Marcel the shell. Photo: Courtesy of A24
New A24-product film Marcel the shod shell is based on Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate’s beloved stop-motion animated shorts of the same name, which have garnered over 50 million views on YouTube since their debut in 2010, and spawned two New York Times children’s bestseller books. Slate voices Marcel, an adorable, inch-tall seashell who lives a colorful existence with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) and their pet, Alan, while Dean plays himself.
Here, Fleischer Camp takes us through his inspirations.
– Deeper in the movies
Ten years ago I posted the first one Marcel the shell video on YouTube and watched in somewhat bizarre amazement as his popularity grew and grew and Marcel became an internet sensation. I hadn’t planned to do something so appealing, mainly because I didn’t have have a map. Marcel was born (by myself and co-creator Jenny Slate) into a spirit of pleasure and pure self-expression, which is the natural urge to take beauty or pain within and make it exist outside. of ourselves so that those around us can experience it. this too. It’s an attempt to be seen when you feel invisible, to connect when you’re alone. It was at the heart of that initial creative impulse, and I’m proud to say that – although it took seven years of blood, sweat and independent film turmoil – it remains at the heart of my new film, the feature film adaptation of Marcel the shod shell.
I once saw Czech New Wave filmmaker Ivan Passer doing a Q&A after a screening of his wonderful film Intimate lighting. A student raised her hand: “What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?” He looked her straight in the eye and with conscious intensity said, “Be careful what movies you make of – they have a funny way of predicting the future.”
He’s not wrong: I pitched this movie – a movie about divorce, loss and death as an imperative for any new life – about two years before I divorced myself and lost my two Grand parents.
But it’s this connection to my real personal life (and Jenny’s) that has always made the character special, and that’s why I felt committed to achieving a “documentary” level of texture and authenticity. ” that I had never seen in a narrative animated film. before. It wasn’t easy – no one had ever approached a film this way before – and presented enormous creative and technical challenges.
The movies on this list helped us find our way, and the movie wouldn’t be the movie without them! Some served as formal or narrative inspirations. Others have awakened in me the compassion and patience that are the hallmark of all great storytelling, and especially documentaries.
P.S. We’ve got plenty to choose from at the box office this summer, but I’m sure to say you won’t find any other movie as uplifting, honest, and genuinely funny in real life as the life-maybe-funny one like ours. It will rejuvenate you. It will reconnect you to the source. It will move you to tears and beyond, beyond anything else in theaters this summer. Come to me, Minions shit, I fucking dare you.
Nick Park’s ‘Creature Comforts’
The only animated film to even come close to our tonal aspirations in terms of blending documentary material with a more structured narrative is this Oscar-winning debut short from the director and head of Aardman Studios. Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park. In the film, wild stop-motion creatures are animated to real life man on the street style interview audio. The resulting dynamic is groundbreaking and hilarious, but the reason I liked it is because it somehow allows the film to simultaneously function as both a farce and a work of non-fiction. serious about a slice of life.
What would otherwise seem rather cartoonish (like a caged lion complaining about the size of its apartment) is instead grounded in the dry observational aesthetic of a low-budget documentary laced with impossible realism. My goal on marcel was to tell his story with all the dignity and crude gravity of a true documentary portrait as gray gardens or the seven up series, so it was an invaluable tuning fork for us.
“Billy the Kid” by Jennifer Venditti
Jennifer Venditti is a well-known casting director behind a whole host of great “street casting” sets, like those featured in Uncut Gems and Euphoriabut she only made one film: Billy the kid. It’s a funny and deeply compassionate portrait of a teenage girl with behavioral issues whom she met and befriended while launching an entirely different project. I can only assume that she stopped making movies after this one because it turned out to be 1000% perfect and she had nothing left to prove. A true reminder that a documentary portrait is only as powerful as its compassion.
“The Company” of Cynthia Scott’s Strangers
An unsung masterpiece of ’90s hybrid-doc cinema, courtesy of the Canadian Film Board. Comedian John Early introduced me to this film, and he made all the difference. No lie, probably the closest thing I’ve had to a spiritual experience watching a movie.
