Interview: Oscar Nominated Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, Joker
JOKER marks the sixth film ASC Cinematographer Lawrence Sher has worked with director Todd Phillips. Their successful relationship began with THE HANGOVER and, as you will hear in Sarah Mason and Jake Essoe's interview with Sher, has become a critical and valued partnership for both men. In addition to JOKER, Sher and Phillips collaborated on all three of THE HANGOVER films, DUE DATE and WAR DOGS.
A native of New Jersey, Sher moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Wesleyan University in 1992. Diving into movies, Sher started as a gopher on video shoots, worked as an assistant in commercials, working his way up to Director of Photography. His first release as a Cinematographer was in the 2001 indie film, KISSING JESSICA STEIN. He earned critical success with 2004's GARDEN STATE, and begin another successful partnership with Director/Actor, Zach Braff. The pair also worked on Braff's 2014 film, WISH I WAS HERE. Sher made his directorial debut with the 2017 film, FATHER FIGURES. Prior to JOKER, Sher worked on the 2019 film, GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS.
Photo credit (Bebeto Matthews | Bebeto Matthews / The Associated Press)
Location scouting was a critical piece of the preparation process for JOKER. "That key location of where his apartment would be and those stairs are such a big part of establishing the world that you're building and the tone of the movie," explained Sher.
Those stairs (pictured above), at 167th Street in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium, have become a religious pilgrimage for fans. Instagram is flooded with images of people posing in and out of costume on the stairwell.
"We were actually vacillating between a lower tenement style building with a huge courtyard and three buildings in Brooklyn. We kept going back and forth between that look at the Bronx look all the way until we started," recounted Sher. "Todd made a really great decision. He was mesmerized by the idea of going up and down and that analogy to what the character was doing and the journey we take ascending and descending. Also those stairs are arduous. That idea that climbing them was part of his every day life pushed it over the edge."
Although Sher's resume is steeped in comic storytelling, he knows a thing or two about mixing dark and light when it comes to character development. One of the defining features of the Phillips/Sher partnership is characters who venture down the darkside.
"Our philosophy of making movies together hasn't changed. In a lot of ways making JOKER is no different then making THE HANGOVER, " said Sher. "Todd's one of those filmmakers who never chases the joke. He chases the scene, the story, the character and in those confines the joke will come. We set out to make a film as cinematic as it can be whether it's a comedy, drama or action movie. If the scene feels like an action scene, we should it like one."
Phillips total trust in Sher's judgement led to one of the most infamous and hilarious scenes in movie history (think Mr. Chow jumping out of a trunk)--which he details in our full interview. We pressed Sher on the future of JOKER and how it may or may not connect to the DCU. Listen to our full interview and find out what he reveals. Listen below or download on Soundcloud and Apple Podcasts.
Joker Review, Ep 362 of The Harold & Maudecast below.