Jaws and the production story that almost stopped the movie


If we follow the production history of Jaws, it’s really remarkable that the movie was made. The production glitches are legendary and almost ridiculously accurate. From the time Universal reclaimed the rights to the time this icon John Williams score plays under the opening credits on the big screen, problems plagued Steven Spielberg and company almost daily.

The story begins in 1973. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown received a copy of the novel and were hooked. They knew it had the ingredients for a great movie, so they ran through their checklist. The story? Good. Can we afford to do this? We can’t afford not to, so yes. Will author Pierre Benchley write a screenplay? He agreed to do up to three, so yes. Should we grab it now before some other studio grabs it? Absolutely yes. So they bought the movie rights for $175,000., even before the novel was made public. The question they should have asked? Box let it be done. In their haste, they hadn’t really thought about what it would take to shoot the movie. We’ll call this problem #1.


Hiring of Steven Spielberg

But they had the rights, the novel was flying off the shelves – they had to make the movie, period. They initiated the process by looking for a director. They first approached the manager John Sturgewho declined, as did their second choice, Dick Richards. The name of 26-year-old prodigy Steven Spielberg came up, so they ran through another checklist. Can he lead? Yes. Has he made a feature film? Yes, the TV movie Duel and The Sugarland Express. Did he make a big-budget feature film? No. Has he made monster movies? Does the actress Goldie Hawn count? So no. Is he available and under contract? Yes and yes. Welcome aboard, Mr. Spielberg.

Script writing and rewriting

While this was happening, the novel’s author Peter Benchley submitted three draft scripts, each of which focused more on the events of the book. This included a number of subplots, including the mayor having mob connections, which the novel was filled with (appropriately, a subplot about Ellen Brody having an affair with Hooper was not included). Spielberg reviewed the drafts and let out a mighty sigh. None of them corresponded to his vision of the project. Spielberg had no interest in subplots. He quite rightly wanted the film to focus primarily on the shark and the men who hunt it, period. Playwright Howard Sackler was brought in and he agreed to an uncredited rewrite of the entire script. Spielberg re-read his version. The rewrite fixed some of the issues Spielberg had with Benchley’s draft, but something was still wrong. The overall mood of the script was dark and the characters were largely unlikable, which is a problem when you’re shooting a movie about a killer shark and the audience is on the shark’s side. So he turned to the comedy writer and friend Carl Gottlieb to lighten the scenario. “Lighten up a script…for a killer shark movie?” he must have thought, “Why not add some scenes of Norman Bates doing stand-up comedy routines to psychology while I’m there? Nevertheless, he accepted.

RELATED: ‘Jaws’ Review: A Thriller That Left Me Rooting For The Shark

The project would end up being bigger than either Gottlieb or Spielberg envisioned, which would make Gottlieb the main screenwriter. The problem was, and we’ll call this number 2, that there was no way to rewrite the entire script before filming began. This led to scripted scenes during filmingand often not finished until the day before shooting.


Sure that the script part was in good hands, now is the time to focus on the casting. The top picks for the cast members didn’t bite (no pun intended). Paul Newman and Robert Duval were among those considered for the role of Brodybut Spielberg didn’t want a big star in the film, so Newman was not approached and Duvall would only come on board if he could play Quint. Charlton-Heston spreading word that he would be interested in playing Brody, but even the mighty Moses didn’t fit Spielberg’s vision. Eventually, Spielberg would find his Chief Brody as an actor Roy Scheider. There was certainly nothing going on on the casting front that was abnormal of any other major Hollywood production, however, similar situations with the role of Brody spawned the casting of the roles of Quint and Matt Hooper. Finally, Spielberg has found his cast. He agreed with Zanuck and Brown’s suggestion of Robert Shaw for the role of Quint, and also agreed with fellow director and friend george lucas throw american graffiti alum Richard Dreyfuss like Matt Hooper.

Filming in the ocean

With the cast now in place, it was time to begin filming. Call it bravado, call it naivety or call it artistic vision, but Spielberg made the decision to film on the ocean, a first for major feature films. Call it number 3. Feature films set in the ocean were usually filmed on set in a large reservoir or in shallower water, but never on the ocean itself. The reason became very obvious, very quickly. Bad weather, sailboats that drifted into the frame and wet cameras caused many delays. Once the Orca began to sink while the actors were on board. If Spielberg didn’t think he was in over his head yet, he must have felt it now.

Bruce the shark

Fortunately, three sharks were built for the film, collectively named Bruce after Spielberg’s friend and lawyer Bruce Ramer, and they looked great, but inevitably became number 4. What should have been taken as an omen happened on earth, when George Lucas was bitten off the head in the store, the result of a missed practical joke, prompting the shark’s jaws to open to let Lucas out. Minor setback, easily repaired, no harm. A shark was therefore taken into the water for a test. Two things sank that day: the shark itself, to the bottom of the ocean, and Spielberg’s heart. And that wasn’t the end of the shark problems. Salt water, fractures, absorbent and absorbent-resistant skin, and corrosion have led sharks to constantly decompose. It happened so frequently that Spielberg realized he had to somehow make a shark movie without a shark (for those counting, number 5). So Spielberg, like many other directors, turned to the acronym WWHD (What Would Hitchcock Do) and decided to change the approach to horror from seeing the shark to, instead, the shark being the invisible and unknown sense of terror and horror. .

Surely that must have been the extent of the issues that plagued filming, right? No. The cast, all professional actors, seemed like a cohesive unit, even improvising character lines to help Gottlieb with his late-night script writing (where the famous “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” came from). . Only small problem: Shaw and Dreyfuss hated each other, adding unwanted tension to an ensemble already beleaguered by tension. Number 6.

Filming was finally complete and Spielberg could move into post-production. Free problem? Type of. Ironically, two scenes where the shark was actually working would end up on the floor of the editing room. A alternate shot of the murderous attack on young Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) And one alternate shot of the shark attacking the potential rescuer from the estuary were cut due to excessive gore and Spielberg’s change in approach to the shark in the film. Also, after hearing John Williams’ score for the film, Spielberg laughedbelieving that dun dun being a joke that Williams was playing on him.

All this represented more than 100 additional shooting days, 159 against the planned 55. In turn, the budget amounted to 12 million dollars, 300% more than the initial allocation and four times the cost of an average film in 1975. Now that the film is finally finished and in the box, Spielberg has prepared for the worst: the end of his Hollywood career before it’s even really started.

Despite everything, “Jaws” was a success

He didn’t have to worry. Jaws to date has earned $470,700,000 worldwide, a whopping 97.45% off its $12 million budget. It set new precedents for the industry: multi-theater release at the same time; the “summer blockbuster” (summer was largely considered off-season until now); and increased film advertising and marketing budgets. He redefined the perception of the shark by audiences around the world and propelled Spielberg to the forefront of Hollywood directors. Here’s the irony: the things that threatened to destroy the film during filming ended up being the very things that keep Jaws at or near the top of critics’ selection of top Hollywood films. The oceanic shot that gives striking realism to the hunt. Last-minute scripts, supported by input from actors who customize the dialogue for them. The “laughable” score that heightened the tension, further exacerbated by off-screen bickering and frustration. More importantly, the continuing problems with sharks led Spielberg to change course towards a more Hitchcockian approach to the shark, petrifying audiences with the terror of the unseen.

But there was no question that he signs for Jaws 2.


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