‘Scrapper’ Filmmaker Charlotte Regan on Making Indie Gem (Interview) – IndieWire

‘Scrapper’ Filmmaker Charlotte Regan on Making Indie Gem (Interview) – IndieWire
‘Scrapper’ Filmmaker Charlotte Regan on Making Indie Gem (Interview) – IndieWire

It’s fitting that British filmmaker Charlotte Regan’s first feature — the charming Sundance winner “Scrapper” — follows a precocious 12-year-old who is startlingly adept at taking care of herself, because Regan’s got a bit of that in her, too. The London native’s childhood wasn’t exactly like that of “Scrapper” lead Georgie (played by newcomer Lola Campbell), who fends for herself after the passing of her mother, a dreamy if fragile existence punctuated by the arrival of her immature dad Jason (Harris Dickinson), but there was certainly a bit of Georgie’s spirit in those early years.

Consider Regan’s early cinema-going memories. During a recent interview with IndieWire, Regan was asked about her experiences seeing films as a kid. What did she remember? “I was too young for sure, but my nan snuck me into ‘Lord of the Rings,’ because the cinema we went to, you could sneak in through the exit and not pay,” she said. “My nan was terrible, not paying for meals, not paying for cinema, because we didn’t have money, not just because she was doing it for a joy.”

"You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah"

Austin Butler for YSL

And while the experience stuck with Regan — after all, she can still picture it, all these years later — it didn’t light an instant fire in her. “It was pretty dark and I think I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t like, let’s go home and buy VHSes, get a Super 8 camera, or whatever,” the filmmaker said. “None of my family had done art or were in that world, so I don’t think I even knew it was a career option. You just see it as something that is for other people.”

Regan eventually gravitated toward music videos and started making her own for local rappers when she was just 15, followed by more than a dozen short films. Asked when she finally thought that feature filmmaking was a possibility for her, she turned to a familiar aid: lists.

“I’m quite obsessive with lists of what I want to learn before I do something else, so that I don’t mess up, and I always wanted to do at least eight short films before a feature and I stuck to that number,” Regan said. “Then there was a niche of things within that: I wanted to do a one-shot short film, I wanted to do one with just one character and no dialogue. It’s just my silly way of feeling like then I could have coped with anything that came up in the feature.” (Regan also credited those who “constantly” pushed her into feature filmmaking, including “Scrapper” producers like BBC Film boss Eva Yates and Film4 executive Farhana Bhula.)

Finally set on directing a feature, Regan initially cooked up a very different version of what would become “Scrapper,” a “Guy Ritchie-esque” film about “a 16-year-old and his nan who have to make money to pay back a local drug dealer that they’re in debt with.”

But as Regan’s own world started to change — it was the early days of the COVID pandemic, she lost both her dad and her beloved nan — so did “Scrapper.” Those events made Regan “think about grief, and I started looking into how kids cope with grief, just because I found I was consuming all these adult books about grief and I was like, oh, it’s just too logical, I don’t want to go through the eight stages. But then when I found stuff about kids’ psychology, that interested me more.”

On the set of “Scrapper”Christopher Harris

Regan was hung up on a concept she’d heard about pre-“Scrapper,” one that sounds a bit like a Stephen King method, with a twist: “Put your script in a drawer and then a week later sit down and write it [again] without looking at it, and whatever you don’t remember doesn’t deserve to be in there.” Regan isn’t a fan of rewrites, she said, at least not in the traditional sense, she’s more prone to fully starting over each time she tackles a “draft” (in impulse, she said, that makes her long-time producer Theo Barrowclough totally crazy, but hey, it seems to be working).

Once the final spin of “Scrapper” was drafted, it was time to start casting. In accordance with the spirit of the film, Regan and casting director Shaheen Baig knew they wanted their Georgie to “almost help pick the Jason.”

“We always wanted to go down the street cast route, that’s kind of what I’ve always done in my music videos and stuff as well,” Regan said. “It was always the Georgie character who comes first, and we never wanted to get into that place where you cast a dad to support the funding part of the film, but then you’re boxed in [with that casting].” 

Campbell sent in a “rambling” taped audition, in which the budding star answered “none of the questions” Regan and Baig asked her. “She was just talking about Home Bargains, which is kind of like a UK Walmart,” Regan said. “She is a real contradiction of things, so she talks about how great it is that they have Slush Puppies there, but then also how great it is they have different designs of plates. She’ll say something very grandma-y and then she’ll eat a pack of Haribo and be running around. I told Theo, ‘It’s the Home Bargains girl, and no one else is going to come close to the Home Bargains girl.’”

