The film industry is notoriously difficult to break into, especially without a connection to open the door. Yet, every few years, a newcomer amazes the industry with their fresh ideas and unique perspective. Recent graduate Max Scherr ’21 hopes to be next.
Scherr was at Harvard as an international student originally from Moscow, Russia, and he focused on visual and environmental studies – now called art, film, and visual studies. He took a job in the media on campus through the CS50 production department on the advice of an advisor, and gained critical experience there. But when it comes to his concentration, he hasn’t gained as much practical experience as he would have hoped.
“I focused on VES,” Scherr said. “But it was mostly a kind of theoretical and background knowledge.”
The lack of practical opportunities in the VES program led Scherr to travel abroad to complete a program in London focused on this work.
“I also worked with the Harvard College Film Festival, which was also an interesting experience,” Scherr said.
As a Harvard graduate, he feels a certain kinship with his former student and director Damien Chazelle ’07. After seeing Chazelle’s hit movies “Whiplash” (2014) and “La La Land” (2016) in high school, Scherr was thrilled to find that he and Chazelle shared a freshman dorm and concentration.
“I started taking VES classes and talking to the teachers who trained him,” Scherr said. “My teacher was also the teacher of one of my favorite filmmakers.”
Chazelle’s work was inspiring – a beacon of light as Scherr blazed the same trail. But some of his most defining experiences came while he was wandering around campus as a lone freshman. One of those early days he came across the Somerville Theater for the first time.
“When I just got here I was an international student, so I felt… quite lost,” he said. “So I was spending a lot of time alone, and I just started thinking about what I could do, and I discovered this cinema.”
Scherr admired the theater and began going there once or twice a week. It was sort of a “place of safety”. Spending nights at the theater, his love for film only deepened and eventually inspired his first professional short film, “Summerville,” about his beloved hideaway. After gaining theater approval in September 2021, Scherr began writing the screenplay.
“People usually write about themselves and your experiences, but I didn’t just want to make a movie about a freshman entering theater, it was just too boring.”
the casting call describes the plot as “a woman returning to her hometown while getting caught in a blizzard. Searching for a place to hide, she finds herself at the Somerville Theater, where much of her childhood took place. The theater comes to life and helps her rediscover these memories.
The five-day shoot was an invaluable experience for Scherr, who cites the talent and commitment of the crew for making the planning work in the middle of a snowstorm in February.
“It was great to see how professionalism pays off on these kinds of projects,” Scherr said. “I wasn’t sure until the last minute that it would actually work and that we would be able to do it in the time we had.”
Scherr’s main advice to young students hoping to pursue film studies is to simply make more films.
“What I’m starting to realize now, after school, is that it doesn’t matter where you graduated from. It doesn’t matter what classes you’ve taken,” he said. “No matter what you’ve done, what you’ve done, what you’ve written, what you’ve achieved, and just having that work that you’ve done that you can attach your name to is extremely important. .”
Without your own work, it is nearly impossible to get a job funded.
“I have a bunch of ideas, to be honest, and what I realize now is that it doesn’t really matter if you have ideas,” Scherr said. “It doesn’t matter who you know, it’s important if you’ve already proven yourself with something and they’re willing to give you money for the next thing.” The ultimate dream is to be able to do what he loves without worrying about finances.
“Summerville” will be entered into film festivals, one of the best ways for young filmmakers to gain exposure. Success at a festival can generate buzz to fund the next film, or even expand a short into a feature, as with Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013.
Ultimately, Scherr wants to be the next great filmmaker and serve as a “link between Russia and the West”, in hopes of fostering a more constructive relationship between the two in the future.
As for what’s next, Scherr will continue to write, direct and work until someone takes a chance and invests in his talents. Returning to his roots near Harvard in Somerville for inspiration has helped Scherr along his creative journey. Resilience is key, and Scherr is undeterred by the difficult path he faces.