How Technical Difficulties And Tensions On Set Almost Destroyed ‘Jaws’
To say that Jaws made waves in the film industry is an understatement. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece is credited as the first real summer blockbuster, as well as the inspiration for many sequels, horror movies, and people’s not-so-irrational fear of going into the water. When Jaws was released in 1975, it redefined the horror genre, and turned Spielberg into a huge star. But not everybody expected it to be such a success- especially the director himself. Filming was a huge mess from start to finish, going into production without a shark OR a script. Here are just a few of the ways this production took on water while filming…
The Shark Was Malfunctioning
It’s not exactly a secret that working with the mechanical shark on set (nicknamed “Bruce”) didn’t always go swimmingly. The shark just didn’t work. It sank to the bottom of Nantucket Sound the very same day it was delivered. Saltwater wore away at Bruce’s electric motor within a week. The old-school animatronic had to be drained and cleaned every single night. Even then, there was no guarantee Bruce would work, from scene to scene. Spielberg was convinced that his career was over before it even began, so he chose to go in a different direction.
Spielberg took inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock and decided to put the monster in the mind of the audience rather than on the screen. The shark isn’t seen until over an hour into the movie, causing tension and anticipation that makes the film even better. Many modern horror movies even borrow this trick today, waiting until the final hour to reveal the monster.
Production Started Without A Script
Dialogue is pretty important when it comes to movies, right? Jaws was left to fend for itself when the film’s producers green-lit the project and put it into production without all the essentials…like, say, a script.
Peter Benchley, the author of the book that the film is based on, initially wrote a script draft for Spielberg to review. He hated it. The filmmaker was understandably picky regarding the details of his debut project. He decided to bring in TV comedy writer Carl Gottlieb and Apocalypse Now screenwriter John Milius to work on the script. He hoped they would bring focus and a more “lighthearted” feel to the film…in between all the scary shark attacks, of course.
Principal Photography Went On Way Too Long
Movie magic in the ’70s was much different than it is today, especially when trying to shoot a feature film out on the ocean. Water scenes are typically shot in a tank or “mock” ocean, but Steven Spielberg was a perfectionist who wanted realism in his debut film, rather than shots in a “North Hollywood tank.” This was a huge reason why principal photography on Jaws went on for half a year (most films shoot for only one or two months), but there were also other setbacks.
You already know that Bruce the shark didn’t always work, but he wasn’t the only diva on set. One of the leading actors, Robert Shaw, was having a lot of personal issues on set, including tax troubles, a drinking problem, and an ongoing feud with co-star Richard Dreyfuss. These issues, combined with the lack of a script and other technical difficulties, led to a much longer filming time than anticipated.
Jaws Struggled To Cast Its Leads
Before Steven Spielberg was an entertainment industry innovator, he was a 27-year-old aspiring director with no film credits to his name. Add that to the fact that this was a horror movie about a killer shark, and it proved difficult to find big stars to appear in the film. Spielberg asked every actor he knew to no avail, including Jon Voight, who reportedly considered one of the lead roles before ultimately turning it down.
Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss agreed to star in the film just nine days before the start of the production. It turned both men into big stars, but they had a feud that led to lots of tension on set.
Swimming with Sharks
While the special effects may not be considered astounding today, the movie Jaws was far ahead of its time, and its legacy lives on. Spielberg still talks about his haunting experiences shooting on the open water, and you can probably hear the film’s ominous and haunting theme song as you’re reading this, which was created by composer John Williams to tease the presence of the antagonist. To think that the legendary tune never would have come to be without the malfunctioning mechanical shark. If there’s a lesson to be learned from Jaws, it’s that difficult roads (and even broken sharks) weren’t going to sink Spielberg’s ship to success.