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Happy Birthday, 'Jaws', You Old Rascal
On this day in 1975, a little film about a boy and his adorable pet shark, named Jaws, debuted in movie theaters across the United States, and we are here to honor the occasion. Steven Spielberg's Jaws is widely considered the first summer blockbuster, and in our opinion, it's the best of them, too.Spielberg was just 27 years old when filming began in Martha's Vineyard; he was fresh off his debut film, Sugarland Express, which, despite starring a young Goldie Hawn, flopped at the box office. But this didn't deter young Steve from doubling down on a gruesome, high-budget film. "Because I was younger, I was more courageous, or more stupid," Spielberg said in the short "The Making of Jaws," which can be watched here.
The types of disasters on set were twofold, with problems related to both the complications of filming on the ocean, and to clashing personalities between the talent. Many times, incidents threatened to derail the film, as Biography notes. It took three times as long to shoot Jaws, and cost more than twice the amount first budgeted.
"Spielberg remained sleepless in his log cabin stressing about rumors that he was going to be pulled from the project and would never find work again," writes Biography. "He brought a pillow from home and kept a stalk of celery beneath it because the smell comforted him." Now, that's a cool trick of the trade for any aspiring directors out there.
In this series of short videos from Discovery, which is gearing up for Shark Week starting Sunday, Spielberg spoke about the difficulties of shooting a film out on the open sea, long before contained special effects were used.
Making Jaws... was the toughest filmmaking experience I've ever had. Nothing's ever come close to the production difficulties of shooting an actual special effects movie—not a digital effects movie, that was many, many years later, but a mechanical effects movie, not in a tank...but in the actual Atlantic Ocean. We must have been complete idiots to even expected to have an easy ride in the middle of the ocean making a movie.
According to IMDB, the Orca, the fishing boat used during filming, began to sink during filming after an accident. While Spielberg called for the safety boats to rescue the actors, John R. Carter, a sound guy who was up to his knees in water held up his tape recorder and yelled, "F**k the actors, save the sound department!"
Speaking of boats, Carl Gottlieb, who was brought in by Spielberg at the last minute to help with script rewrites, told the Hollywood Reporter the story behind the famous line, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
"It was an overlap of a real-life problem combined with the dilemma of the characters onscreen," Gottlieb says of the origins of the line. The real-life problem being a barge (named by the cast and crew S.S. Garage Sale), which carried all the lights and camera equipment and craft services, was steadied by a small support boat that was too tiny to manage the job. Gottlieb recalls: "[Richard] Zanuck and [David] Brown were very stingy producers, so everyone kept telling them, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.' It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong — if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'
Biography also notes that there was not only drama when it came to dealing with the actual physical hurdles imposed by the ocean itself, but from the actors. Robert Shaw, who plays Quint, showed up drunk during the filming of the famous "Indianapolis" speech, and was unable to finish the scene at first. The next day, Spielberg shot the scene with a sober Shaw—the final cut includes footage from both days. See if you can tell which is which!
Richard Dreyfuss, who plays marine biologist Matt Hooper, clashed with Shaw off-camera, too. “[Robert Shaw] was a perfect gentleman whenever he was sober,” Richard Dreyfuss said according to Robert Seller's book An A-Z of Hellraisers: A Comprehensive Compendium of Outrageous Insobriety. “All he needed was one drink and then he turned into a competitive son-of-a-bitch." Biography continues:
Legend has it that Shaw would often try to distract Dreyfuss before the cameras began rolling. He’d also once tried to humiliate Dreyfus by offering him money to climb to the top of the mast on the Orca and jump in the water. Roy Scheider suspected Shaw was irked by Dreyfuss’s youth, “He would say, ‘Look at you, Dreyfuss. You eat and you drink and you’re fat and you’re sloppy. At your age, it’s criminal. Why, you shouldn't even do ten good push ups.”
And we can't forget about the post-film career of Bruce, one of the three mechanical shark models for our friend Jaws. Named after Spielberg's lawyer, Bruce was recently donated to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, after spending much of its life in a Sun Valley junkyard:
Consequence of Sound writes that Bruce famously kept malfunctioning, which led Spielberg to improvise how the shark was portrayed, or not. "It was accidentally Hitchcockian," writes Dan Caffrey, who notes that the POV shots, wreckage, and of course, the infamous, Oscar-winning theme from John Williams didn't just play into the suspense, but heightened it.
In 1975, the L.A. Times film critic Charles Champlin was not a fan of the violence in Jaws, calling it " a coarse-grained and exploitive work which depends on excess for its impact." He continued:
The argument has always been that tragedy, violence and terror, witnessed, purge us of them. The Grand Guignol theater of Paris, with its bloodlettings and eye-gougings ingeniously faked, was thought to have denatured shock by making it amusing. After 'Jaws,' you do wonder what it was that was purged and what it takes to entertain these days.
Well, entertain it did: Jaws wound up grossing nearly $471 million worldwide.
So let's honor the birth of Jaws, an American masterpiece, and kick back with a Narraganset or two.
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