|Steven Spielberg Director||previously directed The Sugarland Express|
Based on the best selling book, a giant shark runs amok off the coast of a small New England island. The local police chief recruits a marine biologist, and a seasoned shark hunter to catch the monster, thereby preventing further harm to summer bathers. Inspired the term "summer blockbuster".
Steven Spielberg played first clarinet during John Williams' recording of the beach theme.11 More Trivia
27 More Quotes
This shark, swallow you whole. A little shakin', a little tenderizing and down ya' go.
|John Milius||Indianapolis monologue|
|Howard Sackler||Indianapolis monologue|
|Robert Shaw||Indianapolis monologue|
|Roy Scheider||Martin Brody|
|Robert Shaw||Sam Quint|
|Richard Dreyfuss||Matt Hooper|
|Lorraine Gary||Ellen Brody|
|Murray Hamilton||Mayor Larry Vaughn|
|Carl Gottlieb||Ben Meadows|
|Jeffrey Kramer||Leonard Hendricks|
|Susan Backlinie||Christine Watkins|
|Jonathan Filley||Tom Cassidy|
|Ted Grossman||Estuary Victim|
|See Full Credits|
On the beaches of Amity Island, a small New England island community, a group of teenagers are having a bonfire party. Chrissie Watkins and a young man decide to go skinny dipping, but the gentleman passes out on the beach before he can get in the water. While Chrissie is swimming, she is attacked by an unseen force and dragged underwater.
The next morning, Chief of Police Martin Brody is called to the beach to check on the disappearance of Watkins. Deputy Hendricks finds the remains of the young woman on the beach and Brody orders him to close the beaches after receiving word from the medical examiner that the cause of death was a shark attack. Later that morning, while Brody is in transit on a ferry, he is confronted by Mayor Larry Vaughn, the medical examiner and the editor of the local newspaper. Amity, dependant on summer tourists and their spending, Vaughn refuses to allow Brody to close the beaches and the medical examiner revises his findings on the Watkins death.
The next day, the people of Amity are enjoying the beaches before the summer tourists arrive. A young boy, Alex Kintner, is attacked and killed while rafting—all under the supervision of Brody. Traumatized and distraught over his failure to protect the public, Brody informs the town elders that he’s shutting down the beaches—but is restricted by Vaughn to only 24 hours. After Kintner’s mother places an advertisement soliciting a bounty for the shark, Quint, a local fisherman, offers to catch and kill the shark for $10,000 and provides ominous warnings of the fish’s intent.
As the summer tourists arrive, so do dozens of fisherman hunting the shark. Bumbling about with dynamite and various techniques, Brody has his hands full keeping order. A young ichthyologist named Matt Hooper offers to examine the remains of Watkins, determining once and for all that she was killed by a shark. After a group of fisherman catches and kills a shark, the crisis appears to be over—but Hooper and Brody have their doubts. Vaughn refuses to let the pair conduct an autopsy on the shark, but under cover of darkness the men discover the shark that was caught was not the one that killed Watkins and the Kintner boy. They head out to sea to try and find the real shark and find the destroyed boat of a local fisherman. Hooper dives to investigate and retrieves a tooth from the hull, confirming that the shark they’re after is a great white.
As the Fourth of July tourists swarm the beaches, Hooper, Brody and the police force keep an eye out for the shark. After two children are caught impersonating the shark, the genuine article appears in the estuary and kills a boater. Learning his oldest son is in the estuary, Brody rushes over and finds him alive but in shock. At the hospital, Brody confronts Vaughn and convinces him to sign an order hiring Quint to kill the shark.
Accompanied by Brody and Hooper, Quint heads out to sea in his ship, the Orca. After chumming for half a day, the shark appears—a 26 ft. monstrosity. Quint succeeds in attaching a harpoon and floatation barrel to keep the shark at the surface, but the fish is too strong and submerges. Later that evening, after retiring to the wheelhouse, Quint tells a tale of his time on the USS Indianapolis and his continuing hatred for sharks. After the story, the shark attacks the boat and disables the engine, flooding the compartment with sea water.
The following morning, the crew attempt to repair the engine. As the barrel surfaces and begins to circle the boat, Brody panics and attempts to contact the Coast Guard. Quint destroys the radio and harpoons a second barrel, tying off both lines to the stern of the Orca and attempting to tow the shark back to shore. The fish is too strong, however, and pulls out both the stern cleats and a portion of the deck—causing the ship to start sinking.
