Like Emma Seligman and “Shiva Baby,” Charlotte Regan is another filmmaker who knocks you out with her feature debut. Charlotte emerges as a director with her feature debut, “Scrapper.” When I was screening films for Sundance, I saw a lot of darker emotional films. But like a breath of fresh air, this film came into my queue. It has shades of Arnold and Loach in how it elevates the working class community in the UK, but instead of lingering on the poverty, it shows us a lightness and quirkiness at the heart of its characters. You can’t help but smile when you watch this film.
“Scrapper” shows a girl in the UK who’s trying to survive alone after her mother dies. She avoids getting placed by social services in a foster care system by creating a self-sufficient life for herself. Her dad, played by Harris Dickinson, who she’s never met in all twelve years of her life, unexpectedly comes back into her life. The young actress Lola Campbell who plays the girl, Georgie, delivers a brilliant breakout performance in this film. The film certainly has quirks similar to that of Taika Waititi’s films in how it shows the ways that kids can be hilarious, as with “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” You see life through Georgie’s eyes as she talks to spiders, steals bikes to make a living, and makes up dances with her friend Ali (Alin Uzun).
I had the opportunity to speak with Charlotte about her debut and could not be more excited for her future as a filmmaker. I have a Charlotte Wells shirt, now I need a Charlotte Regan one. “Scrapper” is currently playing in select theaters and opens at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago today.
Can you talk about the inspiration for “Scrapper”?
I think I always wanted to make a working class film that was joyful and let people exist outside of the stereotypical hardships that people assume that they are going through. Their worlds are so full of humor. Like anywhere in which people are struggling, their circumstances bring out the best dark humor, and it pushes people together, not apart. I always wanted to do something that didn’t blend into that British desaturated kind of vibe that we’ve seen in the past with socialism cinema. That’s something Theo Barrowclough, my producer, and I have been conscious of through every stage. Lola Campbell has such an incredible sense of humor. She just instantly brings a new layer to Georgie. Even though she’s going through something, she always does it with a witty remark.
Did Lola do a lot of improv in her scenes or did she really just embrace the spirit of the script and bring life to it?
A little bit of both actually. When I’m street casting young people, I never want them to just memorize the script. They are encouraged to make it their own. With Lola, it just depended on the scene or the mood she was in. Lola is incredible with improv. She is one of the best improv actors that I’ve ever met. She can just talk rubbish for hours and hours. She loves doing voices and acting grown-up. Lola and Alin Uzun loved to improv, and Harris Dickinson did as well. We’d always do a bonus take after every scene when they could say whatever they wanted, and they had the freedom to take the scene to a different place. A lot of those takes stayed in the film.
I love how the story is really experienced through Georgie’s point of view. Can you talk about some of those quirky and imaginative elements you added into the film, like the spiders and the room with the “scrapper” pieces leading into sky?
The childish perspective really gave us license to have fun with the elements of the film. I think that was intentional because it’s hard to make a working class film that isn’t weighted by what they are experiencing. But just instantly having it in that childlike POV gave us license to do whatever. Theo and I always spoke about that we would rather make a flawed film that took a lot of risks instead of a semi-perfect “safe” film. And that was what we kind of lived by. We were like, ‘We don’t know if this is going to work but we might as well just try it, and see what happens.’ And not to say all of it all landed perfectly, and I know a lot of it didn’t, but –
I think it landed well! Of course I’m coming from the other end of it, but it really worked for me, I loved it.
I cannot believe you’ve made over 200 music videos. How did that influence your filmmaking style?
Quite heavily, actually. Molly Manning Walker, my DP, is incredible, and she came up from music videos as well. So whenever we’d sit down with the script we talked about where we could put in a stylish sequence or make a reference from a music video. For a lot of the cinematography, we weren’t always looking at films to develop our style, it was music videos or even commercials. We kind of love the short-form inspirations for telling our stories visually.
When it came to the story, I did notice some film influences, like the homage you made to “Paris, Texas” when Jason is mirroring Georgie as they are walking across the street from each other. Can you talk about your film influences for this project?
Yes, “Paris, Texas” was a big one, and “Paper Moon”. Also, Taika Waititi’s “Boy” was an influence. I love Taika’s work and how he takes risks with storytelling. For British filmmakers, I love Shane Meadows’ older work when he worked with younger people. And I love Edgar Wright’s stylish moments in his films. The films that take risks I’m mostly drawn to watching when I go to the cinema. I want to watch films that make me feel happier. I can respect the super-heavy films, but I’m not inclined to go to the cinema to go watch them. I enjoy it when my movie experience makes me laugh or uplifts me.
What’s something you learned about the filmmaking process while making “Scrapper,” and what advice would you give emerging filmmakers?
The biggest battle is feeling like you belong in this space, and to feel like you have something to say that is worthy of being a part of this world. It wasn’t until I met Molly, my DP, or those filmmaker peers, that I felt that I did belong. “Scrapper” is Molly’s feature debut as well. We’ve gone on this journey side by side, and we’ve been talking about all of these experiences. So my advice would be to find those peers in your industry who you love and who you can be vulnerable around. Just the conversations I had with Molly really set me on the right path. We are constantly confirming to each other that we are deserving to be in this space, and that we have a story to tell.
What do you hope people see in your film?
I hope it makes them a bit happier then before they went to see it. I’ve seen some brighter working class films in the past few years, so it’s just nice to have more working class cinema that shines a light on the joy and vibrancy in those communities instead of the despair.
Are there any projects that you are working on now and are excited about that you can share?
I did an Apple TV show recently, a period romance called “The Buccaneers.” Beyond that, I’m just working on other features, and trying to not get “mad second album fear” that follows the joy of what has come from “Scrapper.”
Well I feel you are in exactly the right place and doing exactly the right things because people like me are excited by filmmakers like you. Thank you for this film!