‘A lot of working-class cinema is so joyless’: Charlotte Regan on her candy-coloured debut Scrapper | Movies

Scrapper, Charlotte Regan’s coming-of-age comedy drama has been described by one critic as like Ken Loach meeting Wes Anderson. Talking spiders suddenly appear on screen; little mockumentary interludes allow characters to tell the camera what they’re really thinking.

“It comes from chasing the fun,” says Regan. “A lot of the working-class cinema I grew up watching was so joyless. Endless trauma. The characters were allowed one moment of happiness in the whole film, looking at a sunset on their balcony. It’s like: ‘How lovely for those working-class people to look at a sunset on their balcony.’ Do you know what I mean?”

Then back to their miserable little lives? “Yeah. A stack of bills piling up on the doorstep, all that.” It’s not that she’s against those films, Regan clarifies. “They’re great, and they have a place in the world. I just don’t want to make them. I like joyful films. My favourite cinema experiences are like ones where I leave feeling happier than when I went in. I don’t want to go to the cinema, drop 20 quid on a Friday and be mad depressed.”

Being miserable was not her experience growing up. She spent part of her childhood living with her grandmother on an estate in Islington, north London. “It was my favourite place in the world. I still crave that feeling now. Everyone lived on the same block, so you had 20 friends at your disposal whenever you wanted. You’d just knock on the door. All the grannies sat drinking tea on their balconies watching the children. It felt like such a safe place, a place full of love, everyone looking out for each other.”

As a kid she felt that she had the best life ever. “You don’t grow up thinking: ‘Oh, I have less than someone else.’ It’s actually only now that I meet so many middle-class people in film that I’m like: ‘Oh, my upbringing was different to yours.’” Making a film about 12-year-old kids allowed her to keep it sunny, she says.

Scrapper is a film guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It’s about a sweet, gobby 12-year-old girl called Georgie (newcomer Lola Campbell), whose mum recently died. Georgie is now living alone in their council house and doing a decent job of keeping up appearances, having convinced social workers that an uncle is looking after her. Then comes a knock at the door. It’s her dad, Jason (Harris Dickinson), a 30-year-old boy-man, who almost certainly has less emotional maturity than his daughter.

Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell in Scrapper. Photograph: Picturehouse Entertainment

There’s a lot of humour in the film, and Regan, 29, is friendly and funny. Her producer describes her as “a bit eccentric”, which feels right. Growing up in north London, Regan’s dad was an electrician; her mum worked in Waitrose. “No one was arty.” But once a month or so she’d go to the Odeon on Holloway Road with her nan to watch the big blockbusters. “She’d sneak me in and we wouldn’t pay. I remember seeing Lord of the Rings with her when I was way too young.”

When she was 15, Regan started shooting music promos on the streets around Islington. At the time grime was really taking off and her friends were all making music; she’d go to the studio to watch her best mate recording. “I wanted to be part of that world, but I was the only one not cool enough to rap,” she jokes. So she picked up a cheap camcorder.

She directed more than 200 promos, sometimes three or four in a day, cash in hand. “At 15, 16, it felt like loads of money. I was probably making what someone my age would’ve been making doing a part-time job.”

She also did a bit of paparazzi photography on the side. “I would cycle about London on a weekend because they always shoot in the city on the weekend when it’s empty.” She sneakily took photos of Daniel Craig on Skyfall and the set of Danny Boyle’s film Trance starring James McAvoy. (They used one of the photos she took of McAvoy on the Graham Norton Show when he was interviewed.) Film-set security guards gave her a bit of leeway because she didn’t look like the other paparazzis, Regan believes. “They just thought I was a sweet kid who loved film, and my camera was shite compared to the proper long-lens ones.” She still gets the odd £50 in royalties from photographs of the London riots in 2011.

It was her teenage paparazzi hustle that partly made her want to be a film-maker: “I would watch them making Skyfall all night from a distance thinking: ‘They all hate me. I want to be one of them.’”

