play JAWS - "Main Title - Theme From JAWS" (J.Williams)
* JAWS began life as a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley. Peter (son of author Nathaniel Benchley, and grandson of Algonquin Round Table humorist Robert Benchley) was inspired by a number of true life incidents, including the “Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916”, where four victims where mauled by predators within 12 days. He would base the rugged character Quint on the exploits of famed shark fisherman Frank Mundus.
* The simple title “JAWS” was decided upon after numerous others, including “THE STILLNESS IN THE WATER” and “SILENCE OF THE DEEP”, were deemed too pretentious.
* The inspiration for Quint, Montauk-based shark fisherman Mundus, was a controversial figure, as a number of his practices (including killing whales to use as the shark bait “chum”) where criticized in many countries. Coming to fame as a legendary shark hunter, Mundus in later life would become an outspoken shark conservationist.
* Producing team Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown (THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS, THE BLACK WINDMILL, THE EIGER SANCTION, THE STING) read JAWS in galleys before it’s publication, then purchased the film rights. The book was brought to the early attention of Brown by his wife, Helen Gurley Brown, the then editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.
* With a publicity push by Zanuck and Brown, the novel JAWS would remain at the top of best seller lists for an astounding 44 weeks.
* Young director Steven Spielberg, at the time best known as a Universal contract director of TV series such as COLUMBO, NIGHT GALLERY and MARCUS WELBY M.D., had recently completed his first theatrical film for the Zanuck/Brown company - THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS. As SUGARLAND was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival, the producing duo decided to “roll the dice” on the young director, giving him JAWS.
* Spielberg was not the producers’ first choice. They’d also considered John Sturges (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, ICE STATION ZEBRA) and Dick Richards (MARCH OR DIE, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, THE CULEPEPPER CATTLE COMPANY). They grew impatient and irritated with Richards, then dropped him after the veteran director continually referred to the story’s shark as a "whale".
* Spielberg at first lobbied for the JAWS job, as it reminded him of the “everyman vs. a mysterious force” theme of his recently completed (and very popular) TV movie DUEL. Based on a story by Richard Matheson, DUEL concerned a lowly businessman (Dennis Weaver) who, while en route to work one morning, finds himself the object of a psychotic 18 wheeler trucker who wants to murder him on the highway.
* Just before production was to commence, Spielberg, fearing JAWS would pigeon-hole him as a director of "man vs." type thrillers, attempted to back out of the film in order to do 20th Century Fox's "bootleggers at sea" adventure LUCKY LADY. Universal, to whom Spielberg was contractually obligated, exercised it's right to veto his departure. Producer Brown then encouraged the young film maker, promising him, "After JAWS you can make all the films you want!"
David Brown (left), Spielberg (center), and Richard Zanuck (right) on the JAWS set.
Spielberg wanted to construct a “lean and mean” adventure/thriller, and
to this end chose to excise many of the subplots of Benchley’s novel,
including one involving an audulterous motel dalliance between Sheriff Brody’s wife
and visiting ichthyologist Matt Hooper. Another dropped storyline involved Chief Brody’s
uncovering mayor Vaughn’s links to mafia connected real estate investors
- hence, the mayor’s reticence to close the beaches for fear of harming
summer season property values.
* Part of Benchley’s book / movie deal was that he be allowed to write the film’s first three script drafts. This he did. Then Spielberg (wanting to remain faithful only to the book’s last 120 pages - the shark hunt; but wanting mostly original material for the story’s first two thirds) brought in award winning novelist and playwright Howard Sackler (THE GREAT WHITE HOPE) to do a new version. It was Sackler who provided the backstory of Quint as a survivor of shark attacks after the infamous sinking of WWII’s USS Indianapolis.
* Attempting to avoid a possible Screen Actors Guild strike at the end of June 1974, Universal set that date as an “end of principal photography” target for JAWS. The film was rushed into production to meet that deadline.
* The unfortunate diving victim in the opening sequence of the film is portrayed by actress Susan Backalinie. Four years later she would "reprise" that role as the diver who “discovers” the Japanese sub in the near frame by frame “JAWS spoof” opening sequence of Spielberg’s WWII comedy 1941.
play JAWS - "One Barrel Chase" (J.Williams)
* Wanting an infusion of character humor to keep the story from becoming too dark and intense, Spielberg brought in writer / comedian / actor Carl Gottlieb. Best known as a member of San Francisco’s improvisational comedy troup “The Committee”, and for writing stints on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, and THE ODD COUPLE, Gottlieb was originally brought in for a “one week dialog polish” which eventually became a nine week gig as primary on-set re-writer.