Out of options, Hooper constructs his shark cage and goes into the water with a poison spear, attempting to stab the shark in the mouth and kill it. The shark ferociously attacks the cage and Hooper is forced to escape. The shark then jumps out of the water and perches itself on the stern of the Orca, where Quint tries to attack it with a machete. However, his formidable human talents are no match for the formidable animal talents of the shark and he is bitten in half and taken under. Brody retreats to the wheelhouse, where the shark breaks through a window, its gaping maw feet from Brody’s body. Remembering an earlier warning from Hooper about the explosive properties of compressed air, Brody shoves a scuba tank into the shark’s mouth and climbs up the mast with Quint’s rifle. As the shark charges and the Orca sinks, Brody tries to hit the scuba tank—finally succeeding and blowing the shark to pieces.
Hooper surfaces and the pair swim to shore together, using wreckage from the Orca and two floatation barrels as a makeshift raft.
Author Peter Benchley was inspired to write his bestselling novel by the story of a Long Island fisherman who caught a 4,000 lbs. great white shark off the beaches of Long Island. Commissioned in 1971 by Doubleday to present a four-page outline of his proposed novel, Benchley impressed the publisher enough to secure a deal for the full book. Completed in 1973, at which point Benchley had only received $7,500, the manuscript was shopped around to book of the month clubs and paperback publishers.
Receiving widespread acclaim in the publishing world, even before its release, Jaws long success began when the Book-of-the-Month Club selected Jaws as an “A” book, meaning it was a preferred selection. Reader’s Digest soon featured the book, leading Bantam to purchase the paperback publishing rights for the (then) unheard sum of $575,000. Benchley, with only $600 in his bank account, was now riding high on a wave of success.
At the same time Jaws was earning recognition in the book world, it was being sent to Hollywood producers for a possible film adaptation. Richard Zanuck and David Brown, one of the most successful producing partnerships in filmmaking—having been responsible for such landmark films as The Sound of Music, The French Connection, Patton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting—were just as impressed with Benchley’s tale as their publishing brethren. On behalf of MCA/Universal, Zanuck and Brown purchased the film rights to Jaws for $150,000, with an additional $25,000 to Benchley for the first draft of a screenplay.
Zanuck and Brown then travelled to Europe, pursuing other properties already in development. Also in Europe, promoting his recently-released television movie Duel, was a young filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. Duel, a harrowing tale about a demonic truck pursuing an innocent motorist with murderous intent, had received such acclaim in the United States that it was released theatrically in Europe—earning tremendous critical and popular support.
Spielberg, in post-production on his first feature film, Sugarland Express—which Zanuck and Brown had also produced—first encountered Jaws in manuscript form in the Zanuck & Brown office. Initially confused by the title, believing it may have been a novel about a dentist, Spielberg was enthralled by Benchley’s prose and asked Zanuck and Brown if Jaws could be his next project.
Zanuck and Brown’s main direction to Benchley while writing the first draft was to abandon the complex background plots strung through the novel. Aspects of the novel, like Mayor Vaughn’s Mafia connections and a sexual relationship between Hooper and Ellen Brody, were removed in favor of a more direct, thrilling story flow. Once Benchley completed his draft, he turned it over to Spielberg.
Spielberg, interested in Benchley’s draft but feeling it wasn’t the film he wanted to make, composed an entire draft himself. Not traditionally a writer, Spielberg was able to incorporate some scenes from his draft into the finished film and use the exercise to hone his vision for the film, even if his writing skills weren’t up to the task. Zanuck and Brown suggested that Spielberg take the script to Howard Sackler, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of The Great White Hope. Sackler specifically requested not to receive a writing credit for the film, since he only had a limited amount of time to devote to the project. Nevertheless, Sackler’s influence would shape the screenplay into its final form.
Still not entirely satisfied, Spielberg hired Carl Gottlieb, then a story editor on The Odd Couple, to help on-set with improvisation. Gottlieb, brought on initially as an actor, polished the script and was on set to incorporate ad-libs by the actors into the screenplay. Upon reading the script, Gottlieb felt that, if done correctly, the film would do for the ocean what the shower scene from Psycho did for showers. Gottlieb and Spielberg worked to remove aspects of the script for reasons of drama, redundancy and production.
