Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An interview with Dean Fleischer-Camp, director of Marcel the Shell with Shoes on

Marcel the Shell with Shoes on is about an eccentric “univalve mollusk shell with one eye and pink shoes (Wikipedia)” that walks us through a few aspects of his daily life in the form of “rough cut footage from an in-progress documentary (Wikipedia).”

The film had its official premiere at AFI Fest 2010, where it went on to win Best Animated Short. A few months later it played in competition at Sundance 2011.

You can find the film on the director’s official website here or on Youtube
where it has over 9 million views.

Director Dean Fleischer-Camp and the film’s writer / voice actor (/Dean's girlfriend) Jenny Slate are currently writing a "Marcel" themed children's book called Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me that will be released on November 1, 2011.

You can also find Dean at his Twitter. I also recommend following Jenny at her Twitter account.

1. What were some of your influences on this film, and/or what are some of your
favorite films in general?

Typically my favorite movies are movies that are funny but wouldn't be categorized as "comedies." Jonathan Demme, Aki Kaurismäki, Milos Forman, Jacques Tati, and Roy Andersson are some of my favorites. Hollywood these days is all about shoehorning this movie to be just like that (previously successful) movie, so it means there are a lot less comedies with real intelligence, integrity, heart, etc. The Coen Bros & Paul Thomas Anderson I think still manage to make really funny, meaningful films within the mainstream. I guess their movies aren't really considered hilarious by most people, but they are! e.g. There's a scene in Magnolia where William H. Macy accidentally drives his car really slowly into a 7-11 and I die laughing literally every time I watch it. Of course, other parts of that movie are so heavy intense they will make you crumple. The last time I watched it was in June and I got diarrhea.
Marcel was a little project Jenny & I made quickly and for fun, so dedicating too much serious thought to its INFLUENCES might be a mistake. That said, a few people have told me it *feels* sort of like a Nick Park film and that's an incredibly flattering comparison which I am obviously quick to accept and then bandy about on every blog that asks.


2. How was your experience winning Best Animated Short at AFI and being a part of
this past Sundance film festival?

We had a marvelous time! Festivals are the best: you get to go see your movie in front of a real live audience and also meet all those wonderful filmmakers!

The awards especially were unexpected because we're at such a weird time with web content right now: Are they web videos? Are they serious film? Nobody knows. Fortunately for us, less and less people seem to give a shit. Surprisingly, we were only disqualified from a couple major ones (SXSW, Berlin) because of its success on the Internet. Having done a bunch of festivals now, I feel like it's silly to exclude Internet films from competition. If you're a smart festival programmer, you know that the audience attending a film festival is not the same audience trolling the Internet for popular web videos. Most audiences had not seen our film before and even those that had were excited to see it again, this time in a theater with a big, happy audience. Some very sweet programmers at Sundance even made us little miniature Sundance credentials for Marcel!
The only real disappointment is that we won I think two Academy-qualifying awards (AFI FEST & NYICFF), meaning we would be eligible for Oscar competition if not for our "screened previously on the Internet" status. They need to change that policy ASAP. At this point it's a meaningless gate-keeper & most of the best young filmmakers in the world are making movies to put on the internet so SMARTEN UP, Academy!

3. Why did you present Marcel in this fake documentary style?
I love experimenting with formats, especially with comedy. It's my favorite thing to do! There are million ways to approach showcasing a character, but people are constantly reusing the same stale formats over and over and over again. It drives me crazy & it's so boring. For Marcel, the "rough cut of a documentary" seemed like a fresh and appropriate way to capture his personality, especially because he kind of likes to brag.
I make a lot of quick little things for friends' live shows in the area and I'm usually doing it in a couple of days without many resources, so the only interesting thing to do is experiment with format. For example, I just finished something called Self-Esteem: Jenny Slate. It's just footage of Jenny going about her day while three unnamed people (in a voice over) praise her every move. I guess the conceit is that it's a video Jenny might've hired some company to make to help her with her self-esteem, and these voices are just saying exactly what Jenny wishes strangers would say about her if they saw her across the room. Does that make sense? We showed it at an art gallery & everybody died laughing; We showed it at a comedy show & it bombed so hard. Who's to say?