* As Gottlieb also had experience in front of the camera (among his numerous appearances: a part in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H - 1970), he served double duty as JAWS’ chief re-writer as well as an actor portraying Meadows, the editor of the local Amityville newspaper. His book, THE JAWS LOG, which chronicles the film’s famously difficult location shoot, has been called by THE USUAL SUSPECTS / X-MEN director Bryan Singer, “like a little movie director Bible”.
* To this day the “writing credit” for shark hunter Quint’s famous monologue about the Indianapolis remains a subject of controversy. Spielberg claims his friend, writer/director and military aficionado -
John Milius (APOCOLYPSE NOW, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, MAGNUM FORCE, THE WIND AND THE LION) turned Sackler’s “three quarters of a page” speech into the more detailed monologue … which was then rewritten by playwright / actor Robert Shaw who portrayed Quint.
* As JAWS was (and still is) one of director Bryan Singer’s all time favorite films, he’d appropriate Roy Scheider’s line “That’s some bad hat, Harry!” (spoken to an elderly swimmer wearing a rubber “bathing cap”) as the trademark moniker of his production company. “Bad Hat Harry”’s TV and film credits include the series HOUSE and DIRTY SEXY MONEY, as well as the features APT PUPIL, X-MEN, X2, SUPERMAN RETURNS, VALKRYIE, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and the upcoming JACK THE GIANT KILLER.
* While asked by Zanuck and Brown to cast known actors, Spielberg didn’t want the personas of mega stars detracting from the film’s intimate verisimilitude vibe that “this was happening to people like you and me”. Hence, Charlton Heston was turned down for the role of small town Chief Brody. Robert Duvall was approached to portray Brody, but was more interested in the role of Quint. And both first choices for Quint, Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden, declined.
* Everyman actor Roy Scheider (fresh off the crime thrillers THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE SEVEN-UPS) became interested in JAWS after overhearing Steven Spielberg discuss the in-the-works story with a screenwriter at a party. Scheider's famously adlibbed “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” (upon first sight of the monstrous Great White shark) would over the years enter the pop culture lexicon as one of cinema's most oft quoted phrases.
* Jeff Bridges, Joel Grey and Timothy Bottoms were early considerations for the part of visiting ichthyologist Matt Hooper; and Spielberg’s original first choice was Jon Voight. It was Spielberg’s good friend George Lucas, who had recently worked with Richard Dreyfuss on AMERICAN GRAFFITTI, who ultimately recommended the Brooklyn born actor for the role.
* Dreyfuss originally passed on the film. But after watching himself in an early screening of the recently wrapped Ted Kotcheff comedy/drama THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (1974), he erroneously feared no one would hire him for future acting assignments. He immediately phoned Spielberg to ask if the Hooper role was still available. Dreyfuss ultimately had nothing to fear as KRAVITZ became one of the most critically acclaimed films of 1974 and, along with JAWS, one of the major stepping stones of his career.
* Principal photography on JAWS began May 2, 1974 on Martha’s Vinyard, Massachusetts - chosen partially because the surrounding ocean had a sandy bottom which failed to drop below 35 ft. even upwards to 12 miles out from shore. This helped facilitate easier operation of the film’s special FX prop sharks.
* JAWS on set troubles became Hollywood legend. The primary life sized “mechanical” shark (nicknamed “Bruce”, after Spielberg’s lawyer Bruce Raimer), was designed by the film’s art director Joe Alves, and constructed by a crew under the supervision of veteran FX man Bob Mattey (best known for the giant mechanical squid in Disney’s 20.000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA). Upon shipment to Martha’s Vinyard and fist immersion in the water, “Bruce” promptly capsized and sank to the bottom of Nantucket Sound. A diving team had to retrieve it.
* Over the week's, the film’s escalating troubles (mainly because of a combination of the constantly failing mechanical shark along with difficult location filming at sea) ballooned it’s original $4 million budget to $9 million. Universal threatened to “temporarily” pull the plug on production. But Zanuck and Brown managed to keep their cameras rolling, knowing from years of experience that once a production is halted, it's almost impossible for it to recommence. Disgruntled crew members (as well as media naysayers) gave the film the new nickname “FLAWS”.
