Interview with Charlotte Regan, writer-director of Scrapper

Up-and-coming British filmmaker Charlotte Regan was on hand at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to discuss her debut feature Scrapper.

Following a string of short films, London-based filmmaker Charlotte Regan has made her feature film debut with Scrapper. The film is a charming drama that follows a young girl named Georgie – played by newcomer Lola Campbell – who reunites with her estranged father (Harris Dickinson) after the death of her mother. Set in a vibrant London housing estate with a number of unknown actors, the film follows in the tradition of British kitchen sink drama but with a fresh energy and a hint of magic-realism.

With the film screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, rising star Regan was on hand to discuss the film, making the leap to feature filmmaking and the pros and cons of working with young actors.

You have a lot of experience under your belt with all of the shorts and TV you have worked on but Scrapper is your feature debut. At what point did you decide you were ready to make a feature?

I don’t know, really. I think I’ve made too many short films and my short films were getting worse the more I made them I think, so everyone around me kept saying, “We gotta stop making shorts”. Even the BBC producer said it’s time to make a feature. So it was less of like a burning desire and more that I got told to stop making shorts.

What was it about Scrapper that you thought, “this is the one”?

I don’t know if I ever did think that, to be honest. The story changed so much, and it was more I knew I wanted to make my first film with my producer and we were searching for different stories as we went, but it wasn’t so much that it had to be anything in particular until we found it. We didn’t know, if you know what I mean?

How does the experience compare to making a short?

It just feels so much longer, like the edit felt like I was editing the Lord of the Rings trilogy or something. It just went on for so long. But no, it was a great time, and you get more time to connect with people, and there’s much more of a family environment, which is super cool.

What was the lead up to the film like, particularly the casting process?

We kind of prepped for quite a long time, and the casting happens a year in advance, I would say, because we knew how tough it was to find young people of that age. It was always kind of centred around finding our Georgie and how difficult we felt that was. Shaheen (Baig), our casting director, is incredible, so it was a lot of watching self-tapes and lots of auditions for months and months.

When it came to casting, you’ve worked with Harris Dickinson before, did he come on board first and then you cast young actors opposite him?

No, we cast Lola Campbell, who played Georgie, first. We kind of always thought that the casting should be based around the younger girl character because they’re tricky characters to find. So Harris was someone I knew from the short work, and obviously I’ve known his work, and he’s incredible. So he was always kind of in our mind somewhere, and as soon as we met him for it, we kind of knew it had to be him.

Harris and Georgie have such an easy chemistry between them on screen, particularly as the film develops. Did you do anything to foster that chemistry between them or was it just a natural process?

Oh, yeah. Lola is quite suspicious of new people, so she was suspicious of Harris for quite a while, but, luckily, we filmed semi-chronologically, so Georgie was suspicious of Jason at first. So it kind of worked because life was kind of imitating art in that way. And as Harris grew on her, so did Jason for Georgie.

I’m not saying you stole any bikes or anything, but was there any of you or your life experiences in the character of Georgie?

I suppose in a way that when you write, there’s always something of you in it because you can’t help but write from your voice or your sense of humour or whatever. But beyond that, not so much. I think we’d always wanted, like to do a working class film that, like, felt joyful and felt like it was full of life and, like characters weren’t defined by their class.

The setting gives the film a unique look, particularly with the colourful houses. As a Londoner yourself, was this an area that you knew already, or was it somewhere that you found via location scouting?

Yeah, just location scouting. I think we wanted somewhere that felt like the character could create their own world, and somewhere that felt safe and self-contained, and that was just somewhere the location people come across. We found that when we looked in London, places are so developed now, been sold off so much, you don’t get that same kind of sense of community that you do when you go a little bit further out.

What were the challenges of shooting somewhere like that? Because I assume that people live there and that it’s an active area.

They were, like, super welcoming, to be honest, because we were filming there for about four weeks, so they would be well within their right to be, you know, annoyed by us. It was just an incredible place and they were super down to let us film. Some of the people that live there are in the film or worked on the film, so it was just a really brilliant environment to be.

What are your main influences? Are there any filmmakers that have particularly informed your style over the years?

I love Sean Baker. I love Florida Project. I love Taika Waititi’s films, films like Boy and stuff like that, and how he kind of plays with form and structure and takes risks. I love Shane Meadows’ work with street casts, with young people like Thomas Turgoose.

Is there anyone going forward now that you would want to work with in terms of actors? Or do you prefer casting unknowns or young people like you did on this film?

I always prefer to street cast for sure. I think young people are like existing more so than acting, you know? But I don’t know really. I quite like nice people, so we always want nice people. I really like Andrew Scott, I’ve always wanted to work with him, but I don’t know.

How does the experience of directing kids differ to directing adults?

It’s different but in a way that feels easier a lot of the time. They don’t have any ego, or they’re just so much less self-aware than we are. I guess they’re just existing, which is quite an incredible thing to witness, as long as you make the space safe and happy for them. That was one of the things I liked about the film.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Nothing. Just the ideas that I’m writing, but nothing in particular., nothing at the minute that I’m too honed in on.

Scrapper screened as part of the 2023 Edinburgh International Film Festival and releases in UK cinema on September 1st.