SP Member Charlotte Regan on Her New Short, Drug Runner

Posted August 22nd, 2018 by Helen Jack


Drug Runner is an exciting, unorthodox new short from SP member Charlotte Regan. A melancholy reflection of a childhood gone wrong, Drug Runner explores the world of “The Kid”, a 15-year-old living in a housing estate in East London that eventually falls into the drug world by becoming a dealer.

Charlotte began shooting music videos at the young age of 14. She made over 200 of these before she made her first narrative short. She has won multiple awards, including the BFI Future Film Award, the BFI New Talent Award, a Cannes Lions YDA Award, and now her second Vimeo Staff Pick with Drug Runner.

We were really interested to hear that the origins for Drug Runner came about after production company Bold Content reached out to Charlotte through SP after watching some of her work. After discovering their shared creative interests they teamed up to make the short film. We love to chat with members about their work and get more insight into their creative process, so below, you can hear what Charlotte had to say about about her new film, what inspired it, and how the collaboration worked.

How did you come up with the idea for Drug Runner?

I love watching documentaries, but I wanted to make something that merged doc and fiction. Drug Runner was a story that came naturally over time. The person it’s based on is a friend, and I always felt like it was a story that was never told, but needed to be told. I wanted to explore the reasons behind people getting involved with things like dealing drugs without making the protagonist a villain.

We see in the supers that the voice-over was performed by an actor. Did you record the real-life “Kid” and then play that to the actor?

I didn’t let my voice-over actor, Alfie Stewart, listen to the recordings at all. I never wanted him to re-create my friend’s speech pattern.

I interviewed my friend a few times, and as he knew we weren’t going to use his voice, he was happy to openly discuss his story. From there, I had to make the decision of what segments to use. Whilst it is a documentary, we didn’t quite have the budget for a 6+ hour film!


Does that blur the line between documentary and fiction? Re-creating the narration rather than using the original interviews?

Of course. I’m not putting this piece out there saying it’s 100% literal. My friend and I are close enough for him to be honest, but who knows what he was and wasn’t exaggerating. Even in our own minds, stories grow and change over time, so my intention was more to show his world as accurately as possible.

How did the actor take the original testimony and make it his own?

Alfie and the visual actor, Mitchell Brown, were both sent the transcribed script/interview responses beforehand. They are both incredibly natural actors who put their own spin on things. They were both perfect for this, as they know how to be subtle yet impactful.

Mitchell was great. You’ve worked with him before, but where did you find him, and how did you know he could act?

Mitchell was cast in a short I directed previously. We found him through ET Casting. He came in and just had a great way about him, he wasn’t trying too hard to act. He was naturally reading lines and running through scenarios. He is also great at trying things another way; he’s always interested in learning more, so he really tries to understand and take onboard notes.


The lighting and colour was amazing. What was your process planning the lighting? How much of it was done during the colour grade?

We lit the sets in production exactly how we wanted it to look in the final version. We used an Alexa Mini for primary filming, and a Black Magic for B-cam, so we knew there would be colour grading needed in post.

The intention was always to make it a very colourful piece. My friend always spoke about his housing estate as if it was a big community, and that’s something I wanted to replicate. Lots of people who come from and grow up in those backgrounds feel that way, I think. If you have lived in one from a young age they are filled with fun and your mates and people you know. Now that I live somewhere different, I massively miss it, and this is something me and him always agreed on.

There are some beautiful cutaway shots around the estate. Did you have a second unit, or did you direct every last shot?

No second unit. Me, Arran, and the camera team shot those a day before primary production. We were a super small crew and used as little kit as we could afford to have.

It seems you used a steadicam – how did you manage to do it on such a small budget?

It was something me and Arran always knew we needed, so from the start we got in touch with a great steadicam operator, Charlie Rizek. Arran had worked with him before.


You did your own editing, which is usually a big no-no, to both conduct the filming and do post. What was your process? Did you have a clear vision beforehand, or did you play with different techniques before you found what you liked? How do you maintain a fresh perspective?

Usually I would say no, that post-production completely changes the film. But with Drug Runner, because it was very literal and based around the voice-over script, it was cut almost exactly as it was storyboarded. I had always wanted this to blend documentary and fiction, so the film was very visual-essay in style.

Who knows how to keep it fresh! I’ve yet to figure this out. I like to watch the edit with other people and see how the audience reacts to it. Even if it’s just your mate or nan, if more than one person has a note on a section, it’s clearly an obvious enough thing that it needs to be re-visited. You have to not be precious about things. My DOP, Arran Green, helped out massively with the edit, as with Adam from Bold.

Was there anything in your original concept that didn’t make it to the final edit?

There were one or two things left out that I wish we had achieved in a different way during production. There always is. This is why shooting as much as you can is crucial, because it helps you learn from your experiences and avoid that same mess-up in the future.

Sound Design plays a big part in the film. How did you achieve the balance between enhancing viewer experience vs. pulling the viewer out of the narrative?

My sound designer, Michael Ling, is amazing. We have worked on every single narrative project together. We have gotten to know each other’s style, and we know how to recognize what we want to achieve with an edit. We chat a lot about different film references, so that helps with communication. Michael takes care to understand the story and only add things that assist the narrative.

So sound isn’t something I have necessarily done at all – just like with every element of a film, it’s about finding a great team, as they’ll be able to give you a better opinion than you ever could give yourself.

Drug Runner is such a well-written, concise short film. Would you ever consider expanding it into a feature? If so, how do you think that would change the film?

I don’t think so. I think some things play well with short content, but might not hold for a longer length of time. If it was a different story or a different world, maybe that could work, who knows!

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