4. Did you consider ever presenting the character in a different way? What were
other incarnations of Marcel like? Were there ever any other characters?

There were different incarnations in the sense that I created a several different mockups of character design before I settled on the one we used. The others were so ugly. I love that Marcel is kind of handsome in his own way.

5. The very first joke Jenny makes when she calls herself “Marshell” sounds so
incredibly organic. Did she improvise any of the jokes/dialogue? How did you and
Jenny go about writing this?
She did a lot of improv! Jenny is a tiny brilliant powerhouse & I feel constantly lucky to have her as a collaborator. Maybe it was 50-50, written jokes to adlibbed things? But she's also just a great actress so at this point I can't tell you what was spontaneous and what just sounds like it. I do think it's crucial for a fake doc-type-thing to sound flawlessly natural, otherwise they come off really contrived, borderline annoying.

As far as writing process, I don't really remember, I think we spent a day or two jotting down lines & ideas whenever they came to us, and then we recorded them & after we got all the written stuff we just sat there and (mostly jenny) improvised for a while & when we stumbled on something we really liked we would usually have to go back and re-do it because we were both laughing.

6. Was this short just silly fun for you and Jenny, or are there deeper thematic
elements that you’re presently subtly, perhaps about isolation?
For sure there are some darker components to Marcel's personality, just like anybody. But yes, Jenny & I both felt cramped and unhappy with our work situations at the time. We are people who create somewhat constantly, it's what we do, and if something is restricting our creativity, I guess it will just squirt out of somewhere unexpected(?) (sick) so,yes, Jenny had just finished her first season at SNL & I was editing a TV show where the director had no idea what he was doing & I was picking up his slack so I think we both felt very small and lonely and unfulfilled and like we weren’t getting our due credit. Also, Jenny actually is really small. I'm not good at estimating but I would guess that she's like 4'9" or 4'8" or somewhere like that and like, I'm not sure. Maybe 70 lbs? 75 lbs. Something like that. She is small. She's like a little bug or something like a bug's shoe or shoes a bug grew out of when it got older. Teeny tiny.

7. What can you tell me about your relationship with Jenny? I’ve read that you’re
dating; did this come before/during/after working on Marcel? How did this affect
the production of Marcel?

We're in love! We started dating almost four years ago. We'd known each other in a professional capacity for a year before that, so we're pretty capable of reverting back into those roles when we're working on a project together. It didn't really affect production.

8. Later this year you’re releasing a children’s book version of Marcel written by
Jenny. How involved are you with this story? What’s it going to be about?

We wrote it together and I am illustrating it with an amazing oil painter named Amy Lind and we are calling it Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me and it's a day-in-the-life type of story and it will be out Nov. 1 on Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.
Jenny & I have always had an obsession with children's literature and we are always reading a lot of kid’s books so this was such an exciting project for us! I always knew we would get into children's publishing; I never thought we could do it before 50. The book expands a bit on Marcel's world and there are all of these BEAUTIFUL illustrations of him going about his day! I cant wait to see it on a shelf!

9. What are some of your favorite children's books? If you could adapt any children's book into a movie (let's think complete fantasy, don't worry about plausibility), what would it be?
Some of my favorites are My Father's Dragon, which is a really great, funny trilogy about a boy named Elmer Elevator. Is there a better name than that? I also love the George & Martha series by James Marshall. I just bought Jenny a super thick George & Martha compilation because she was going away for a month. Also, of course, Roald Dahl's books are so great and I love how dark a lot of them are, he doesn't pander to "kids." Same thing with Shel Silverstein. I also love and have read a huge chunk of the John Bellairs mystery books (there's like 40)-- I would love love love to adapt one of his books. I would LOVE to adapt The Maxx comic book series into a feature film that is part stop-motion animation, part live-action. Also Miguel Ferrer, who I'm a fan of, would be so perfect to play Mr. Gone. You should search how similar they look, it's uncanny. He would knock it out of the park!

10. Will you continue this story further in any forms, like a feature or more shorts?

We are working on making a TV show!

11. What is your future as a filmmaker beyond Marcel? Are you looking at making
any other films?
Definitely! A million other films! I have so much to do! Jenny and I just finished writing a feature called Beach Crimes. Now we're beginning another one. I'll let you know how it goes!

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