Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper delights within the first few minutes. Regan’s debut feature follows Georgie (Lola Campbell), a 12-year-old girl living utterly alone. She does the dishes, vacuums the carpet, and makes a meager earning by stealing and then selling bikes. She’s independent, feisty, a grown-up wearing the same soccer jersey every day. Georgie has recently lost her mother and she doesn’t want anything to change. Soon, though, her absent father, Jason (Harris Dickinson), shows up from Ibiza.
Regan’s story addresses grief without hesitation. The adolescents in Scrapper––Georgie and her best friend, Ali (Alin Uzun)––talk about her mother’s death openly. Then, they’ll go outside and play for hours in the grass surrounding their flats. These sequences stretch on, with Regan allowing the two to just be kids amongst a sea of adulthood. Regan again uses this technique with a later scene of Georgie and Jason dancing, giving her film space to breathe even in its limited 84 minutes.
The director injects her own flourishes, using asides from minor characters to discuss Georgie and her current situation. The 12-year-old only interacts with Ali and Jason during the course of the film, but it’s understood that her life affects more than them. Regan even uses quick cuts to put the viewer into the view of a kid, how a barking dog can seem scary, how the lights at night begin to blend together.
Campbell is the star of this movie, leading every scene with assured confidence and a defiance that cannot be taught. Her performance feels lived-in, complete, unadorned for the camera. Working well with her, Dickinson gives an understated performance as a removed father. He’s emotionally present, more aware, letting his co-star shine in their scenes with one another. As the veteran actor of the cast, he fills his role with an almost-dorky grace, bringing an aura of understanding despite his character’s lack of involvement for the last decade.
With the film now arriving in U.S. theaters via Kino Lorber, I chatted with Regan about working with teenage non-actors, shielding them from the pressures of a film set, and how young people deal with grief.
The Film Stage: Early in the film, Ali asks Georgie, “What stage of grief are you in?” Can you tell me about this casualness in which they bring up usually very serious conversations, and how it becomes a throughline for other conversations in the film?
Charlotte Regan: My producer and I did a documentary for The Guardian a couple of years before the film. We went across countless states across the UK, filming kids in the summer. It was something I was massively drawn to and remembered it growing up, just that feeling. They just talk rubbish, and they just talk about everything. They don’t have any kind of barriers in terms of what they talk about, which I loved. When I was writing I lost my dad and my nan, and I found I was massively drawn to kids and how they grieve. And how we introduce the idea of grief to them through storybooks. Even in other cultures, they teach grief at a much younger age, and they see it as a language that kids should learn to talk about. I love that concept and was drawn to that.
There’s a sequence where Ali and Georgie are playing in the grass, and then another one with Jason and Georgie dancing later in the film. They’re both longer than expected. I kept waiting for a cutaway. What was the reason for extending these sequences?
If I had my way, it would be 10% plot and 90% scenes of people playing, but no one would go for that, which is totally fair. So it’s good that my producer and everyone said we need some plot as well. I just love observing, and love films that do that, where you just watch people and you’ll notice their connection through playing instead of having to verbalize it. And that [first] one in particular was magic. Then with Harris [Dickinson] and Lola [Campbell], life was kind of imitating art. We filmed that on the last day and it’s probably the point in the movie where they’re at their most connected and have made a breakthrough. And it was happening in real life, because Lola is a very suspicious person of new people. She was suspicious of Harris, in a normal way, as she was with me. It took months of going to her house and having cups of tea to win her over. But on that day, it was the peak of their real-life friendship as well, so it was a magical thing to watch. So I probably carried that over to the edit and made it longer.
Dancing is such a huge part of Lola’s character, even in the flashbacks. Was that always a big part of the character of Georgie?
That was all Lola, really. Georgie as a character, as written, leaned towards sport or play-fighting or being a touch rougher. When Lola came onboard, obviously things have to adapt. I’m a big fan of improv and not forcing kids to do the scenes in the way that I’ve imagined them, because they can be much more natural than I could ever think up. Lola and Alin [Uzun], every lunch, would learn a new TikTok dance. It’s just something kids seem to be into. And she hates sport; we had to cut so many scenes because she’s so not athletic. So we had to cut scenes where she’s running or shoot them in a really different way. She hates all kinds of physical activity other than dancing.
How did you prepare Lola for this role, especially since she’s a non-professional actor?
We catered the whole process to the kids, and that’s always been my preference––even with previous projects as well. We would hide all the crew, so it was just me, the DP Molly [Manning Walker], and the sound person on the floor, and the rest of the crew would be hidden in alleyways or in vans. We wouldn’t even let Lola and Alin walk past them on their way to set, just to keep that feel that it was like rehearsals. Or when we met her, it was an intimate thing where she can trust the people she’s looking at. Everything revolved around that process. They were very different. Alin preferred to be given scenes because he didn’t like when he didn’t know what was coming up. That’s what made him nervous. Lola loves being spontaneous and just talking rubbish and changing the scene. She would do it just to annoy us when she knew we wanted something. She would do something completely opposite. She’s way too smart for her own good.
You mentioned having tons of cups of tea in order to get her to trust you. How did that process go, forming a relationship with her?
It was really just consistency, like me and the producer Theo [Barrowclough] would go to her house twice a week, always at the same time. And then me and Theo would do some improvs to make her feel like it was a space where we could all look like idiots and there was no wrong answer. Then we would increase it, so we would introduce her to key [people], like Molly came on quite early and started meeting with me and Lola. The same with my production designer Elena Muntoni, who I went to school with––so she’s one of my close friends. We would build out Lola’s world and try to give her key people to look at on the day and be able to trust.
She’s so incredible in the film. There are these special flourishes you add throughout––certain scenes where you use quick-cutting and quick movement while Georgie is seeing her father for the first time and is looking for her cell phone. Why’d you incorporate these moments?
We always imagined the script was Georgie’s perspective. It’s like if you asked a 12-year-old what happened last summer. The script is meant to be a retelling of that, and they naturally embellish. Even when we did that documentary, it was mad how emotions dictated the day. Some days we’d step onto filming and everyone would be really tense and we’d ask what happened and a kid would say she didn’t give me one of her bows. Then there was tension all day. Emotions are felt so deeply at that age. Chaos is just so much. Everything is 10 times what it is as an adult, where you can be a bit more logical.
We used that perspective as an excuse, and me and Molly came up through music videos, so we’ve always been inclined to think how we can do this in a music-video style. That’s just the work we love and were referencing. I often think music videos are way ahead of films. You do something stylish in a film and people are like “Oh, my God––it’s groundbreaking.” And they were doing that on Vimeo like eight years ago. It’s just partly for fun and to fix dodgy scenes that I’d fuck up.
Scrapper will be released in theaters on August 25, 2023.