It’s fitting that British director Charlotte Regan’s first feature — the adorable Sundance winner Scrapper — follows a precocious 12-year-old who’s amazingly good at taking care of herself, because Regan has a bit of that in her, too. The Londoner’s childhood wasn’t quite like that of lead Georgie (played by newcomer Lola Campbell), who fends for herself after her mother’s death, a dreamy but fragile existence interrupted by the arrival of her immature father Jason (Harris Dickinson). but there was certainly a bit of Georgie’s spirit in those early years.
Consider Regan’s early memories of going to the movies. During a recent interview with IndieWire, Regan was asked about her experiences watching movies as a child. What did she remember? “I was certainly too young, but my grandmother snuck me into The Lord of the Rings because the cinema we went to you could sneak through the exit and not pay,” she said. “My grandmother was terrible, she wouldn’t pay for food, she wouldn’t pay for the cinema because we didn’t have money, not only because she was doing it for fun.”
And while the experience stayed with Regan — after all, she can still picture it, all these years later — it didn’t instantly light a fire inside her. “It was pretty dark and me i think I enjoyed it, but I didn’t want to go home and buy a VHS or get a Super 8 camera or whatever,” the director said. “Nobody in my family was into art or into that world, so I don’t think I even knew it was a career option. You just see it as something that’s for other people.
Regan eventually gravitated to music videos and began making his own for local rappers when he was just 15, followed by more than a dozen short films. Asked when she finally thought feature filmmaking was a possibility for her, she turned to a familiar aid: lists.
“I’m pretty obsessed with lists of what I want to learn before I do anything else so I don’t mess something up, and I always wanted to do at least eight shorts before a feature, and I stuck to that number,” Regan said. “Then there was a niche of things about it: I wanted to make a one-shot short, I wanted to make one with just one character and no dialogue. It’s just my silly way of feeling like I could then handle whatever came up in the feature. (Reagan also credits those who “constantly” pushed her to make feature films, including Scrapper producers such as BBC Film boss Eva Yates and Film4 chief executive Farhana Bhula.)
Finally setting out to direct a feature film, Regan initially prepared a very different version of what would become “Scrapper,” a Guy Ritchie-esque film about “a 16-year-old and his nanny who have to make money for to return their money to a local drug dealer to whom they owe money.
But as Regan’s own world began to change—it was the early days of the COVID pandemic, she lost both her father and her beloved grandmother—so did Scrapper. These events got Regan “thinking about grief, and I started researching how kids deal with grief, just because I found myself devouring all these adult books about grief and I was like, oh, it just makes too much sense, no want to go through the eight stages. But then when I discovered things about child psychology, it got me more interested.”
Regan was attached to a concept she’d heard about before “Scrapper,” one that sounds a bit like the Stephen King method, with a twist: “Put your script in a drawer and in a week sit down and write it [again] without looking at it and whatever you don’t remember doesn’t deserve to be there. Regan isn’t a fan of rewriting, she said, at least not in the traditional sense, preferring to start entirely from scratch each time she tackles a “draft” (on impulse, she said, which makes her longtime producer Theo Barrowclough totally crazy but hey it seems to work).
Once the final spin on “Scrapper” was drawn up, it was time to begin casting. In keeping with the spirit of the film, Regan and casting director Shaheen Baig knew they wanted their Georgie to “almost help choose Jason.”
“We’ve always wanted to go the street cast route, it’s something I’ve always done in my music videos and stuff,” Regan said. “Georgie’s character always came first and we never wanted to get into that place where you cast a father to support the financial side of the film but then you’re locked out [with that casting].”
Campbell submitted a “stuck” audition in which the budding star didn’t answer “any of the questions” Regan and Baig asked her. “She was just talking about Home Bargains, which is kind of like Walmart in the UK,” Regan said. “She’s a real contradiction of things, so she talks about how great it is that they have Slush Puppies there, but also how great it is that they have different plate designs. She’ll say something very girly and then eat a packet of Haribo and run around. I said to Theo, “That’s the Home Bargains girl and no one else will come close to the Home Bargains girl.”
