On the Scene: ‘Marcel the Shell” Screening

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” the feature reprisal of the viral internet shorts of the same name, has small shoes to fill. 

Jenny Slate voices the diminutive, one eyed, chatterbox shell in both the shorts from more than a decade ago and the new film. Slate, along with writer/producer Elisabeth Holm, introduced the film at New Design High School as part of the Rooftop Films series. The Brooklyn-based band Shiffley opened.

Slate and Holm detailed the 12 year journey little Marcel took from YouTube sensation to A24 indie film star. “When we first made the short we just made it to make it. We didn’t really think about the future very much, except hopefully to live into it and not be dead,” Slate quipped.

Slate said she and the Marcel team garnered interest in potential spin-off projects, including a TV show that would pair the shell with a “tall, male, comedian actor.” But those projects never came to fruition. “It didn’t seem like we would be able to keep him as himself,” she said.

They were able to get the movie greenlit, while keeping the original vision and director (Dean Fleischer-Camp). “It takes a village as it often does with an independent film,” said Holm. “It was a beautiful, many-year, many-layers collaboration.”

Like Marcel, the script started out small and without clear direction: just a master beat sheet yet to be fleshed out. “We improvised off of that document initially. Dean [Fleischer-Camp] and [writer] Nick [Paley] and Liz [Holm] would take that audio and pull it and synthesize it into a story that made sense,” said Slate. Then, they would come back to Slate with story notes. “‘Well actually that makes sense, but there’s a hole in the plot.’ Then they would write scenes. Then we would improvise off that. And then go to that audio again. We had many, many rounds of that process,” said Slate.

Despite Marcel’s size and being-a-mollusk-exoskeleton disposition, Slate thinks his human audience can connect with the film, especially given the morass of the pandemic. “He goes through some major separation from people he wants to be with and of course we’ve all felt that way for the last few years,” she said.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” hit theaters June 24.

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