On the set of “Scrapper”Christopher Harris

When Campbell appeared for an in-person audition, she wouldn’t even look Regan and the team in the eyes. “She wouldn’t say anything at all,” Regan said. “It’s just that TikTok generation, I guess, where they can perform to a phone, but get them in a room and it’s a scary space. And it was just after COVID, so she’d probably spent two years at home with her family and not seeing strangers, but I kind of wouldn’t let it go. We saw other girls and I was like, ‘They’re lovely and they’re great, but it’s the Home Bargains girl.’”

She started going to the Campbell house every week for tea, building trust with her soon-to-be star. “She just needs to know that you’re going to be consistent and going to be around,” Regan said. “She’ll cringe, but we are best friends now. We went to Legoland recently.”

Building trust with Dickinson was much easier, as he’d already worked with Regan and Barrowclough on the short film “Oats & Barley” in 2019. “I knew how selfless he was as an actor. I think that’s such a rare quality,” Regan said. “He knows how to support other actors, which makes the film better and it doesn’t take away from his incredible performance at all. […] When you watch shows and movies, you notice that someone is just trying to make a scene their scene. But with Harris, he is honestly one of the nicest humans I’ve ever met, so it all just comes from his personality being so grounded and so kind and his work follows that pattern.”

Regan laughs, because while that sounds nice, it did lead to some funny moments during production, like Dickinson’s habit of making coffee for the crew when he was done with his scenes. “Which sounds really cute, but some of the worst coffee I’ve ever drunk in my life,” Regan said. “It still had all the granules in! He was using the press, so I don’t even know how it still had the granules in, because the press does the job for you, doesn’t it? It was disgusting. Very, very nice man, obviously.”

“Scrapper”Kino Lorber

Regan first introduced Dickinson and Campbell over Zoom, and once Dickinson was back in the UK, she built in plenty of time for workshops and rehearsal and just plain hanging out, but she was cognizant of not showing Campbell too much, not putting too much pressure on her from the outset.

“I think it’s such an important thing in this industry where kids can have a hard time in films. It’s such a weird experience for adults, let alone for a child,” she said. “So it was kind of like some fun and some hanging out, but also keeping the worlds quite clear. This is work and you come to work and Harris is a part of your work life and can also be a friend at work, but we didn’t do loads of bowling or dinners or things like that.”

When they started rehearsing, Campbell briefly slipped back into her no-eye-contact thing, going monotone, not emoting at all. “And we were like, oh no, we shook her again,” Regan said. “But then she would sneakily say to me like, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do it on the day.’ She was just being cautious.”

Regan said she tends to work by a certain motto, a little saying she’s got taped up on her fridge: “As long as the experience is great and you treat people well, then it was a success.” Sounds like “Scrapper” fits the bill.

“Even when there were shit days, which I’m sure there were, I can’t remember them, in that romantic way where your brain helps you forget the bad days so that you convince yourself to do it again,” she said. “The kids make it great because they come with such an energy, they’ve never done it before, so everything is exciting. If you move location, if you use a new lens or put a tripod down, they’re just excited by it and it really rubs off on everyone. You find you can get quite jaded quite quick, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen it all before.’ But the kids’ joy made everyone on the crew be like, ‘Wow, we do have quite a cool job.’ So honestly, every day was pretty good.”

Seven months after the film’s Sundance win, it’s finally hitting theaters this week, care of Kino Lorber. Maybe someone will even sneak in to see it, but Regan just feels thrilled that anyone can see it.

“Scrapper”Kino Lorber

“It feels like a privilege to have got U.S. distribution, we just feel lucky that that’s happening and that people get to see it,” Regan said. “So beyond that, I’m sure some people will like it, some people will hate it. What can you do? You can’t please everyone, can you? So, all right, either way.”

Up next for Regan: She’s directed a few episodes of the upcoming Apple TV+ series “The Buccaneers,” based on an unfinished Edith Wharton novel (that’s scratched her “big and period piece” itch), and she’s working on something “quite gritty.” Asked if she’s got a list of the kinds of things she wants to do soon, she laughed.

Obsessive lists,” she said. “I love the cinema. I love films that I go in and I come out feeling a bit happier than when I went in. I do love a super arty film, but then I’m like, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to carry that with me for the rest of the day. It’s made me so sad!’ At the cinema, I’m very basic, I want the box office smashes, I want the popcorn and the Tango Ice Blast, and I want to be laughing and smiling, so I think I’ve always wanted to make films like that. I’ve always said I want to do James Bond, ‘Mission: Impossible,’ and films like that eventually. Who knows if someone’s mad enough to let me do one in 20 years, but we’ll keep at it until then.”

Kino Lorber releases “Scrapper” in select theaters on Friday, August 25.