“David Holzman’s Diary” by Jim McBride
I think hybrid documentary filmmaking is only beginning to mature as an art form, but it’s an early example of the kind of hybrid documentary stuff that still appeals to me. Despite the shabby 16mm look, it’s an incredibly sophisticated film. I consider myself to be someone who knows all the stuff, and I still don’t fully understand how they did parts of this movie. Fake docs, even those made decades later, don’t hold a candle in terms of texture and doc authenticity. Apparently, when it first premiered, people had no idea it wasn’t a “real” documentary until the credits rolled and they saw some credited actors.
‘Home of the Brave’ (Scott Carrier Radio Songs)
It’s not a film but an influence all the same. Scott Carrier is a brilliant radio producer and author you’ve probably heard about on NPR. He has a podcast now called The House of the BraveMarcel’s co-writer Nick Paley and I listened on and off as we wrote or edited the story.
What’s unique about making an animated film like marcel is that we locked out most of the audio before we even started storyboarding. So for a very long time we worked with just audio, and so was inspired by radio shows like Scott’s. The style of the movie and maybe part of my character’s personality owes a lot to Scott and his work, especially his early radio plays which were in a more free-spirited, traveling documentary style. There’s actually a tribute in the movie to a moment of a piece of him, called The neighborhood.
‘Peter and the Farm’ by Tony Stone and ‘Rich Hill’ by Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo
I include them together because they kind of feel like spiritual sisters to me, in a way. They’re both beautifully shot portraits of characters we don’t think will make it, who are haunted by the past, but whose hope carries them through the day.
I was also struck by the ethical issues inherent in these docs, which we explore a bit in marcel. As a documentary filmmaker, how obligated are you to help your subject? Does it compromise your goals as a filmmaker? Will it change the “performance” your subject gives? Many ethical dilemmas like these have informed history and [my character’s] trajectory along it.
“Sherman’s March” by Ross McElwee
Except maybe Blair Witch Project, it was the first movie I saw where the act of making the movie was part of the plot of the movie. A masterclass on how to create the character behind the camera just as present and dimensional as those before it.
“Take off” by Milos Forman
Milos Forman has always been one of my favorite filmmakers, not because of the big Hollywood dramas that defined his career, but for the quiet, goofy satires he cut his teeth (Black stone, The loves of a blonde, firemen’s ball). They’re serious, naive, and outspoken in a way that I find instantly charming, and that goodwill allows them to oscillate effortlessly between pathos and comedy without one replacing the other. They are largely comedic but never in a cynical or hypocritical way. Funny in the way real life is sometimes funny.
Many scenes from To take off i feel like this a story about your parents who you know always kill at a party. I think it’s because Forman is willing to extend his sympathy where lesser artists might have turned to ridicule. Check out this awesome opening sequence from To take offwhom Forman captured while holding a scythe open audition in the West Village. It is both mobile and vulnerable. And the fact that he never feels petty or exploitative is a testament to his humanism and empathy.
Ivan Passer’s ‘Intimate Lighting’
It may be fair to grow up with Hollywood films as the dominant cultural force, but Intimate lighting blew me away when I first saw it. It is a masterpiece of naturalistic comic storytelling. The relationship at the center of the film is everything, and I was hoping to create something of that dynamic between Marcel and me in our film.
‘Daguerreotypes’ by Agnès Varda
i’m a big fan of Agnes Varda (we even considered her for the role of Nana Connie!) but her documentaries in particular hold a special place for me. They have a particular playfulness or buoyancy, which I think is as essential to being a good filmmaker as anything they teach you in film school. Your primary role as a director on set is to stay fun, which is not always easy given the vicissitudes of film production. You always have to ask yourself, “What’s fun, silly, or meaningful, or what can I subvert about this scene/shot/phrase/whatever?”
“Fun” is too broad – maybe engaging or intriguing is the right word. But what I mean is when you lose daylight and the crew is tired and lunch was cold and a drum kit just died in the middle of a take and your producers become nervous – your job is to see through this crazy jumble of logistics and the challenges and discomforts, and maintain contact with what the spectatorsit is live will be fine, fine, fine, fine all the way, in the theater or wherever they watch it, so far from this stressful, uncomfortable set. what will be they or they live at this moment in history?
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is out June 24.