Tag Archives: John Williams

Jaws #30DaysOfFright

jawsaTo paraphrase Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) in Jaws, when he is trying to explain why the art work ‘paint happy bastards’ have produced on the Amity Island board is anatomically correct to the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) in the presence of  Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). Jaws is the perfect eating machine of a movie.

It went over production, over budget and the mechanical shark, fondly nicknamed Bruce after Director Steven Spielberg’s Lawyer, often didn’t work. The film should never have worked, but all of this extra time meant the film matured, like a fine wine (red and white of course), to become the classic that we have today.

Hands down it is my favourite film of all time and without fail I set sail with it – on whatever format – every year on my birthday. So what better time to post this than on my actual birthday.

Over the years I have bought it several times, first as a pan and scan CIC Video VHS copy that I bought in 1987, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs, and now the 35th anniversary edition Bluray all cleaned up. Jaws may be 41 but it really has never looked better.

It may be about to sound better those as news has just broke that the Boston Pops Orchestra, once presided over by Jaws composer John Williams, is to perform a live screening of Jaws next summer with full orchestra.

BRITISHQUAD134-2This would follow the pattern of several other Steven Spielberg films, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, to get the live orchestra treatment. They all came to the UK so it can only be a matter of time before a dorsal fin breaks the water to a live rendition of William’s still astonishing and gripping score. William’s score isn’t a piece of music for the film; it is essentially the ‘voice’ of the shark itself.

The 1975 film is based on the best-selling book by Peter Benchley, he also write a draft of the screenplay and has a cameo as a TV news reporter on the beach.

Amity Island, a seaside town off Long Island is getting ready for the summer season, but it could have never been ready for the murderous shadow of a Great White Shark. As the victims continue to wash up the town hire a grizzled fisherman to catch it and kill it. Joining him at sea are a marine biologist and the town’s chief of police. It’s sink or swim for the thrust together threesome as they fight against the elements, against each other and against the shark.

As a piece of cinema,  Jaws was always the near perfect film and now, cleaned up frame by frame for its 35th anniversary it looks like it was practically shot last week. This lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.

jaws chrissie watkins 1975Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening night Chrissie attack sequence has never looked so uncomfortably clear, her nakedness making you almost feel voyeur like – making it even closer akin to the shower scene it Psycho in that respect – right up until that moment of impact that’s like a train, when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. It’s the perfect opener for a movie (indeed Spielberg even copied it himself of sorts in 1993 in the opening of Jurassic Park).

It effectively sets the shark up as a Jack the Ripper like monster. The noise, the screams and the music all blend to still create a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. Also one of the most iconic, and oft-imitated, poster images ever. She was the first…

However, it’s not the 25 foot shark; all three tonnes of it, that dominates the film though, each and every piece of the film he is in is dominated by Robert Shaw as Quint. Scheider and Dreyfuss are no slouches for sure and the way the threesome ping off each other is a joy to behold (the script coupled with the beauty of the extra rehearsal time due to operating problems with the shark et al) but Quint has never been so dominant, so alive.

robert-shaw2He chews scenery like the shark chews his boat, the Orca, at the end of the film and his eyes, his eyes are just so piercing a blue that they make Daniel Craig’s look practically dull in comparison. It confirmed to me that more classic Shaw films should be viewed on the big screen but also left a genuine feeling of loss, for the man, Shaw died only three years after the release of Jaws, and for cinema generally. He carved such an impression up there on the big screen, seen as he should be and not on a box – no matter what its size – in the corner of the room.

Jaws never puts a foot wrong, it still has fantastic pace, still thrills and scares a little in all the right places and also makes people laugh in all the places that it is meant to do. Rubber shark or no rubber shark it, like Alien after it, which after all was pitched as Jaws in Space, still taps into that primeval fear and when each and every person bringing that to life is working at the top of their game you can’t go wrong, critically, commercially or for longevity.

jawsiIt’s hard to think that the then 27 year old Steven Spielberg almost turned down the chance to direct the movie that launched a thousand nightmares. It was the first film to smash the $100 million barrier and upon initial release it is estimated some 67 million Americans went to see it,

At the time the Director felt that the film was too similar to the man versus (mechanical) beast of Duel (1971). He wasn’t too worried about the lorry and shark having the same dinosaur death cry though, one as it lurches over a cliff, the other as its carcass sinks to the bottom of the sea. Spielberg felt both had a kinship of sorts – both leviathans targeting everyman

The original schedule of 52 days tripled due to the problems of filming on location, not so much the filming at Martha’s Vinyard, which doubled as the quaint Amity Island, but more the filming at sea, which almost left the whole production at sea. Previously most movies set at sea were filmed in giant tanks with a pre-filmed backdrop but being on a real sea, on a real boat it made the experience that much more successful.

