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Working with Jonathan Glazer on Under The Skin

Working with Jonathan Glazer on the first three drafts of Under The Skin was one of the most intense and extraordinary periods in my life. 
It took Jon many years to get the film made with Scarlett Johansson (available to stream or download from iTunes or Amazon), and even though it changed enormously during that time, I still feel a curious sense of ownership even when I see still images from the film. 
Writing the early drafts of the script (the two opening pages are below) was a weird and fabulous journey for me, in territory both unknown and imagined - drawn both from Michel Faber’s novel and the landscape of my own father’s childhood in northern Scotland.

As I explained to Ryan Gilbey, film critic of The New Statesman, last year, working with Jon was a unique and curious process, not without its difficulties at times, but always provocative and enlightening:
“Jon and I worked together on the first three drafts. The second one we really tried to collaborate on, with me showing him pages as I went along. That didn’t really work for either of us, and the third draft, where I tried to write as strongly and unusually as I could, was the one I was happiest with, and the one that became a phenomenal writing sample for the studios. It helped get me representation at CAA and I had studio executives reading me my own dialogue, written in a language partly taken from the Michel Faber novel and partly invented by me, using phrases of Swedish and Moroccan Arabic. It was ironic, because it was never likely to be a studio film.

"I had been in London working on The War Zone [Tim Roth’s film, which Stuart adapted from his own novel] when Paul Webster, the Head of Film4, gave me Michel Faber’s book Under the Skin and said, ‘Read this. Let me know what you think.’ I read it on the plane home to LA and told him I loved it, and was back in London to meet Jon in a couple of weeks. Film4 flew me to London from LA as he was readying his first film, Sexy Beast, for release. They screened it for me and it blew me away. I’d just worked with Ray Winstone on The War Zone, and I loved his performance in Sexy Beast. 
"Jonathan seemed very clear on the type of movie he wanted, but maybe not the specifics. I went back to LA, and he was set to follow. I remember being at my house in Laurel Canyon, waiting for him to arrive and wondering what direction our conversations would take. He’d told me to watch Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which I’d seen years before. I was puzzled how this would relate to a primarily sci-fi film. But it did. We set out to make the least sci-fi style film possible. The book was set in Scotland, very close to the bleak northern fishing coast where my father grew up, and I drew on that a lot writing my scripts. Jonathan and I decided that this lonely spot would be the arse end of empire for Isserley, the alien who had landed there and had a job to do."

The film Jonathan finally created is both different from and true to the spirit of what we were exploring: an alien view of humanity, rather than a human view of aliens. 
It is wonderfully bleak, mysterious, hypnotic and unforgettable. The scenes of Scarlett Johansson seducing her prey - seduce doesn’t seem an adequate word, what happens is far stranger and more indelible than that - are among the most haunting images I’ve seen on film in a long time. 
The way in which Jon shot the film was unique, too, having Scarlett drive around Glasgow in a van picking up, in many cases, real hitchhikers - and using the hidden-camera footage only after signed releases had been obtained from her unwitting passengers (the releases were not always forthcoming).
Please watch the film. You can get a fair sense of its mystery on Tumblr, but nothing substitutes for seeing the real thing. It’s a work that will endure, I believe, and not because I had any part in it at all. 
Some films have to be made. Under The Skin was one. It’s like nothing else. It enters the bloodstream. There is no antivirus.

This post is adapted from my Tumblr post about working with Jonathan on Under The Skin. All images are from Jonathan Glazer's film, Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. Please follow me on Tumblr at


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