Aspects of Spielberg’s script that didn’t make it into the final film included Quint’s original introduction, with the grizzled whaler watching Gregory Peck’s Moby Dick in a local theater and laughing uproariously throughout. Spielberg tried to obtain the rights from Peck, but the actor supposedly wasn’t proud of his performance in Moby Dick and preferred not to have the footage used.
In an effort to help legitimize the film, Zanuck and Brown wanted genuine shark footage alongside the special effects. A second unit film crew was sent to Australia to work with Ron and Valerie Taylor, famous documentarians and shark experts who had previously worked on Peter Gimbel’s landmark documentary Blue Water, White Death. Spielberg originally contacted Gimbel himself to shoot the underwater footage, but Gimbel would only work on the project if he could direct the film.
Since most of the great white sharks in Australia measured around 14 ft. long, and Jaws was designed to be 26 ft. long, Spielberg came up with the idea of building a miniature shark cage and using a little person to scale the shark up. Carl Rizzo, a 4’9” former jockey with 12 years of stunt experience in Hollywood was sent to Australia, given a crash course in scuba diving, and plunged into the ocean with man-eating sharks. After one week of shooting, Ron Taylor was filming the miniature cage underwater when a great white shark became entangled in the rigging. Trying to escape, the shark went crazy, eventually breaking the cage off the boat and tumbling to the sea floor. This footage found its way into the final film during the scene where the shark attacks the cage.
Casting the film was a torturous process, as many of Spielberg’s first choices were either uninterested or unavailable. For the role of Martin Brody, Spielberg focused on unknowns—contrary to the requests of Zanuck and Brown, who wanted a more well-known actor. The casting process overall would be characterized by a desire for acting ability over star power. Spieberg met Roy Scheider at a party, where Scheider overheard Spielberg discussing his ambitions for Jaws. Believing he was crazy, Schieder spoke more with Spielberg about the project, inquiring about a possible role. Spielberg, having loved Schieder in The French Connection, believed he would make an excellent Chief Brody.
Spielberg’s first choices for the role of Matt Hooper, the young ichthyologist, included Jon Voight, Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges. Spielberg, impressed with Last Picture Show, jokingly considered auditioning every actor from the film for the role of Hooper. On the recommendation of George Lucas, who had previously worked with Richard Dreyfuss on American Graffiti, Spielberg asked Dreyfuss to play the part. Dreyfuss originally said no, believing the film would be far more enjoyable to watch than to film. However, after attending the premiere of his first starring film, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Dreyfuss had a major panic attack—believing his performance was terrible. Desperate to secure another role, he contacted Spielberg and essentially came crawling to Martha’s Vineyard for Jaws.
The role of Quint would again cause Spielberg to abandon some of his early favorites, including Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden. Zanuck and Brown suggested Robert Shaw, having worked with him previously on The Sting. Spielberg, enjoying Shaw’s performances in A Man for All Seasons and From Russia with Love, cast the English acting legend immediately. Incredibly intense and ultra competitive, Shaw would become one of the most memorable aspects of Jaws.
Lorraine Gary, the wife of MCA/Universal President Sid Sheinberg, was cast as the guilt-ridden Ellen Brody. According to Gary, her background as a Jewish mother provided the perfect inspiration for her role. Spielberg had enjoyed her performance in a television movie opposite Telly Savalas called The Marcus Nelson Murders. For the role of the naïve mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn, Spielberg was fortunate enough to obtain his first choice. Murray Hamilton, well known for his roles in The FBI Story and The Graduate, would reprise his role as Vaughn in Jaws 2.
For the integral aspect of shooting location, Production Designer Joe Alves scouted hundreds of coastal cities around the world. Jamaica was briefly considered, due to the clearness of the water and the relatively temperate conditions. Ultimately, Spielberg decided on the small New England hamlet of Martha’s Vineyard—never previously filmed for a motion picture. Spielberg preferred Martha’s Vineyard because it was the only place on the East Coast where he could travel 12 miles out to sea, have a sandy bottom only 30 ft. deep to place the mechanical shark, and never see land on the horizon. An old-fashioned town that had changed little since the 1800’s, the inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard weren’t exactly eager for a filmmaking invasion. The production was not allowed to alter the environment in any way and the only set they constructed, Quint’s shack, had to be completely removed by the end of shooting.
The special effects department at MCA/Universal was overloaded with other, big budget event films, so Alves was instructed to go out and find someone who could create the mechanical shark. After receiving a series of claims that the project was impossible, Alves discovered the recently-retired Bob Mackey. Mackey, who had worked in the special effects department at Walt Disney Studios for 12 years and created the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, presented Alves with an optimistic attitude and incredible technical proficiency.
