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Scrapper(Film Still)

Scrapper director Charlotte Regan is breaking class ceilings

After directing hundreds of music videos for grime artists, the London-born director is now celebrating her first feature film – an acclaimed coming-of-age comedy starring Harris Dickinson

As a filmmaker, Charlotte Regan has switched from directing rappers to directing Scrapper. In her teens, the British artist shot more than 200 music videos for grime singers, an activity she describes positively as “constant chaos”. Now 29, Regan has written and directed her debut feature, a coming-of-age comedy about a loquacious 12-year-old girl, Georgie (Lola Campbell), who’s secretly living alone in her dead mother’s flat – until she’s joined by her once absent father, Jason (Harris Dickinson), a manchild who climbs in through the window.

Lensed by cinematographer Molly Manning Walker, who also directed the upcoming feature How to Have Sex, Scrapper depicts working-class characters in Britain but amidst bright, evocative colours that, conveniently for the marketing, stand out from a distance. Even the street Georgie lives on is painted. “We were like, ‘Let’s go outside the real world,’” recalls Regan, using her phone’s Zoom function as she walks through a London park. “Me and Molly kept saying the film was like The Bourne Ultimatum mixed with Harry Potter. [Our producer] Theo Barrowclough would be like, ‘Shut up, you two.’”

In the rapid editing – sometimes pausing for talking heads and, in one scene, talking spiders – there are also hints of Regan’s background in collaborating with grime artists. “Me and Molly spoke about how Georgie is almost an ADHD kid. Her attention can’t stay on things for long. That’s linked to how music videos are one of the hardest art forms: you have to tell a story in three minutes.”

I’m speaking to Regan a few days after Scrapper came out in UK cinemas, earning what Screen International call “a strong result for an independent title”. However, Regan didn’t spend the weekend basking in any success. “If anything, I’m looking to avoid it,” she says. “I switched my phone off and played basketball three times a day.”

As the posters suggest, Scrapper is an upbeat story, the main image consisting of Georgie and Jason connecting via outstretched fingers. Nevertheless, the film takes seriously its themes of survival, grief, and family. After her mother dies, Georgie copes on her own in the flat, stealing bicycles for cash and receiving support from her best friend, Ali (Alin Uzun). In fact, when Jason arrives, it’s apparent that Georgie is far more self-sufficient and mature than her father, the role allowing Dickinson to play an adolescent in a grown man’s body.

“Harris has this magical ability to get in touch with his childishness, which people don’t always have,” says Regan of the Triangle of Sadness star. “He can totally come down to the kids’ level in the film. He’s just mad selfless. He supported them so much.”

When Regan was 12, she apparently wasn’t a 24/7 daydreamer like George. “I’m writing the character I wish I was because she’s so much cooler than me,” she says. “I was quite boring. I just played football and did nothing creative.” That’s why Georgie always wears a West Ham shirt? “Actually, I’m Arsenal, but West Ham were kind enough to give us permission to use their kit.”

Around the age of 15, Regan started directing music videos, mainly as she was friends with the rappers, rather than her possessing an innate desire to shoot features. “I was more drawn to being in the music industry,” she says. “I loved being around the grime scene.” Why’s that? “The culture and atmosphere. You watch an incredible songwriter listen to an instrumental, and smash a whole track out in ten minutes. It’s like witnessing magic. I know that’s super-dramatic, but that’s what it felt like when I was very young, because I hadn’t been around the arts.”

In between her music videos and Scrapper, Regan directed numerous shorts – one of the more acclaimed ones, Drug Runner, followed a 15-year-old cocaine dealer. The most relevant to Scrapper, though, was No Ball Games, a documentary for the Guardian about how working-class children in the UK spent their summer holidays. “It was about the games they create in their imagination. That documentary totally transformed the script. It felt like research.”

“If we could connect this to working-class audiences, and they could see the joy in their upbringing – that’s what [I] would define as a success” – Charlotte Regan

After all, Scrapper was, at one point, about a 16-year-old boy and his grandmother “escaping local drug dealers” and involved shootouts. Regan can’t remember why she did a page-one rewrite. “That’s what’s so sick about places like the BBC and the BFI, where they’re not thinking about how to sell a film [at the start]. They were so down for the draft to totally change, which I don’t think private investors would have been.”

So Scrapper didn’t evolve from, for example, something like Drug Runner, into a colourful crowdpleaser due to commercial prospects? “No, that’s what’s incredible about the UK system with first films. There were never any comments about what would sell, or what audiences would watch. I’m sure with the second and third film, it gets a bit more like that.” Is she writing a second and third film? “Yeah, it’s always changing. Some days, it’s a psychological horror, some days it’s Harry Potter – again, a big, over-priced reference to stress producers.”

The comparison, though, that keeps coming up in reviews is Ken Loach – or, rather, it’s what Scrapper is very much unlike visually, despite sharing themes. While Regan watched and loved Loach’s films growing up, she says, “But we wanted this to feel super-joyful, and that the characters weren’t defined by the hardship of their class.”

Thus, at screenings around the country, Regan has noticed young, working-class cinemagoers connecting with the film and approaching her afterwards. “If we could connect this to working-class audiences, and they could see the joy in their upbringing – that’s what me and Theo said we would define as a success.”

And does seeing Regan at the screenings encourage young, working-class filmmakers to keep persevering? “Sure, it does,” she says. “When I was growing up, I saw people like Shane Meadows, and I was like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it, too.’ It makes the connection a bit different. It doesn’t feel like it’s been made from an outside perspective.”

Scrapper is out in cinemas now

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