Scher's imagery premiered on Opinionator in May 2007, a month after the Times made what Scher calls "a crazy offer to make short films of my choosing for the online opinion page." With a passion for puns, his first was "L'eau Life," about people in water. It garnered a good response, and he was asked to make more. "I think the pieces lighten the otherwise inherently cranky nature of the Opinion section by providing a kind of reassurance to the reader that it's still okay to be a member of the species," Scher says. "My films are akin to flowers at a funeral, or maybe a flower in the buttonhole of the undertaker. I get occasional letters thanking me for the relief they supply."
Often, Scher's films are born of a tech or painting idea. His "Spring City" grew out of the observation that images taken with an iPhone can be bent by wiggling the phone while you take them. The film developed out of his appreciation of that technical flaw in the camera.
After working with film stock for dozens of years, Scher now embraces the digital. "It's profound how hard it was and how easy it is now," he says. "It was expensive and slow and sinful how environmentally unsympathetic the chemistry was. The cameras now weigh nothing; film cameras weighted ten pounds or more, so it's possible to always have a camera now. Shooting is now far more spontaneous and less precious." He relishes in the immediacy of digital: "You to see what you're doing while you're doing it. This is a game changer."
Scher's stop-action, quick-cut, and often roughly composed cinematic experiments are further informed by history. He is an admitted film nerd who has seen certain movies so many times that they are part of his DNA. "All of my films are made from the shadows of my predecessors," he says. "And because cinema is as close as we've gotten to time travel, I think about how every film is a window back to the moment it was photographed." His favorite films change as quickly as his cuts: Last week it was Destry Rides Again. This week he's been obsessing over Fassbinder's Chinese Roulette. "But if I had to pick one it's got to be Ballet Mechanique by Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy," he says. "It's the film that taught me that you can make music with moving pictures."
No wonder his Times films are a delightful balance of uplifting music (scored by Shay Lynch) and alluring image. He made the recent "Leaf and Die" because, he says about his interest in nature, "I thought it would be fun to choreograph and score it by animating it, with a dash of Busby. If I'd had the time and the hands I'd have had hundreds of leaves animated under a camera on a big crane swooping around. But then, simple is nice too."
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