June 9, 2023
A BITESIZE CHAT WITH
Dean Fleischer-Camp is an award-winning filmmaker and bestselling author best known for co-creating the viral sensation Marcel the Shell. With Marcel the Shell with Shoes On now a critically acclaimed feature film, we sat down to chat with him about what the character means and Marcel's feature film debut.
BB: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Tell us a bit about the reactions and the response for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. It has gotten such an amazing reception; Cher has even tweeted about it! I mean, that's a crowning glory. How much better can you get than that?
DFC: *laughs* Big fan.
BB: Tell us about what the reception has been like? I know it's expanding to theaters across North America now and more people are going to get a chance to see it, but tell us about some of the reactions. What has your own response been to that?
DFC: It's been amazing. It's been so fun to talk with people, and it's been sort of surreal to me. I don't know if you've ever worked on something for seven years in kind of a vacuum, but we worked on this film for seven years, and I remember when we premiered it at Telluride [Film Festival]. I started hearing laughter and crying, and it was just so moving and surprising. I was just, like, “oh, yeah, that joke I forgot was funny three and a half years ago, it's really funny and gets a big laugh.” It's just…yeah, it's thrilling. The memes that people have been making are incredible, and I don't know, I'm just grateful for the entire experience.
BB: Something that really struck me was just how much of a philosophical character Marcel is with these meditations on life and death and love. I mean, for you, when you and Jenny [Slate] were developing the character, was that always the impetus to sort of give us this prism of life through this unique character?
DFC: I think the original short that I made was, you know, there wasn't too much thought put into it. We made it in like 48 hours, and Jenny and I wrote it very quickly. She improvised, and I crafted the character very quickly. It was all kind of a rush and just done on a whim because it made us laugh. But I think what we realized once we saw the response, and once we started making a few more shorts, was that this character is so much richer and deeper than he appears, and that there was so much more to explore about him. There was such a rich inner life, and it always feels like a total pleasure to write for this character, to create stories for him. I often find that I'm just as moved by and inspired by him, by his circumstances in life and his approach to life, as anyone.
BB: What inspired the documentary-style because it's such a unique way to take it. It's almost a meta-approach because, of course it was viral before, but it just feels so much more real this way than taking any other narrative approach.
DFC: I have always been into documentaries, and I've worked on documentaries. I've also worked on things that blur the line between documentary and scripted narratives. So, it has always been something I'm exploring. To me, it provides a way for an audience to have an intimate interaction with a character that does away with the artifice of, you know, what you might get from a Pixar movie or a Disney movie that doesn't have that approach. For whatever reason, stripping that away allows people to respond to Marcel like he's a real person. So, that inspired… I mean, the original shorts were sort of, although they're so short, we didn't really explore it… but the original shorts were a documentary format. I have intentionally edited it to feel like a rough cut of a documentary. It cuts them off mid-sentence and things like that. It always felt like part of the magic that those shorts bottled was this great tension that happens when you combine stop-motion, which is the most labor intensive, pre-visualized art form on Earth, with this aesthetic or film grammar that feels unquestionably spontaneous and authentically documentary. And when you combine those two things, I think it's just total magic, so I was really focused on preserving that for the feature.
BB: Why did you explore such dark themes in this movie? Like, Marcel is such an innocent and happy character, but then you have the themes of loss and loneliness. Why did you go into that dark route for such a happy-go-lucky character?
DFC: Well, I think that he's inspiring for that reason. I think it's part of the reason why he resonates with so many people. You can't really have the happiness and the real, you know, nectar of life if you haven't also been through and processed the grief of it. Part of what I was interested in portraying in this movie is that pain and grief and loss are an inherent part of the cycle of life, and that you cannot, literally both in nature but also - at least I've found in my own life - you can't create new growth without death and decay. Those things enrich the soil that growth sprouts from.
BB: Did you always have the plan to take it from a short film to a feature, and what was that process like? And, almost more importantly, what does the future hold for Marcel?
DFC: I don't know what the future holds for Marcel, but I hope it's a lot, you know? I hope that after the film comes out, there are audiences that will want to see… I don't know if it's a sequel or a TV series or more shorts or what… but I would love to continue to explore the character in whatever way is fun and cool and chill for me and Jenny. You know, we created this whole community of characters that are only in the last three minutes of the movie, but I was sort of so sad watching it, like “oh my gosh, we fleshed out all these great characters.” Some of them are some of my favorite comedians…Nathan Fielder, a fellow Canuck…as well as the voice talent. They're so funny and so great, and I hope we get a chance to explore those characters as well. It was always kind of the plan to turn this character into a feature. At the time that I made the shorts, I was an editor for a living, doing, you know, the worst editing gigs, and was interested in segueing into directing. I've always loved movies, so that was kind of always the plan. But after the first one took off, like when something goes viral or is popular on the internet, you can get meetings with all the major studios and do this sorta water-bottle-tour of Los Angeles. But they're not going to trust you to make your weird feature. They just want you to license your character that is beloved to them to make something that’s a more familiar kind of tentpole franchise. Going through that process, it was recognizable right away, like, “okay, I'm really young. They're not going to trust me to do this. We're gonna have to make this film independently, and it might take a long time.” But ultimately, I'm so glad that we had this more patient process, and that we found the right supporters, creatively and financially, that we could, you know, expand Marcel's world in a good way that felt holistic to the character we made.
Make sure to check out Marcel the Shell with Shoes On now in theatres.
Interview conducted on July 14th, 2022 by Nick van Dinther.
Photo Credits: Banner - Chris Pizzello/AP; Photo 1 - A24; Photo 2 - Maria Andreotti