It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since Jaws first hit the silver screen, forever defining the nature of a summer blockbuster and becoming the highest grossing film in history at the time – until the release of Star Wars.
It was the summer of 1975, and a young Steven Spielberg directed the thriller, based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel in which a giant man-eating great white shark attacks swimmers off the coast of the fictional resort town of Amity Island.
Shot on Martha’s Vineyard, there were multiple production problems and the film went $3 million over budget and past schedule. The art department’s mechanical sharks repeatedly malfunctioned, and Spielberg decided to often depict the creature’s approach with an ominous theme created by composer John Williams, similar to the method used by director Alfred Hitchcock in some of his horror/thriller films.
Sadly, several of the leads of Jaws, including Roy Scheider as the police chief and Robert Shaw as an expert shark hunter are no longer with us.
We recently had the opportunity to attend a 40th anniversary screening in Los Angeles followed by a Q&A with screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who revealed some interesting insights into the iconic film, which spawned three sequels.
1. The tension between Robert Shaw and costar Richard Dreyfuss was real. “Shaw was a Shakespearean actor and he would poke fun at Dreyfuss,” Gottlieb said.
2. There was bad blood between Benchley and Spielberg. “They trashed each other, but soon realized they needed to iron out their differences, and the picture went on to make a great deal of money.”
3. Lorraine Gary was apparently cast (as Scheider’s wife Ellen) because she was the wife of then Universal Studios head Sid Sheinberg.
4. Dreyfuss mispronounced everything. “We had to loop a lot of his dialogue,” Gottlieb said.
5. Before CGI, everything was real. But the shark’s cage was 5/8 scale to make it easier to film.
6. Spielberg had an uncanny sense of what the audience liked. Obviously. He’s gone on to demonstrate that many times. In fact, he has five of the top 10 grossing films of all time.