Life through the Lens – Wellesley Filmmaker Goes to Bat for the Game of Baseball
Betsy Lawson writer
Eric Scharmer photographer
The first image the world saw the morning of Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral was through the lens of Eric Scharmer of Wellesley. As a seasoned freelance camera operator, Scharmer doesn’t always know from one day to the next what he’ll be hired to shoot, but after more than 16 years in the field he’s been witness to historic events, visited exotic places, and captured images that bring heartfelt stories to screens large and small. It’s glamorous work, he admits—except when it isn’t.
For Kennedy’s funeral, Scharmer set up his equipment outdoors at 6 a.m. and shot a few minutes of pool feed that was distributed to news organizations around the world. The next eight hours he spent standing in the rain waiting for security to allow him to leave. Indeed, much of what a good director of photography (“DP” is his preferred title) does, Scharmer says, is to be alert to capture those few moments of action that embody the essence of the subject, illustrate a point, or just make for great viewing. It’s not uncommon for all but a few minutes of a whole day’s shoot to wind up on the proverbial cutting room floor.
Besides mastering the mechanics of the camera and understanding the play of light, a good DP needs to be able to actively observe–
without interrupting–the natural rhythm of the scene. For that kind of patience, it sure helps to love your subject, Scharmer says, and he’s made a point to focus his camera on his passions: from pirates to sharks to extreme skiing, but nothing has captured his attention more than the game of baseball. After all, he says, “baseball is life.”
In 1988, a young Scharmer spent the first of many summers on Cape Cod working as a diver on the exploration and recovery of the pirate ship Whydah that sank off the coast of Wellfleet in 1717. This experience opened the door to his career as an outdoor/adventure photographer. He began working as an assistant cameraman on other underwater-related projects for the Discovery Channel, many of which were part of Discovery’s popular Shark Weekseries.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Scharmer says of filming, “because if you have a bad day, it’s all right there in the dailies.” (Dailies are raw, unedited footage.) Unlike many professions where you can go back and fix mistakes, you can’t simply re-cue a rainbow over a ballpark during the game’s last inning because you had the lighting wrong.
Tall and lean in jeans and bare feet in his home office, it’s easy to imagine Scharmer two decades earlier spending his winters in Vail, Colorado, skiing on the Pro Mogul Tour and his summers diving and filming. He soon was able to combine these skills, producing and shooting a number of ski-related films. These included two trips above the Arctic Circle and numerous excursions around the world. In 2002, he was inducted as a National Member of The Explorers Club for his contributions to underwater archaeological and arctic exploration.
Scharmer moved to Boston in the mid-1990s and became a regular behind the scenes at New England Sports Network (NESN). He shot pre- and post-game interviews of Red Sox and Bruins games as well as adventure shows like Charlie Moore Outdoors and has three Emmys to his name. As a member of the press, he had a key to Fenway Park and has vivid memories of Roger Clemens’s last season with the team in 1996 and Ted Williams attending the All Star Game there in 1999.
In 2002, Scharmer and long-time Vail friend Anthony Keel founded Eye Candy Cinema, a Waltham-based production company that specializes in outdoor-oriented film and television as well as institutional projects. It’s baseball, however, that’s very much at the company’s core. Its first major project was contributing principal photography to Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie that documented the 2003 season and the team’s relationship with its fans. Scharmer made connections that lead him first to summer baseball on Cape Cod and, more recently, to Alaska.
Touching the Game
In 2001, Hollywood released the romantic comedy Summer Catch starring Freddy Prinze Jr. as a local boy playing Cape baseball and Jessica Biel as the rich girl on vacation. The movie was a critical flop, but its portrayal of the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) raised the ire of many Cape residents who volunteer their time, money, and homes in its support. They wanted to tell their own story.
Scharmer, together with three partners, took up the challenge of filming players, coaches, and host families for the upcoming 2003 season. Touching the Game: The Story of the Cape Cod Baseball Leaguewas born.
With its tradition of wooden bats, free admission, and family-friendly atmosphere of no alcohol, CCBL games have been a quintessential summer experience since 1885. There are ten CCBL teams in all: Bourne Braves, Brewster Whitecaps, Chatham Anglers, Cotuit Kettleers, Falmouth Commodores, Harwich Mariners, Hyannis Mets, Orleans Firebirds, Wareham Gatemen, and Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
The players, most of whom are stars of their college teams, live with volunteer host families and work part-time jobs scheduled around practices and games. They participate in parades and run baseball clinics for kids. All become, in essence, local celebrities; some go on to become Major League Baseball stars. CCBL alumni Jeff Bagwell, Nomar Garciaparra, Todd Helton, Carlos Pena, Frank Thomas, and Jason Varitek are just some of the big names who are featured in the film.
Most years, the Red Sox roster is bursting with CCBL alumni. The 2009 line-up included Daniel Bard (Wareham, 2005), Aaron Bates (Brewster, 2005), Jason Bay (Chatham, 1999), Jacoby Ellsbury (Falmouth, 2004), pitching coach John Farrell (Hyannis, 1982), Mark Kotsay (Bourne, 1994), Javier Lopez (Falmouth, 1997), Mike Lowell (Chatham, 1994), Justin Masterson (Wareham, 2005), Jason Varitek (Hyannis, 1991, 1993), and Kevin Youkilis (Bourne, 2000).
The two-DVD set includes a tour of the Barnstable Bat Company where many of the league’s regulation wooden bats are handcrafted, as well as other behind-the-scenes features. It was named “2004 Best of New England” at the Northern Lights Film Festival and “Best of Cape Cod” at the Woods Hole Film Festival in 2005. It’s been featured as part of WGBH’s fundraising efforts that, in turn, has helped fuel online sales to recoup the money invested in the project.
As to what the future holds, Scharmer says he may return to his own baseball roots as a pitcher in Little League. It may take the form of a documentary that culminates at the Little League World Series played each summer in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Or, closer to home, it may be tee-ball here in Wellesley if any one of his three daughters, Janet, six; Celia, four; or Eliza, one, expresses more than a passing interest in the game.
Until then, Scharmer and his wife, Isabel, will continue to enjoy walking their eldest daughter the few blocks to the local Hardy Elementary School and introducing the whole gang to snow sports. “They’ve got to ride two planks before they can get on the tray,” Scharmer says. Translation: first skis, then snowboard.
And he’ll continue to market his baseball DVDs to a wider audience. One of the more funky ideas came to him sitting in traffic as a car sporting a company logo inched by on the way home from the Cape. He’s since had his SUV “wrapped” in promotional imagery of Touching the Game.
Don’t expect Scharmer to be hawking the DVDs from a Linden Street parking lot any time soon. He is, however, hoping local residents who spot his car zipping around town will remember the Web site and be intrigued enough to take a look: www.touchingthegame.com.
Baseball Fun in the Midnight Sun
Just 160 miles south of the Arctic, the Fairbanks Goldpanners take full advantage of the extended daylight and host the annual “Midnight Sun Baseball Classic” held on the summer solstice. Beginning about 10:30 p.m. and lasting into the wee morning hours, it has never once relied on artificial lighting. Scharmer and his crew filmed the 100th anniversary of the “high noon at midnight” classic in 2006. They also filmed moose in close proximity to the parks.
© 2010 Elm Bank Media