Dean Fleischer Camp knows the secret to a good movie isn't the cinematic bells and whistles; it's the story. The director, writer and editor made his feature debut with 2016's Fraud, in which he used low-fi YouTube clips to create a meta-fiction documentary about a family on a desperate crime spree. But he's best known for creating Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, the surprise viral sensation who is now the star of his very own movie.
In adapting Marcel the Shell for the big screen, Fleischer Camp says, "I realized, 'This has to be a film where we look near, instead of far, for this story.' Because he's already tiny! Even if it all takes place in a single house, that is like a country to him. There's no reason to try to make it a rollercoaster ride."
And so Fleischer Camp and his collaborators, co-writer and co-editor Nick Paley and co-creator and star Jenny Slate, wrote on a sticky note as a reminder: What will suffice? "Every time you think of a way to do a scene, revise that seven times and be like, 'Does it need to be that big? Does it need to be a motorcycle chase? Could it just be a foot chase? Does it need to be a foot chase? Could it be even smaller? How small can you make things and still have them basically achieve the storytelling end?'"
MORE: Inside 'Marcel the Shell With Shoes On's 10-Year Journey to the Big Screen (Exclusive)
The love that the movie has received, meanwhile, remains oversized, including a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 95th Oscars. "I am deeply flattered and beside myself, and holy s**t, just a pile on the floor," said the director. "This film is all about family and community, and this honor belongs most of all to the one that helped me make this film."
Below, Fleischer Camp shares with A.frame the five movies that have influenced him as a filmmaker and, in turn, inspired Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.
This article was originally published on June 23, 2022.
Directed by: Delbert Mann | Written by: Paddy Chayefsky
I've always loved Marty because it's so deceptively simple. The script is especially impressive when you consider what else Paddy Chayefsky was capable of writing. He also wrote Network and The Hospital and these incredibly complex films that are packed dense with the most amazing, most beautifully articulated monologues. And the fact that he was able to also write Marty, which is so deceptively simple, small scale, and really vulnerable in terms of its expression, and how the characters speak.
Part of what I've always loved about it, maybe even before I started just studying films, is how the decision that Marty makes at the end is a repudiation of toxic masculinity, kind of. He rejects both his friends, who are like, "Don't be with that girl. She's too ugly." Eventually he's like, "Hey, go eff yourself. I really like her," and makes that decision for himself. But he is also rejecting his family and his mom who don't want him to get married. So, he rejects both his family pressure and his friend group and makes a decision for himself in a really just beautiful, simple way.
Directed and written by by: Aki Kaurismäki
If you know Aki Kaurismäki's work, it's brutally dry, but very, very funny, and he often makes movies about isolated, lone wolf people and their interactions with community. This is probably his most optimistic film, but what I love about it — and him and his films in general — is that I think he's a secret romantic. In interviews, he just constantly shits on himself and says like, "No, I'm a terrible filmmaker and I'm a pessimist." He's so cynical, but I think he is somebody who is secretly a romantic, but it's couched in all this Finnish, it's-dark-half-the-year kind of cynicism. And this film is just a beautiful story about a community unexpectedly coming together to help a child find his family.
Directed by: Jerry Zucker | Written by: Bruce Joel Rubin
Ghost rules. I don't know that it would've been in my top five if I hadn't watched it again and again during the pandemic. I always loved it as a kid, but I was like, "This movie holds up so hard and is so good and it lands all of its emotional beats." As it relates to my own directing practice, I hope one day I can make a movie that is as funny, and thrilling, and emotional as Ghost. Because Whoopi Goldberg's performance is hilarious, and her and Patrick Swayze are such a funny, unlikely comedic duo. And then, it also hits you with those goosebumps. I shed a few tears watching it recently.
Directed by: Miloš Forman | Written by: Milos Forman, John Guare, Jean-Claude Carrière and John Klein
I've always been a fan of Miloš Forman and I love his really early Czech New Wave movies. I think the thing that unites all these movies is that they're secretly directed by humanists, real humanists, whose movies are funny in the way that life is funny. They're never trying to sell out a character's reality for a punchline. It's all things that could have happened, and Taking Off is hilarious.
It's Forman's first movie in the United States after escaping communist persecution in his home country, and it is remarkable for the ways that it tries to empathize with — at the time — today's youth. It depicts that in a way that's sympathetic to both the parents who are a little conservative and their daughter, who is trying to differentiate from them, as teenagers do, in clumsy ways. It's emotional and also beautiful and hilarious.
Directed by: Cynthia Scott | Written by: Gloria Demers, Cynthia Scott, David Wilson, Sally Bochner
Hardly anyone that I talk to knows about The Company of Strangers. It is such an incredible film and a huge influence on Marcel. It won a bunch of awards when it came out, and it's a really beautiful story. It's so dead simple. It's about this group of older women who are on a tour bus, and it breaks down in the middle of the woods in the Canadian forest outback, and they find a cottage. And it's just about them getting to know each other and having to make do for a few days while they figure out a rescue plan.
It is remarkable for how it builds the movie around the non-professional actors that it cast in the roles. I don't think any of them had done any acting before. The director cast them based on their real personalities, and then, built the characters around them. That hybrid documentary stuff is only now maturing as an art form or becoming popular, and this is just an early and totally masterful version of how to do that. My friend John Early, the comedian, recommended it to me. He grew up with it and loves it. And I put off watching it forever because the cover just seemed really '90s, and I don't know. I just didn't know what this movie could possibly hold for me. And it's totally changed how I think about movies and how I want to make them.