Jaws: 27 Things You Didn't Know About The Movie...
Jaws The Movie
The shoot ran too long and over budget, the script was still being written as scenes were filmed, the young director woke up every day fearing he would get fired, and the mechanical shark built for the movie sank to the bottom of the ocean. And yet, lined up around the block and around the world to get scared silly by "Jaws," now recognised as the first ever summer blockbuster.
Jaws was the first movie to generate over $100 million in theatre rentals on its way to more than $400 million in box office sales alone. It created the new business model of heavily marketed, widely released summer blockbusters. It won three Academy Awards. And it was also a mess.
Director Steven Spielberg started the film without a finished script or a working shark. He decided to film on the ocean rather than on a giant back lot tank, something that had never been done before. He didn't get the actors he originally wanted. He didn't film the story he originally envisioned. During production, few things went as planned.
A horror story wrapped in an adventure, the movie tapped into our deepest fears about what dangers lurk beneath the ocean's surface. Some people told screenwriter Carl Gottlieb that the movie, about a giant shark terrorising a summer resort town, even made them afraid to venture into swimming pools. Yes, the fake shark looks a little cheesy now. But in 1975, long before computers could create any spectacle onscreen, it was plenty terrifying.
On June 20, 1975, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws—the original summer blockbuster—arrived in theatres and scared moviegoers out of the water. Here are 27 things you might not have known about the Oscar-winning shark movie.
Jaws is adapted from author Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel of the same name, which Benchley based on a series of shark attacks that occurred off the coast of New Jersey in 1916 and after an incident where a New York fisherman named Frank Mundus caught a 4500-pound shark off the coast of Montauk in 1964. Other title ideas Benchley had before settling on Jaws were “The Stillness in the Water,” “The Silence of the Deep,” “Leviathan Rising,” and “The Jaws of Death."
The movie overcame a troubled shoot to launch Steven Spielberg's career as a master craftsman. With its wide release and aggressive ad campaign, Jaws pioneered the current Hollywood model for how big-budget movies are spring-boarded into the market. And it sparked a cultural fascination with sharks -especially great whites - that endures today, in everything from IMAX documentaries to the "Sharknado" movies to the Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week.
Young Steven Spielberg
Spielberg was chosen to direct Jaws by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown because of his film Duel, which featured a maniacal trucker terrorizing a mild-mannered driver. The producers thought the movie was thematically similar to the story for Jaws, making Spielberg a great fit.
None of the three main actors -Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss - was the producers' first choice for the parts. Robert Duvall and Charlton Heston were among those considered for Chief Brody, while Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden were initially sought for Captain Quint, and Jeff Bridges was discussed for Matt Hooper, the marine biologist.
The movie's script eliminated several subplots from Peter Benchley's novel that Spielberg considered distracting, including an affair between Chief Brody's wife, Ellen, and Hooper (Dreyfuss).
Jaws In The Water
Location scouts considered filming locales across the United States but chose Martha's Vineyard because they needed a summer beach resort town with a sheltered bay, manageable tides and shallow waters to make filming easier.
Although the movie is set in midsummer, producers began filming in early May 1974 to avoid an actors' strike that was scheduled to begin July 1. If you look closely in the background of some scenes, you can see trees with no leaves.
The movie's 25-foot great white shark was played by three full-scale mechanical models towed by submerged "sleds" or guided by hidden scuba divers. The crew nicknamed the shark "Bruce" after Spielberg's lawyer, Bruce Ramer.
The shark doesn’t fully appear in a shot until 1 hour and 21 minutes into the two-hour film. The reason it isn’t shown is because the mechanical shark that was built rarely worked during filming, so Spielberg had to create inventive ways (like Quint’s yellow barrels) to shoot around the non-functional shark.
Film Location Jaws
The opening scene took three days to shoot. To achieve the jolting motions of the shark attacking the swimmer in the opening sequence, a harness with cables was attached to actress Susan Backlinie’s legs and was pulled by crew members back and forth along the shoreline. Spielberg told the crew not to let Backlinie know when she would be yanked back and forth, so her terrified reaction is genuine.
Scheider got the part of Chief Martin Brody after overhearing Spielberg talking to a friend at a Hollywood party about the scene where the shark leaps out of the water and onto Quint’s boat. Scheider was instantly enthralled, and asked Spielberg if he could be in the film. Spielberg loved Scheider from his role in The French Connection, and later offered the actor the part.
Songs From Jaws
The grieving mother who slapped Chief Brody in the movie was played by actress Lee Fierro. She had a difficult time faking the slap and instead walloped Scheider over and over during the many takes needed to get the scene right.
At one point, Quint's boat, the Orca, sank unexpectedly during filming, soaking cameras and threatening to ruin the day's completed footage. The waterlogged film was flown to a lab in New York, where technicians were able to save it.