While designing the shark, Alves decided to create an animal 26 feet long, to present a credible version of the real creature. Everything on the design was scaled up from a real great white skeleton, producing a realistic version of a shark that size. A dream team of technical wizards was assembled to create the three mechanical sharks used for the film, including Roy Arbogast, Richie Helmer and Bill Short. Of the three sharks built, one was a fully-contained model, while the other two had their opposite sides scooped out to allow access to the interior mechanics. All three were affixed to a large sled and gimble arm, which would be sunk underwater and allow the shark to move forward, backward, up and down and provide limited rotation. After consulting with Ron and Valerie Taylor, some of the shark’s articulation was actually removed to help present a more realistic portrayal of the real animal.
Pneumatic motors were used to generate the shark’s movements, rather than the traditional hydraulics, to avoid a possible oil leak in the ocean. Built and tested dry, the shark worked perfectly—but once it was transported to Martha’s Vineyard and sunk into the cold Atlantic Ocean, everything that could go wrong did. The first shark test observed by Zanuck and Brown featured the shark erupting from the water tail first and slowly sinking to the bottom of Nantucket Sound, with divers dispatched to retrieve the mechanical beast. The salt water wreaked havoc on the internal mechanics, causing innumerable delays in filming.
The first day featured the scene on the beach where young Chrissie Watkins is killed by the shark. Stuntwoman Susan Backlinie was wearing a pair of cut-off Levi jeans with long ropes attached to either hip. The ropes went horizontally to two pylons and then back to the beach, where several large men ran back and forth to achieve the effect of the shark jerking her back and forth in the water. The first downward tug was actually performed by Spielberg, sitting on the bottom above an anchor.
Spielberg’s new-found mantra for the film after discovering the 'shark was not working', was that seeing the shark to a lesser degree was far more terrifying than the alternative. This approach to filmmaking was increasingly encouraged by the shark’s frequent mechanical failures. Improvisation and spur-of-the-moment decisions were common, including the severed hand on the beach. The prop produced, while clinically correct, appeared too fake for Spielberg. As a result, Spielberg used a crew member’s hand for the shot, with the addition of the sand crabs lending the final aspect of realism.
For the Kintner boy’s death on the beach, Spielberg wanted to film the entire sequence in one shot—but knew that such a desire was impossible. Wondering in a perfect world how he could achieve his ambitions, Spielberg came up with the idea of using walking bathers in different colored swimsuits to wipe the frame, granting a more continuous feel to the sequence and emphasizing the Chief’s point of view. The later death of the man in the estuary and Michael Brody’s encounter with the shark was originally filmed as a much grizzlier affair, with stuntman Ted Grossman being pushed along by the shark vomiting blood. Opting for a more subdued affair, Spielberg re-shot the scene.
For the Orca’s departure from dock, Spielberg instructed Shaw to chide Ellen Brody in any way possible. Shaw ad-libbed a speech about Mary Lee, something he remembered from a tombstone in Ireland. When the production began its journey to sea, the problems were only beginning.
Plagued by wind and weather, shooting all day at sea would sometimes yield only six seconds of useable footage. Boats on the horizon would mean waiting for hours, or a carefully crafted shot would be ruined as the boats began to drift apart on their anchors. Everyone got sea sick, including Robert Shaw, who had to be helped into his chair for a scene where he barks at Hooper.
However, even during the rigors of sea shoots, improvisation yielded wonders. The famous line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” was improvised on set by Roy Scheider and subsequently entered the popular culture lexicon.
Two versions of the Orca were constructed, one just to sink repeatedly. The main ship, purchased as the Warlock, was overhauled by Alves to feature larger windows in the wheelhouse and a more squared-off appearance. During one scene, where a loop was fastened to one of the underwater planks of the Orca to achieve the effect of the barrel heading towards the ship, the motorboat pulling the barrel went too fast and pulled out a portion of the Orca’s deck. As the ship began to sink, with Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss all onboard, Spielberg frantically dispatched safety boats to retrieve the cast. The camera went underwater, but was airlifted to the lab and developed successfully.
Director of Photography Bill Butler modified the existing water box to allow increased access to the focus, as well as producing the signature shots at water level that characterized the film. Butler also developed a chemical process to isolate the blue skies filmed and extract the color to match previous shots, but without reducing the detail of the actors’ faces.