The 12 hour days were not wholly productive as only four were devoted to actual filming, due to the poor weather and the not wholly co-operative shark (it sank on its first test and practically exploded on its second), but in the end these were the elements that helped make the film the success it was.

Initially the Producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, thought(!) that they might be able to hire a man to train a Great White to perform a few simple tricks and do the rest with miniatures. Thankfully this route was not pursued and it soon became very clear that there was only one man who could make this monster fish a reality, the retired Bob Mattey, who created the giant squid for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some 20 years earlier.

BN-EU471_jawsph_G_20141001063022Jaws and Christian Bale both might have too many teeth but his strops pale into insignificance next to ‘Bruce’, who was cross-eyed and his jaws would not shut.

This, however, proved to be Spielberg’s masterstroke as he had to be more inventive and hide the shark behind the camera for as long as possible, its presence suggested by twisting camerawork and the now unmistakable primeval music composed by John Williams, thus allowing the audience’s mind to create the horror of the shark, all 20, I mean 25 feet of him. And of course those rather cannily placed yellow barrels!

No matter how well the shark performed or how well it was hidden when it didn’t the filmmakers knew that the audience would need to see real sharks, and that is exactly what they got with amazing footage from Australian husband and wife diving team, Ron and Valerie Taylor.

jaws16Thankfully Great Whites do not grow to 25 feet in length so to make the shark look larger for the Hooper cage dive a smaller cage and midget were used to get some spectacular footage.

But the best was yet to come when the shark destroyed the cage and almost the boat, thankfully the pint size stuntman, Carl Rizzo, was not in it at the time and after seeing the ‘attack’ on the boat promptly locked himself in the toilet. The footage remains in the film, which effectively meant the shark helped rewrite the book and ensure the survival of Richard Dreyfuss’ character.

Peter Benchley, and old pal of Spielberg, Carl Gottlieb, are listed as the screenwriters of the project but beneath the surface of the credits it is revealed that several different people helped stamp their authority on the project.

Benchley had two passes at the script and then the Pulitzer winning playwright (and scuba diver), Howard Sackler, was brought in to beef up the script. One of his greatest additions was the Quint USS Indianapolis monologue, which is now being mooted in various quarters as a prequel. There is a script floating about.

This one moment, more than any other, has been the one that has become fabled in who should take the credit for the powerful moment when Robert Shaw’s character retells his World War 2 shark encounter. Future Apocalypse Now and Conan scribe, John Milius, had a crack at it with Shaw himself, an accomplished playwright, also gave it a polish and honed it to the perfection you see on scream, depending on whose tale you listen to of course.

The great thing about the hours of waiting to film meant that the main actors (Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw) all got to hone their characters, got to know each other and also got to rework their dialogue with co-screenwriter, Gottlieb (who also played opposite Mayor of Sharksville, Murray Hamilton) who often updated dialogue only 24 hours before the shoot, which perhaps goes someway to explaining why these three characters and their words – which even Tarantino would be proud of – and every nuance is so spot on and crisp over 40 years later.

Brody shoots the shark in JawsOther unsung heroes of the movie also had to include camera operator, Michael Chapman, who practically filmed the last third of the movie handheld, which helped give it that realistic, fresh look. And he even saved vital film from a sinking Orca, narrowly saving his skin and the dailies.

Finally, there is Editor, Verna Fields, who won one of the three Oscars (it was nominated for four) for the film and edited the movie on location as the footage slowly crept in, not only editing around the underperforming shark but also continuity problems of an ever changing sea and sky, not that you’d notice.

jaws (1)She was also instrumental to adding the ‘head in the boat’ scene that was shot in a swimming pool and added long after filming had wrapped. And that scene gave the extra jump that the film needed, even after all those viewings it is still hard to judge exactly when it will pop out.

By the end of the film the shark may have been dead but the blockbuster as we know it today had been born. The sea (or the bath when I was little as I was convinced he was going to get in there) and cinema would never be the same again.

Jaws

 

 

 

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Close Encounters of the Four Designs: inside the BFI Spielberg posters

 

“Spielberg had to sign off the artwork himself. The reaction was very positive.”

Steven Spielberg, his movies have not just changed Hollywood but shaped our lives. Throughout June and July the BFI have been spoiling us with an amazing season celebrating the films – and some television – of Steven Spielberg, covering everything from Duel (released theatrically here in Europe) to Amazing Stories and of course his summer blockbusters. Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, E.T. and the granddaddy of the modern summer blockbuster as we know it, Jaws.

To accompany such a breadth of work, the BFI commissioned four pieces of work promoting the season utilizing striking and iconic imagery that is ingrained not just in film culture, but that of popular culture. Images were chosen from Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, each riffing on a Spielberg classic that celebrates both the man and his movies.

