five-star debut

“In a lot of working class films everyone’s just depressed as fuck” – Scrapper director Charlotte Regan is all about relatabilty and realism
By Barry Pierce | Film+TV | 23 August 2023

Scrapper tells the story of Georgie (Lola Campbell), a twelve-year-old girl from the outskirts of London, who’s been raised by her mother. After her mother dies, however, she is left to fend for herself – stealing bikes to pay for the rent and paying off local lads to pretend to be her uncle on the phone to social services. But when her absent father Jason (Harris Dickinson) turns up out of the blue, she’s forced to confront reality.

Scrapper’s director, Charlotte Regan, was fifteen when she started shooting no-budget music promos for rapper mates in Islington. In 2016, her debut short Standby premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, then went on to win a prize at Sundance, and to be nominated for a BAFTA. Now, at 29, Regan has crafted a stunning debut that premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

We caught up with the director to discuss her journey through filmmaking, the process of making her first feature, and whether she feels she’s part of an exciting new generation of British filmmakers.

Barry Pierce: When did you first get into filmmaking?
Charlotte Regan: I don’t know, I was never really that into films. I made rap videos for my friends that lived local to me, because I wasn’t cool enough to rap and they wouldn’t allow me to be in the videos. A friend gave me my first camera to make his music video and, honestly, I just liked that I was being paid in cash. [laughs]

BP: And you moved from music videos into short films and, now, a feature film. How was that transition for you?
CR: We were going through a trend where videos were just people rapping to the camera and I’d done hundreds and I was getting a bit sick of them. Nobody wanted narrative videos at the time and I was like, “Oh, I wanna tell a story.” That’s when I started to do short films.

“A friend gave me my first camera to make his music video and, honestly, I just liked that I was being paid in cash.”

BP: So where did the idea for Scrapper come from then?
CR: It wasn’t like I had some mad burning desire to tell a particular story or anything. The first draft of Scrapper was a teenage boy and his nan getting away from drug dealers, so it’s very different. It was much more Guy Ritchie-esque. But I’ve always wanted to do working-class stories that are joyful and have humour, because that’s the world I remember and in a lot of working-class films everyone’s just depressed as fuck, they’re not allowed to have any happiness, maybe they’ll look at a sunset or something. I just don’t recognise that world.

BP: Apart from Harris Dickinson, most of the cast of the film was street cast, how did you find that process?
CR: It’s the process I do on all my music videos and short films, so I love it much more than the traditional process. It changes up the vibe on set, like Lola and Alin [Uzun] found everything so fun because it was their first time. Like, you’d change a lens and they were like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool!” It made all of us stand back and think, yeah we’re doing such a sick job.  

BP: So I’m guessing it’s a lot easier to work with street-cast actors rather than trained actors?
CR: Yeah, but, like, Harris is one of the most egoless actors I’ve ever met. And it’s the same with the street cast, they’re not going into things thinking, “How can I make this my scene?” Lola wouldn’t care if she had a bad performance, she’d be like, well some days are like that, and I’d be like yeah, fair enough.

“Harris is one of the most egoless actors I’ve ever met.”

BP: How did Harris become involved in the project?
CR: We’d done a short film years ago and we’d stayed in touch. I didn’t totally write with him in mind, I don’t do that with actors because then if they turn you down you’re heartbroken. But once we saw him for it we knew he was Jason, he took such ownership of the character and I don’t think any other actor would’ve given the amount he gave. He’d also just hang around and make everyone some really bad coffee, like it would still have the grinds in. But he stopped doing that and started Deliverooing Costas instead because the Triangle [of Sadness] cash must’ve come in. [Laughs]

BP: Do you think you’re going to continue making features now or will you stay in the world of music videos and short films?
CR: I don’t know, I don’t think about it too much. No big grand plan, just doing whatever I feel on any given day. But features are what I enjoy and I’m working on more with my producer so hopefully.

BP: Scrapper is coming out at an exciting time for British film because there have been so many great debut features from young filmmakers recently. Do you feel part of a new generation?
CR: For sure. Georgia Oakley, who made Blue Jean, we know each other really well and were talking to each other through the whole process of making our films. And Molly Manning Walking is my best friend and her film How to Have Sex is incredible. It feels like such a cool time for British debuts. Rye Lane, Polite Society, Aftersun is sick, like so confident for a first film. It feels like such a nice time and hopefully it carries on.

Scrapper is released in UK cinemas from 25th August.

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