Charlotte Regan on Scrapper: “I’d love to see more working-class films that are happier”

Debut director Charlotte Regan speaks to us about her father-daughter drama Scrapper and why she wanted to show working-class characters being funny and joyful.

Scrapper (2023)

In Scrapper, writer-director Charlotte Regan’s lively debut feature, mischievous 10-year-old Georgie (Lola Campbell) lives alone on Limes Farm, Chigwell, on the fringes of east London. Her mother has died, but Georgie manages to con social services into thinking she has parental supervision. Georgie passes the summer making poor attempts at bike theft with friend Ali (Alin Uzun) until one day a man claiming to be her estranged father Jason (Harris Dickinson) leaps over her garden fence. Can Jason become a proper, present father? And will Georgie even let him?

An alumnus of both the BFI Film Academy and BFI NETWORK programmes for new filmmakers, Regan made her cops-in-a-car debut short Standby in 2016. It premiered at TIFF, and got nominated for a BAFTA. Following further shorts Fry-Up (2017) and Dodgy Dave (2018), she wrote a series of drafts for Scrapper between 2018 and 2019 after receiving funding from low-budget film initiative iFeatures. The project was greenlit in January 2020, although the scheduled shoot that summer was then delayed a year by the pandemic.

Having filmed on location for six weeks in summer 2021, Regan and her close-knit team – including school friend Elena Muntoni as production designer and cinematographer pal Molly Manning Walker – created an atypically funny and fantasy-flecked social-realist drama of real quality. Scrapper stands alongside a raft of excellent 2023 British debut features, including Manning Walker’s own How to Have Sex, Femme, Rye Lane, Girl and Polite Society. 

Asked about the influence of other parent-child films, she admits a love for Paper Moon (1973) and particularly Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984), which prominently features a reunited father and son. She also mentions Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun (2022): “That’s still one of my favourite father-daughter relationships. I’m glad there’s a load of them now.” She jokes: “It feels weird that there’s so many Charlottes with dad issues.”

You first started making music videos for your rapper friends when you were 15. How did that come about?

It was when Skepta had just got popular. For some reason everyone wanted to be a rapper, my mates included. If I was cooler I probably would’ve chosen rap as well, but they were like, “No, film videos instead.” So it was my only choice.

And you made 200 videos?

It sounds much more impressive than it is. They were just rap into camera. You do five shots, you cut it off. A day max.

Charlotte Regan filming Scrapper (2023) with Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell

What got you interested in getting behind the camera?

The cash they were paying me. I wasn’t that mad into films. I really like films now, but it wasn’t a big thing where I grew up. People didn’t go cinema, or my nan would sneak me in once a year on my birthday, but I wasn’t sitting there like, “Oh my God, this is what I want to do.” You don’t even know it’s a job when you’re in those different worlds, where your family’s not arty and stuff.

What was the first core of the idea for Scrapper?

It changed so much. It started as a Guy Ritchie-esque movie about a grandson and his nan trying to make money to pay off the local drug dealer. 

I’d always wanted to see working-class films that were joyful, and when I was growing up the closest thing to that was some of Guy’s films. I know they had crime in, but they at least allowed their characters to be funny and to be joyful. The same as Shane Meadows’ movies with Thomas Turgoose. That was the working-class world I remembered – you were happy. I was always drawn to doing that. Letting kids exist, be joyful.

Early on in the development of the story, you watched some YouTube videos of children who’d lost their parents to research the story. 

When I was writing it I lost my dad and my nan. I was reading all these books that saw grief as too logical a process – I found the stuff about kids and how they deal with it helped me more. 

Kids see everything in such a magical way, and their outlook is so different. Then I got into reading about how in different places in the world they teach grief at a much younger age because they see it as a language or communication style that we need to learn. 

We’re terrible in this culture for not learning how to communicate. I remember being a kid and you never know you have less money or less than anyone else. You think you are living the best life possible.

Scrapper (2023)

How did you know Lola was going to be perfect for the role of Georgie?

On her tape she just spoke about Home Bargains for ages instead of doing anything that we had asked her to do. Straight away I was quite obsessed with that. She was doing it in different accents. Her mum said she would watch shows from young.

She has this incredible spoof that she does of the famous scene in EastEnders where Kat says, “I’m your Mum” or something like that. Lola plays every character, obviously, and that was incredible. She just was magical. 

She came to an audition, and she wouldn’t look us in the eye and she wouldn’t say anything. She just froze. But I just saw it as the film can’t be made if it’s not her; there’s no one else that’s anywhere near to her.

There’s great chemistry between her and Harris. Was there a big moment where you saw the two of them and you thought, “this is the father and daughter that I need”? 

In a great way life was imitating art. We didn’t shoot chronologically, but we tried to keep it in big parts chronological to not confuse the kids with emotional jumps. Because of that, Lola was doing the same thing she did to us, which was deciding whether she trusted Harris or not. She had to warm up to him, whereas Alin was instantly in love with Harris. Harris was his idol, and still is. 

Lola was not cautious, but she’s like a granny where she doesn’t decide instantly. You can’t buy her a pack of Haribo and you’re made. She will take a long time to win over. She was cautious of Harris, so she wasn’t sure whether they were best friends. It was maybe when we got to the train station scene or the hangar, which was towards the end, where Lola had decided that he was a great human. She always knew he was a great human, but he was her friend and you could see the magic between them.

Scrapper (2023)

What was specifically right about the Limes Farm location?

We were looking for that feeling I remember growing up, which is where estates were these big communities where you could play out in the middle and everyone would look out for one another. All your friends would live on the street. 

We found that the more we looked in London or more central, the less that was a thing, because Bow or places like that are more than half sold off. It’s such a mixed community of wealth now. When we started going further out, there was more of a community, and Limes Farm was perfect for that. All the kids play in the park and everyone knows each other.

What are your wider thoughts on portrayals of working-class people in film?

Everyone’s outlook and upbringing is different, so I can’t speak to other people’s. It sometimes feels like one experience sums up the working-class upbringing across all films, and that’s desaturated [visual identity], everyone’s just so unhappy other than – in every film – they get five minutes of happiness when they look at the sunset on their balcony or something like that.

I’ve always found the darkest and most incredible humour as really alive in my family and community. I’d love to see more working-class films that are happier. American and European cinema does that a little bit better than British film does. I really love The Florida Project (2017), where the trauma was secondary. In a lot of British films, if you’re working class you have to have this list of traumas that are at the centre of the film.

Does it feel like there is something happening this year where there are loads of great new British directors or does it all feel disconnected?

I don’t think about it too much. I’m not too deep a thinker, luckily, or I’d probably go mad. But, yeah, it’s incredible. The same with Blue Jean last year. It feels like British debuts are really changing and taking risks.

Scrapper, backed by the BFI Filmmaking Fund, is out in cinemas from 25 August 2023.

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