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From Tampa roots to Hollywood: Ali Scher debuts her feature film, 'Popular Theory'

A woman with a pad in her hand stands next to a young girl. They are exchanging words.
Ali Scher
Popular Theory
Ali Scher gives notes to actress Sophia Reid-Gantzert, who plays Erwin in the film, "Popular Theory," which opens Friday, Feb. 9.

Ali Scher's feature film, "Popular Theory," debuts this Friday. Scher said she used her personal experiences growing up in Tampa to create the high school environment in the movie.

Tampa native Ali Scher took her hometown pride to Hollywood by writing, directing, and producing a feature film called “Popular Theory."

The film is about a young girl who flips the high school hierarchy on its head after creating a chemical that makes her classmates popular.

Scher, who was born and raised in the Davis Islands neighborhood, said she had been trying to make the film for over 11 years.

After finding the right production company, crew, and cast, she was able to officially start production in the summer of 2022.

Almost two years later, her film will be released this Friday.

Scher said it is her first feature to premiere in movie theaters.

“It's kind of like a bucket list thing to have the movie be released in theaters,” Scher said. “I've had a film (2016’s “Jessica Darling’s It List”) be released on streaming before and there's definitely a lot less fanfare around it.”

A woman leans down to look at a camera monitor that is next to a man.
Ali Scher
Popular Theory
Scher takes a look into the monitor, watching the playback from a shot.

Scher said what she valued most about the experience was the ability to make a film about something as crucial as the social bond between people.

“I wanted to make a movie about connection, because after food and water, it’s the thing that humans thrive on the most,” Scher said. “You do need somebody, somebody who gets you, and this is a really good story to tell that theme.”

Scher said she relates to the main character's high school experience and used those personal experiences growing up in Tampa to create the high school environment where the movie is set.

“A lot of my movies tend to be school movies because the most emotional time in your life is kind of those formative years,” Scher said. “Movies are all about emotion and connecting to people. I think a lot of that is probably always going to be influenced by Tampa.”

Scher added that people from her hometown were, at times, the backbone of her film.

Donors from Tampa helped fund it, which was vital for the movie to go from start to finish.

And now that “Popular Theory” is ready to hit the big screen, Scher is looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces who will join her in the theater to watch.

“Lots of people that I knew growing up with are going to come see it. It's a movie about a science kid. My sixth grade science teacher has been following along every step on Facebook, and she's really excited to come see it,” Scher said.

“One of my childhood closest friends is now a science teacher, and she's like, “I'm going to make all my kids see it.’”

Scher will be in attendance at the AMC Veterans 24 at the hometown premiere of “Popular Theory” on Friday.

A woman stands with her mouth open to speak and headphones on.
Ali Scher
Popular Theory
Scher directed the movie in Atlanta in 23 days.

Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.