* Spielberg would later attribute much of the film’s delays and cost overruns to his hubris as a young and naïve filmmaker who insisted on filming on the open sea rather than within the controllable confines of a studio tank or protected lake. The mechanical shark’s problems forced the filmmaker to (as he says) “become more Alfred Hitchcock than Ray Harryhausen” - jettisoning his original intent of displaying the monster shark as the film’s chief attraction, and going with a more phobic horror/thriller-like first half wherein the movie’s beach combing victims (as well as the cinema audience) never see the faceless force preying upon them.
* Actual footage of real sharks was shot for JAWS by oceanographer / filmmakers Ron and Valerie Taylor off the coast of their Australian homeland. Chief among these sequences was the “Hooper in the shark cage” sequence, where the live shark was made to appear considerably larger than a human being by the simple trick of having a considerably smaller bodied actor within a miniature scaled version of the cage under attack.
* While the Hooper- in-the-cage sequence was planned, the degree of violence of the shark attack on the cage was not. During filming, a live shark photographed by the Taylors, assaulted the cage, became caught within it, then steadily grew more enraged as it attempted to free itself. No actor was in the cage at the time; and normally such unplanned footage would have been an unused outtake. Spielberg however was fascinated by the raw and frightening power of it, and he chose to include it in the final film cut.
* Principal photography on JAWS wrapped October 6, 1974, 100 days over the film’s originally planned end date. For the final shot, the shark’s explosive demise via the shooting by Brody of an oxygen tank in the animal’s mouth (a departure from the climax of the novel), Spielberg was not on set, fearing the crew would afterwards toss him into the sea out of frustration. Not being on set during the final day of principal photography has since become a “good luck” tradition with the director.
* Novelist Benchley was originally appalled at the notion of Spielberg’s “exploding shark” climax, as a shark could not in real life physically clutch such a large oxygen tank within it’s maw. The director countered the writer’s objections with his own brand of “artistic” logic, stating, “If I’ve still got the audience in my grasp at this point, they’ll stay with me for this last bit”. Benchley later conceded the wisdom of Spielberg’s fanciful film denouncement when audiences cheered wildly at the destruction of the film’s aqua marine predator.
play JAWS - "Preparing The Cage" (J.Williams)
* Another “Spielbergian” departure from the novel occurred when Dreyfuss’ Hooper character was not killed in the shark cage, but survived (to the continued cheers of cinema audiences) to join Brody in the lengthy swim home.
* Very different from the Hooper character of the novel (Spielberg even asked Dreyfuss not to read Benchley’s book), the young director fashioned Hooper very much into his own young and naïve (if talented) alter ego. The Dreyfuss/Spielberg alter-ego would re-emerge in the director’s later CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and ALWAYS (1989).
JAWS 1st great hero: editor Verna Fields (center) accepts her Oscar for the 1975 thriller
* As no director had ever taken a film 100 days over schedule, Spielberg was certain his theatrical directing career was over after JAWS. That is until early test screenings (sans completed footage) saw audiences screaming and enjoying the film to a degree hitherto unimaginable.
* Encouraged and now feeling “greedy” for just a little more audience engagement / response, Spielberg altered two scenes. 1) Upon Brody’s first sight of the shark and utterance of “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”, the screams and laughter of the test audience where so great they drowned out the classic line. As a result Spielberg extended Scheider’s wordless response and hilarious look of terror before the now famous words, and he also cleverly increased the volume on the dialog when Scheider finally does speak. And 2) - the director re-shot the sequence where Ben Gardner’s corpse head pops out of the hull of the submerged fishing boat to the shock of both diver Hooper and the audience. Wanting to give the originally static sequence a more jolting "Jack-in-the-box" punch, Spielberg filmed the reshoot in the swimming pool of editor Verna Fields, using $3,000 of his own money when Universal refused to foot the bill.
Spielberg and JAWS 2nd great hero, John Williams, today jawing about JAWS
* JAWS would be the second of a (to date) 21 film / 38 year collaboration between Spielberg and composer John Williams, whom the young director had admired from earlier scores such as THE REIVERS and CINDERELLA LIBERTY. Upon first hearing Williams’ now famously phobic, two-note, alternating “E” & “F” shark motif/theme, Spielberg laughed, thinking it was a joke. But upon further listening recognized it’s effective primal quality - akin to Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO.
