Jenny Slate Interview: A Marcel the Shell Sequel Won’t Take Years

Many of this year’s Oscar nominees took a long time to make, but “Marcel with the Shell Shoe” may take the cake. The stop-motion spoof about the lovable talking clam voiced by Jenny Slate got its start back in 2010, when Slate and filmmaker Dean Fleisher Camp made a short film about the creature that went viral. The creators turned this overnight celebrity into a plot point for the subsequent film, which they spent years building using their own do-it-yourself method. In the end, it took seven years from idea to implementation.

“Marcel the Shell” follows the whimsical character as he talks about his innocent life with his grandmother and human owner. Amidst his growing fame, Marcel embarks on a quest to find more shells like him. The film’s winning mix of comedy and jokes surprised many audiences when it debuted as an acquisition title at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival; it was later picked up by A24 and became a modest success. All this, in addition to a possible Oscar nomination, contributed to the long gestation period of Marcel’s creators.

“I think if we hadn’t come up with new things, it wouldn’t have lasted that long,” Camp told Slate during the IndieWire Awards Season Spotlight series. “The first year we tried to figure out the production model.” With co-writer Nick Paley, he developed a unique approach built around free-flowing recordings with Slate, “one of the best improvisers in the world.” Camp (who plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film opposite Slate’s animated character) throws prompts to Slate and records the audio, which they edit and turn into the basis of the script. “We went back to this iterative process of Nick and I writing for a few months, then Jenny and I would record for a while, then go back and write again,” he said. “We had room to explore.”

In the process, Slate realized he could riff endlessly on his character. “It seemed like we knew the answer to any question someone might ask him,” he said. “Even if we ask you a question that you don’t know, you can explain why you don’t know. He always seemed alive. We never seemed to put too much pressure on its existence.”

It remains unclear whether Slate and Camp, who share the film’s Oscar nomination with producer Elisabeth Holm, will return to the character for another installment. But if they do, Slate said, it won’t take another seven years to complete.

“If there’s a world where we can do more with this character, I think we’ve averted a lot of things,” he said. “We learned how to make it, keep a library of Marcel’s random riffs that we might fit in different places, all that kind of stuff. Today we also know what we feel is right and wrong. There were a lot of things that we don’t have to relearn.”

The camp agreed. “People assume it took a long time because it’s stop motion,” he said. “I think from a stop motion (project) perspective, ours was shorter than most. But it took me a long time to figure out the technology, the workflow, how to combine these two worlds.”

Slate said he was most pleased with how the character lives in a naturalistic setting despite the obvious fictional context. “It’s completely locked into reality,” he said. “The voice is there, but there is, for example, the realization of the character.”

Watch the full conversation above and check out the rest of the IndieWire Awards Spotlight here.

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