My most recent project, and the project behind my NDS submission, is Shake With Me; a documentary short about my mother, Debra Magid, who is an artist living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). What started in 2016 as an exploration of her growth as an artist in the face of PD transformed into a larger story of art, health, family, and the will to cope. The film has been making its way through the festival circuit and will continue to do so throughout the rest of 2019. We’ve also partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. My hope is to not only spread my mom’s story, but also use the film as a tool for fundraising and awareness in the PD community.

4) What is the best part of being a director?

I love putting work out into the world and getting feedback. As a director you spend so much time in your own head obsessing about the most minor of details. Releasing a film or ad out into the world frees you from that obsession, and I’m routinely — and pleasantly — surprised by how audiences react to my work.

5) What is the worst part of being a director?

Finding the right balance of collaboration and control. The producer side of my brain often makes it difficult to step back and let my collaborators do their jobs. But I’m learning to trust the process and allow my creative partners to influence and shape the final product.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?

I still straddle the line between director and producer and firmly believe that my experience in both roles makes me a better creative person. While my first major directorial undertaking is a documentary, I plan to continue to hone my craft across a variety of mediums and genres, both in independent film and advertising. My next directorial project is another personal film so I think I’m currently drawn to stories where I can put myself and my emotions on display.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?

There are quite a few amazing, talented women in my life who have all directly or indirectly influenced my career. My mother, Debra and my sister, Elizabeth and the two strongest people I know and will both forever be my barometer for what it means to persevere in the face of adversity. Judy Wolff and Lisa Mehling, among others, are my advertising production gurus and have taught me through their experience that art, commerce and empathy can all coexist.

8) Who is your favorite director and why?

Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job was the film that started my love of documentary and I’ve always admired the investigative rigor of doc filmmakers like Alex Gibney, Liz Garbus and Lauren Greenfield. On the narrative side, I’m a sucker for PT Anderson and the depth of his characters, visual style and storytelling.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?

This is a hard question to pick just one so I’ll go with my most recently watched favorites: Cold War is beautiful on every level. High Maintenance is my guilty pleasure and yet so spot on to the many characters who make up NYC. The latest work for Vimeo — from the creative minds at FIG — is the perfect balance of funny and visually dynamic, and definitely my favorite ad campaign of the year so far.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)

I was born in NYC and then moved up to a small town in southern Westchester — “upstate” according to “true” New Yorkers — when I was 3. Outside of my time in Ann Arbor I’ve lived in New York my entire life. My first job was delivering pizza, and until I started working in advertising I was terrified of talking on the phone.


Contact Zack Grant via email
Shake With Me