After college, she made music videos for the likes of Mumford & Sons and Stereophonics, and started directing shorts; her first screened at Toronto in 2016 and won a Bafta nomination. Along the way, she has picked up mentors; the actor Neil Maskell appeared in a few of her short films, and showed them to director Ben Wheatley – with whom she’s still in touch.

In 2017, Regan was talent-spotted by Michael Fassbender’s production company; he had given producers instructions to find the next Andrea Arnold or Steve McQueen.

The film industry is heavily skewed towards people from privileged backgrounds. I wonder if Regan ever feels impostor syndrome; at the very least a sense of not fitting in? She nods. “For sure, most days, or in most work environments I feel like there’s something lacking within me that everyone else is capable of.” It’s why she works with the same producer and surrounds herself with people she has known for a long time on set. “Because they don’t make me feel that way.” She pauses. “I don’t mean to say people in the industry make you feel that way intentionally. No, it’s very much your own projection, isn’t it? I’ve not been having conversations at the dinner table about Curzon art films since I was 10 years old.”

Regan on the set of her short film No Ball Games, 2019.Regan on the set of her short film No Ball Games, 2019. Photograph: Charlotte Regan

Her first draft of Scrapper was a completely different story – about a boy and his grandma trying to get some money to pay a drug dealer; “Guy Ritchie vibes” is how she puts it. Then, Regan’s dad died, followed a few months later by her nan. “I’m sure the experience of the loss of my dad changed the writing. If I’m being floored by an emotion, I’ll read everything I can about it, to try to understand it.” But the books she read by adults weren’t hitting the mark, and Regan found herself watching YouTube videos by kids who’d lost a parent. “I just loved their magical perspective on it.”

When it came to casting, Regan herself was looking for someone new: a non-professional to play scrappy 12-year-old Georgie. “I really didn’t want to go down the theatre school route where someone was being performative, especially with a working-class film.” In March 2021, a self-tape arrived from 10-year-old Lola Campbell, chatting away about her addiction to Home Bargains. “I don’t think she’d done anything I’d asked her to do in the brief,” says Regan laughing. “But she was magic.”

Regan told her producers she’d found “the one”. Trouble was, when Lola arrived in London for a casting session, she clammed up. “She wouldn’t look us in the eye. She was really uncomfortable.” Not wanting to give up, Regan and her producer spent the next three months driving to Lola’s house in Hertfordshire on Wednesday afternoons, drinking cups of tea and doing little improvs. “Eventually she deemed us worthy of her friendship,” Regan says.

She slowly introduced Lola to key crew. “I wanted her to have like five people on set that she could look to, that weren’t strangers.” But right up until the first day of filming, it was touch and go. In rehearsals with her on-screen dad, lines came out in a flat, monotone voice. “She wouldn’t really perform.”

That must have been nerve-racking? Regan nods, grinning. “But Lola used to say to me: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do it on the day.’” She pauses. “And at the end of the day, I think her experience was more important than the film. Do you know what I mean? Like, we’re not saving lives. I would rather make Lola’s experience nice.”

True to her word, on day one of the shoot, Lola switched it on. Regan mostly kept the crew hidden from her pint-sized star, tucked away in a van, or hidden around the corner, so as not to intimidate her. In the end, Lola’s only problem was the catering: “She would only eat Greggs or McDonald’s.”

She’s still in touch with Lola, she adds – “We went to Legoland recently. But she’s already too old for it. She was like: ‘This isn’t cool’”

Regan’s biggest battle was getting the exteriors of houses on the council estate near Epping Forest where Scrapper was shot painted in candy-coloured pastel shades. Why was she so intent on making a rainbow estate? “You can’t rely on the weather. If it would have pissed down the whole shoot, then it would have looked grim.”

It reminds me of a story I was told by a friend who grew up in Hackney, on the street where Mike Leigh filmed Naked. He watched the set decorators painstakingly adding fake black mould to the outside the house to make it look more bleak. Regan has done the opposite, making a council estate look like the seaside. “That’s how you remember it, isn’t it. You’ve grown up there. And they are great places, better than posh flats in London. It’s like living on a holiday camp. Like living at Butlin’s and having all your mates around.”

Scrapper is out now


Recommended For You