* For JAWS’ “less horror / more high adventure” second half shark hunt sequences, Williams had proclaimed, “This reminds me of a pirate movie” and wrote deliberately (what some might consider) anachronistically old school swashbuckling shanty-based material, superficially seeming more at home in an Errol Flynn costume yarn.
* Williams’ “mash up” horror/swasbuckling high adventure score to JAWS would become a classic - re-purposed, homaged and spoofed ad infinitum for the next near forty years. It would win the 1975 Academy Award, and ultimately rank as #6 in the AFI’s (American Film Institute) list of the 100 Greatest Movie Scores of All Time.
* JAWS opened June 20, 1975 to a $7 million weekend, and recouped it’s (then) exorbitant production costs within two weeks. It went on to topple THE GODFATHER as the biggest North American box office champ; and also became the first film to reach the $100 million mark. It would maintain it’s box office record until eclipsed by George Lucas’ STAR WARS two years later.
* JAWS won three 1975 Academy Awards for Best Original Score, Best Editing (Verna Fields), and Best Sound (Robert Hoyt, Roger Heman, Earl Madery and John Carter). It would lose the Best Picture Oscar to ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Spielberg acknowledged he was personally hurt at the time by the Academy’s failure to recognize his own contribution with a Best Director nomination.
* “JAWSmania” swept the nation and the world with the film’s success spinning into merchandise as varied as toys, posters, video games, clothing (including JAWS panties!), and in time even a series of Broadway-style musicals and theme park rides, the most popular at Universal’s own Universal Studios Florida.
* Universal and Zanuck/Brown produced the non-Spielberg sequel JAWS 2 in 1978. It would star the original film’s Roy Schneider (reprising his role as Chief Brody in order to fulfill a contractual obligation to the studio), as well as Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody and Murray Hamilton as mayor Larry Vaughn. It would also feature a screenplay by Howard Sackler and Carl Gottlieb, and a new score by John Williams. While not nearly as critically acclaimed as the original film, it would end up on Variety’s “Top Ten Box Office Hits of All Time” until the mid 1990s. It would also claim the crown as the highest grossing sequel in film history until 1980. It’s tagline “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water …” remains one of the most famous in film promotion history.
* For a third JAWS outing producers Zanuck and Brown originally wanted to do an AIRPLANE-like spoof entitled JAWS - 3; HUMANS - O. But the studio instead opted to film JAWS 3D. Directed by JAWS art director Joe Alves, and written by Carl Gottlieb and Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) it starred a young Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Lea Thompson and Louis Gossett Jr. in the tale of a great white shark invading the Sea World aquarium attraction park and feeding upon it’s swimmer / performers.
* JAWS would become the first bonafied summer Hollywood blockbuster, altering the release paradigm from then on with massive multi-media ad campaigns combined with “saturation booking” - wherein a film opens in thousands of theaters simultaneously, rather than the “slow rollout” commonplace before JAWS. With the "slow roll" a major film would premiere in large cities, then slowly over the weeks and months make it’s way into local neighborhood and drive-in theater venues.
* While JAWS author Peter Benchley went on to pen other non-sea set novels (among them the witty mysteries “Q CLEARENCE” and “RUMMIES”) as well as many non fiction works, his most popular proved to be his oceanic thrillers - among them THE DEEP (1976), THE ISLAND (1979), THE GIRL OF THE SEA OF CORTEZ (1982), BEAST (1991) and WHITE SHARK (1997). THE DEEP became a popular 1977 film directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT, BREAKING AWAY), and starring JAWS’ Robert Shaw, with Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset. THE ISLAND was adapted as a 1980 film starring Michael Caine and David Warner. It was produced by JAWS’ Richard Zanuck and David Brown.
* As PSYCHO before it had caused paranoia for many about showers, so was JAWS responsible for years of diminished beach attendance, as well as increased “shark sightings” and subsequent “organized hunts” to destroy the animal in many oceanic tournaments. JAWS novelist Peter Benchley has stated that had he known what sharks are really like in the wild, he never would have written JAWS, in which they are portrayed as mindless killing machines. He’s since written numerous articles, and made appearances, attempting to correct such negative misconceptions.
* Martha’s Vineyard celebrated the 30th Anniversary of JAWS with JAWSFEST during the summer of 2005. The 2nd Edition of JAWSFEST is scheduled for Aug. 9 - 12, 2012.