When composer John Williams first played his ominous two-note "shark theme" score for Spielberg on a piano, the director thought it was a joke. Later Spielberg would say, "The score was clearly responsible for half of the success of that movie."
Local fishermen were unable to catch a big enough shark to use in the scene in which town officials prematurely celebrate a large shark that's been caught and strung up on a dock. So the film's producers located a freshly caught 13-foot tiger shark in Florida and flew it up to Massachusetts on a private plane. By the time the cameras rolled, however, the shark was decomposing and smelled awful.
The movie's protracted shoot was so troubled by mishaps that some crew members privately began calling the film "Flaws". Jaws was marred with so many technical problems (including the shark not working and shooting in the Atlantic Ocean) that the originally scheduled 65-day shoot ballooned into 159 days, not counting post-production.
Brody's famous line upon first encountering the shark, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," was ad-libbed by Scheider. At test screenings, the audience's screams drowned out the line, so Spielberg re-edited the scene to make it more audible.
A young filmmaker named John Landis was visiting the set when he was pressed into duty to help build the rickety wooden pier used in the scene where two men try to catch the shark with a hook and chain, baited with a roast. Landis went on to direct "Animal House" and "An American Werewolf in London."
Boat Name From Jaws
The success of "Jaws" also led to three sequels and numerous knockoffs. By the time of 1999's "Deep Blue Sea," with LL Cool J, the mechanical sharks had been replaced by computer-generated ones.
For the famous scene in which Quint recounts the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, Shaw persuaded Spielberg to let him have a few drinks before the cameras started rolling. But Shaw got so drunk, he had to be carried to the set and couldn't get through his lines. He later called Spielberg and apologised; they shot the scene again the next day, and Shaw nailed it.
To add authenticity to the scene in which Hooper goes underwater in the shark cage, a second unit shot footage of real sharks in Australia. To make the sharks appear bigger, the filmmakers used a shrunken shark cage and a Hooper stunt double played by a 4-foot-9 ex-jockey in a wetsuit.
The original script, like the novel, called for Hooper to be killed when the shark bites through the cage. But the Australia crew had captured spectacular footage of a great white attacking an empty shark cage, and Spielberg wanted to use it. So the scene was rewritten to let Hooper escape, sparing Dreyfuss' character.
After principal filming wrapped, Spielberg decided he needed one more big scare. He wasn't satisfied with the scene in which Hooper investigates a fisherman's sunken boat and is jolted when the man's disembodied head floats out of the hull. So Spielberg recruited a small crew and reshot the scene in film editor Verna Fields' backyard swimming pool in Encino, California. To make the clear, chlorinated water match the murkier look of the ocean, crew members poured milk into the pool.
Test screenings revealed that the audience's loudest screams were for the severed-head scene, even louder than when the shark first rises out of the water behind Brody. After the movie opened, Spielberg and screenwriter Gottlieb would sneak into screenings in Los Angeles and stand in the back of the theater "just to watch the sold-out audience visibly rise out of their seats with a collective shriek."
John Williams conducted the orchestra during the 1976 Academy Awards, so when he won the Oscar for best score, he had to dash up to the podium to accept his Oscar and then run back down to continue conducting.
The pneumatically-powered shark, designed and built by production designer Joe Alves, weighed in at 1.2 tons and measured 25 feet in length. Part of the reason that Martha’s Vineyard was chosen as a location was because the surrounding ocean bed had a depth of 35 feet for up to 12 miles offshore, which was perfect for scenes that required the mechanical shark rig to be rested on the shallow ocean floor.
Early drafts of the screenplay featured a subplot where Hooper has an affair with Chief Brody’s wife, which was carted over from the book. Another detail left out of the movie from the book was that Mayor Vaughn was under pressure from the mafia, not local business owners, to keep Amity’s beaches open because of their real estate investments on the island.
The original ending in the script had the shark dying of harpoon injuries inflicted by Quint and Brody à la Moby Dick, but Spielberg thought the movie needed a crowd-pleasing finale and came up with the exploding tank as seen in the final film.
The dialogue and foreshadowing of the tank were then dropped in as they shot the movie.
Peter Benchley himself can be seen in a cameo in the film as the news reporter who addresses the camera on the beach. Benchley had previously worked as a news reporter for The Washington Post before writing Jaws. Steven Spielberg also makes a cameo in the movie: His voice is the Amity Island dispatcher who calls Quint’s boat, the Orca, with Sheriff Brody’s wife on the line.
Jaws was the first movie released in more than 400 theatres in the United States, and the first movie to gross over $100 million at the box office. It was the highest grossing movie of all time until Star Wars was released two years later.
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