Quint’s famous speech about the USS Indianapolis was originally conceived by Howard Sackler as a much shorter statement, something Spielberg constantly asked to be expanded. Sackler was unresponsive, so Spielberg brought the scene to his friend John Milius, who expanded the short paragraph into a multi-page epic. Further distilled into the finished speech by Robert Shaw, an accomplished writer himself, the final speech became one of the most memorable scenes in Jaws and is widely honored and parodied to this day.
Quint’s original death in both Benchley’s novel and the early drafts of the screenplay featured the fisherman entangled in a rope and being pulled underwater to drown. Spielberg and Gottlieb believed that Quint should go mano-a-mano with the shark and lose, resulting in the grizzly final scene where the fisherman is chomped in half and eaten.
One of the only disagreements between Benchley and Spielberg was in regards to the ending, which in the book Spielberg described as a “downer.” The shark is harpooned multiple times, can’t hold up the barrels and drowns. Spielberg described his own idea to Benchley of the shark biting down on a compressed air tank and being shot by Brody. Benchley criticized the unrealistic nature of the scene, believing that, “A shark doesn’t bite down on a scuba tank and explode like an oil refinery.” Spielberg didn’t care and believed that if the audience was enthralled throughout the film they wouldn’t care what he did during the last three minutes and Spielberg wanted the audience on their feet, screaming. Once the film was released, Benchley retracted his opposition and admitted that Spielberg was absolutely correct.
Once filming finally ended, Spielberg returned to the mainland and had a complete nervous collapse. Suffering a major panic attack, he began the arduous process of editing and post production.
The initial preview screening at Universal was missing several key components—music and underwater close-ups--so the reaction was somewhat subdued. The mandate from Zanuck and Brown was, “go get the rest of the movie.”
Key aspects of the shark’s attack on Hooper in the cage were shot in a large tank at MGM. Stuntman Richard Warlock doubled Richard Dreyfuss for the scenes, while Frank Sparks’ eyes were featured during Hooper’s close-up scream.
Verna Fields, the acclaimed film editor and friend of Steven Spielberg, spent most of production sitting around—never having enough film to cut. On a good day shooting at sea, Spielberg would get five shots, on an average day three shots and on bad days nothing. Once production ended, Fields’ job really began as she and Spielberg worked day and night to edit the film.
The final key component and arguably one of the most iconic was the original score by John Williams. After meeting Williams during Sugarland Express, Spielberg now wanted Williams to compose every film he ever made. After first seeing the film, Williams believed the score should sound like pirate music, something fun but scary. The iconic shark theme was used to characterize the animal using music, representing the driving instinct of the fish’s hunger. When Williams first played the theme on his piano for Spielberg, the director thought he was joking. Gradually, Spielberg accepted the theme and grew to love it. By characterizing the shark in this way, the music could be used to fool the audience by having the beast appear with no warning, or to foreshadow the changing moods of the shark based on the tempo. For his work on Jaws, Williams would receive an Academy Award, the first for his own composition.
The first public test screening of Jaws was held in a Dallas, TX shopping center on March 26, 1975. The reviews from the public were dynamite and the studio was incredibly impressed. Spielberg, famous for being nervous at previews, was standing at the back of the theater when a man began to leave the theater during the scene where the Kintner boy is killed. He threw up on the floor in the lobby, cleaned himself up and returned to his seat. It was then that Spielberg knew he had a hit.
Spielberg took the positive reaction and became a little greedy, wanting to re-shoot the insert of Ben Gardner’s severed head appearing to Hooper. Using $3,000 of his own money and Verna Fields’ swimming pool, Spielberg succeeded in eliciting another giant scream from the audience during the second test screening at the Long Beach, CA Lakewood Theaters. Airing alongside Young Frankenstein on March 28, the second preview was even more successful than the first. MCA/Universal had a genuine hit.
Jaws went on to become the highest-grossing picture of all time, becoming the first film to make more than $100 million domestically. Jaws became more than just a film, it became a national phenomenon.
Jaws was the first film to be released under the practice of 'wide release' due to positive reception at advance screenings, breaking the usual tradition of allowing a movie to spread via word of mouth. This method of release would be continued by The Omen before being cemented into standard business practice with Star Wars.
This movie is also considered the first 'blockbuster', establishing the modern idea of releasing big-budget action movies during the summer.
Screening Room: 04/20/11
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