Director Dean Fleischer Camp had a bit of a talent problem while working on the charming new A24 children’s film Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, complicated by his personal connection to one of the actors: While his actual dog Arthur can be heard in the film, on screen he’s played by a different pup.
As he explains, “We did a lot of the audio first before we shot the movie, so he was always the dog because I was recording and he would be nearby and I needed the sound of him eating a treat or whatever. But then when we got closer to filming, I was like, ‘Oh, we should use real Arthur,’ and the trainer had a couple of days with him and they were just like, ‘I don’t think he’s movie star material.'”
How did Camp break the recasting news to the real Arthur? “With lots of Milkbones,” he says with a laugh.
The character Marcel the Shell first came to life as a collaboration between Camp and Jenny Slate, who created the tiny voice of the clever young shell for animated shorts that went viral on YouTube beginning in 2010. In his feature film debut, Marcel tells his story to an amateur filmmaker named Dean (played by Camp), who then helps him try to find Marcel’s missing family. Key to their quest ends up being Marcel’s grandmother Connie’s (Isabella Rossellini) favorite TV personality, 60 Minutes journalist Leslie Stahl, who plays herself in the film.
As the director and reluctant co-star reveals to Consequence, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On has been in the works for a long time, in part due to its unusual production process. In the below interview, transcribed and edited for clarity, he explains why recording the dialogue during the writing process worked for their purposes, what it was like working with Stahl and the 60 Minutes team, and why he ended up playing such a large role in the film — despite his belief that “I just am not an actor at all.”
To start off, the idea for taking Marcel and making it a feature was a part of the conversation a long time ago. When did you really start assembling the pieces of the film?
We started pitching it and looking for financing seven years ago. So it’s been a long journey. But we made this movie in a very kind of unique, special way. And then combining that with stop motion and how long animation takes… it took the right amount of time, but it certainly was a long journey.