As a lifelong-Spielberg and Jaws fan, I, Dean Newman (DN), took the opportunity to interview its designer, Kyle Robertson (KR), who works for the BFI as part of their in-house design team, he’s also a senior digital designer and illustrator.

I took the opportunity to speak to him about Spielberg’s films, the changing face of film posters and tips for anyone wanting to get into film poster design

Raider of the Lost ArkDN: The four designs are simple yet inspired, how difficult was it coming up with a new take on such classics?

KR: The main objective of this campaign was to capture the iconic films of Spielberg. We decided to feature his well-known summer blockbusters; E.T, Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wanted to design a suite of posters that would show these well-known movies in a new light, but also take people back to their childhood memories of seeing these for the first time.

DN: Were you given these four films as design options or did you have any say? Was it only these four or were any others in contention, such as Schindler’s List or Close Encounters?

KR: There was a long conversation over the titles we were going to feature. In the end we settled on his summer blockbusters due to the fact we were screening the season in the summer and wanted to create a lighter mood than say featuring Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan.

DN: Jaws, Jurassic Park, Raiders and ET, classic films, classic scores but also classic posters. How did you approach these film posters and associated imagery that are so ingrained in our pop culture?

KR: I started by watching the films again, doing a lot of reading and image research. Looking at the classic film posters, book covers, fan art, and everything else out there. This gives you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. While designing the early sketches I would even listen to the soundtracks. The goal was to capture the essence of the film that everyone knows and loves, but come at it from a different angle.

JawsDN: Once you had the fin, dinosaur head, Indy’s head etc, were there several options for main images to be included in them? Any spring to mind?

KR: We were limited in terms of imagery as we only used imagery from our own BFI Image Database, with exception for the Jurassic Park still which we got from the studio directly. We wanted to use iconic imagery that creates a certain mood. A good example was Jaws. Using the image of the woman in the water screaming within the shark fin shape stirs up all kinds of fear and emotion. We used these themes across the four designs. Fear for Jaws, wonder for E.T., Adventure for Raiders and Thrills for Jurassic Park.

DN: Four posters for one season, normally I’ve only ever seen one, was it unusual to have so many?

KR: It is quite unique to do several pieces of artwork for one season. Ordinarily we use just one poster for a season. But for big seasons which span several months there was an opportunity to do several.

DN: Did you have to pitch for the job with the design we see or do you do a lot for the BFI?

KR: Pitching for the work was not necessary as I work at the BFI as an in-house designer.

E.TDN: Which one are you most pleased with and why? My personal favourites are Jurassic Park and Jaws.

KR: I like the concept of Jaws, but E.T is probably my favourite due to it being one of my favourite films and the colours work well.

DN: Do you have many alternative designs/sketches/scamps that weren’t used? 

KR: Sorry, not allowed to share these designs, but yes many were created. Some photographic, some illustrative.

DN: Have you heard any reaction from Spielberg himself, or anyone associated with him re the designs?

KR: We worked very closely with Spielberg’s production company and Steven Spielberg had to sign off the artwork himself. The reaction was very positive.

DN: You mention ET as being one of your favourite films, why that film?

KR: It’s just a one-of-a-kind film that has everything; adventure, excitement, laughs and takes me right back to my childhood. I saw it recently at the BFI on the big screen and it still gives me chills watching the bikes take off with that amazing John Williams score.

Jurassic ParkDN: What was the first Spielberg film you saw at the cinema and how old were you?

KR: Jurassic Park was the first film I saw on the big-screen and I must have been 11.

DN: There have been lots of great designers and artists work on Spielberg posters, such as Drew Struzan (Indy), John Alvin (E.T.) and Jaws (Roger Kastel). As a designer what’s your favourite Spielberg film poster and why?

KR: The Drew Struzan posters for Indy are great. His style is so amazing and when you see his work you know it’s a Drew Struzan poster immediately.

DN: What’s been the reaction across social media to your work?

KR: The reaction to the work has been great. A lot of people making nice comments about it reminding them of their childhood and going to the movies which is great to hear.

Jaws Tube BillboardDN: The designs have an immediate impact, how was it seeing them writ large on the giant billboards?

KR: I cycled past the Jaws billboard in Shoreditch and nearly fell off my bike when I first saw it. It’s a great feeling to see any artwork on a big scale, but the Jaws artwork looked very cool.

DN: The posters – like many film posters today – rely heavily on photographic images, do you miss the era that the likes of Alvin, Struzan and Kastel were working in with their detailed artistic designs?

KR: A lot of the BFI posters are based on photographic elements due to the nature of us portraying film and the moving image. We still do illustrative design work such as our current ‘Architecture on Film’ series. I am a big champion of the illustrative style and feel when handled correctly it can make a big impact.