When Campbell auditioned in person, she didn’t even look Regan and the team in the eye. “She wouldn’t say anything at all,” Regan said. “I guess it’s the TikTok generation where they can play on their phone, but you get them in a room and it’s a scary place. And it was right after COVID, so she had probably spent two years at home with her family and not seeing strangers, but somehow I wasn’t going to leave it. We saw other girls and I was like, ‘They’re lovely and great, but that’s the girl from Home Bargains.’
She began going to Campbell’s house every week for tea, building trust with her future star. “She just needs to know that you’re going to be consistent and you’re going to be around,” Regan said. “She’ll shrink, but we’re best friends now. We recently went to Legoland.
Building trust with Dickinson was much easier as he had already worked with Regan and Barrowclaw 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 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 theirs scene. But as for Harris, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so it all comes down to his personality being so wholesome and so nice, and his work follows that pattern.
Regan laughs because while this sounds nice, it did lead to some funny moments during the production, like Dickinson’s habit of making coffee for the crew when he was done with his scenes. “Which sounds really sweet, but it’s some of the worst coffee I’ve ever had in my life,” Regan said. “It still had all the granules! He was using the press so I don’t even know how he still had the granules because the press does the work for you right? It was disgusting. A very, very good man, obviously.
Regan first introduced Dickinson and Campbell on Zoom, and after Dickinson returned to the UK, she made plenty of time for workshops and rehearsals and just hanging out, but she was careful not to show Campbell too much, not to put too much pressure on on her from the start.
“I think that’s such an important thing in this industry where kids can have a hard time in movies. It’s such a strange experience for an adult, let alone a child,” she said. “So it was kind of fun and a little fun, but also keeping the worlds pretty clear. This is work and you come to work and Harris is part of your work life and can be a friend at work, but we haven’t done a lot of bowling or dinners or things like that.’
When they started rehearsing, Campbell briefly reverted to her no-eye-contact thing, becoming monotone with no emotion. “And we were like, oh no, we rocked her again,” Regan said. “But then she would secretly tell me like, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do it on the day.'” She was just being cautious.
Regan said she tends to operate with a certain motto, little saying she has it taped to her fridge: “As long as the experience is great and you treat people well, then it’s been a success.” Sounds like “Scrapper” fits the bill.
“Even when there have been crap days, which I’m sure there have been, I can’t remember them, in that romantic way where your brain helps you forget the bad days so you convince yourself to do it again,” she said . “The kids are doing great because they come with such energy that they’ve never done it before, so it’s all exciting. If you change location, if you use a new lens or take off a tripod, they just get excited about it and it really rubs off on everyone. You find you can get tired pretty quickly and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve seen it all before.” But the joy of the kids made everyone on the team say, “Wow, we have a great job.” To be honest, every day was pretty good.
Seven months after the film won at Sundance, it finally hits theaters this week courtesy of Kino Lorber. Maybe someone will even sneak in to see it, but Regan just feels excited about it everyone can see it.
“We feel privileged to have distribution in the US, we just feel happy that it’s happening and that people can see it,” Regan said. “So other than that, I’m sure some people will love it, others will hate it. What can you do? You can’t please everyone, can you? So, okay, whatever.”
Next up for Regan: She’s directing several episodes of the upcoming Apple TV+ series “The Buccaneers,” based on an unfinished novel by Edith Wharton (it scratches her “big and period piece” itch), and is working on something “pretty gross.” Asked if she had a list of things she wanted to do soon, she laughed.
“Obsessive lists,” she said. “I love cinema. I love movies where I walk in and walk out feeling a little happier than when I walked in. I love super artsy movies, but then I’m like, “Oh my God, I have to carry that with me for the rest of the day. It made me sad!” In cinema, I’m very basic, I want blockbusters, I want popcorn and Tango Ice Blast, and I want to laugh and smile, so I think I’ve always wanted to make movies like that. I’ve always said that I want to be in James Bond, Mission Impossible and eventually movies like that. Who knows if anyone is mad enough to let me do one in 20 years, but until then we’ll keep going.”
Kino Lorber releases “Scrapper” in select theaters on Friday, August 25.