DN: I guess it’s the same with the James Bond posters – I loved the likes of The Living Daylights, the last of the art designs. It all seems to be Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop these days.  Do you lament what some people see as the dying art of film posters?

KR: I think it’s inevitable for methods and practices to change regarding this. In my experience this is mostly due to time restraints. To illustrate a poster takes a lot of time and what you have to remember about film season artwork is that it is hugely political and involves a huge amount of people’s input from many departments.

So unfortunately there just isn’t the time to do this. We quite often pencil sketch concepts roughly and then take them into the Adobe suite to design and artwork. This gives you a huge amount of flexibility and freedom to work.

DN: Any tips for anyone wanting to design posters?

KR: You have to have a love of film naturally and spend most of your spare time watching films! You should also have a good knowledge of different design techniques and treatments. I try not to design the same thing twice.

DN: What do you think makes a great film poster?

KR: A simple but effective idea. Keep it fairly minimal. The more you add, the more the impact is lost from the design.

DN: Are you working on any other exciting projects?

KR: I am currently working on a big campaign for the BFI celebrating black talent in film.

 

The Steven Spielberg season continues into July with cinematic delights to offer everyone, whether its Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Lincoln, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, Minority Report, The Terminal, Munich, Bridge of Spies, The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse.

E.T Tube PosterOther highlights include a whole day devoted to the Indiana Jones films – Saturday 9 July – although they can also be caught individually across the month on other days as well, and there is also a very special screening of E.T. on Sunday 26 June which features a Q&A with producer Kathleen Kennedy – her first producing credit – and director Edgar Wright, who collaborated on Tintin. Access the remaining programme here.

If your reaction to the Spielberg season posters designed by Kyle Robertson is as positive as the director himself, then you are in luck as you can now buy copies of the designs from the BFI Printstore.

Credit belongs to the British Film Institute (BFI) for all images that appear in this article.

Back to the Future live

IMG_0016As Marty McFly would say, this is heavy! After 30 years it was time to go back, not just back to the big screen but back to the Royal Albert Hall for a live performance screening of Back to the Future.

The DeLorean ‘parked’ outside only helped heighten the anticipation, prior to us getting lost in the maze of the Hall’s stairways and corridors.But then we made it into the wide open space of hall itself, adding to the occasion we even found ourselves two across from a couple who had come dressed as Marty and Jennifer, McFly complete with ‘life preserver’. He must have been roasting!

Picture-12Seeing it on the big screen is not unlike time travel itself as it takes you right back to your childhood. I had never seen the original at the cinema until its 25th anniversary, only catching the sequels on the big screen first time round, although I had seen it more times than I cared to mention on TV, DVD and Blu-Ray. This mattered not as I approached the screening with the same excitement as if it were a brand new release…and so it appeared did the thronging Royal Albert Hall audience.

If Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd are the stars of Back to the Future then so is the DeLorean and if they are part of its very fabric the, like John William’s score to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Alan Silvestri’s sweeping epic score to Back to the Future is as well. And that was the real reason thousands of us were there to listen and watch a live rendition of the iconic music played to the film.

images (1)We must have only been seated five or six rows from the front, a Back to the Future live screen welcoming us into the vast auditorium. It all only added to the electricity (1.21 gigawatts) of electricity that was in the room, an electricity that initially peaked when the orchestra played those familiar bars.

Simultaneously hairs stood on end and goosebumps were raised, somehow from somewhere it all started to feel very emotional and just stirred something seeing that famous piece of film music history, so intrinsic to my childhood and my growing up, be recreated in front of my very eyes and ears.

Even though the screening, the first of its kind of this particular film in the UK, featured newly written cues by original composer, Silvestri, notably the opening titles over the ticking clocks, it was hard to believe that the orchestra was creating this well known score, in fact and times you got sucked into the film and the music that you sometimes just plain forget that creative music forces were at work just in front of you. It was that good, it was seemingly effortless but amazing to watch as you could see how the famous tune was created layer by musical layer, instrument by instrument, hand motion by hand motion.

download (1)Certainly we ensured we were watching the orchestra as much as the film after the interval, and boy those guys in percussion were certainly kept on their toes. Again, it was amazing to just see all the individuals in action that helped create the whole. Just prior to the film starting up again for its second section we were treated to a Back to the Future Part 3 medley with its western overtones and drifting into Clara’s theme.

As a film Back to the Future holds up not just magnificently but majestically, both against those films touted as family friendly fair today and even those from ‘whence it came, circa 1985, such as The Goonies and Ghostbusters. They are both classic films but Future just raises the quality bar and actually, even today, doesn’t look to have aged in the slightest in its pacing or any aspect of its unfolding story.

It was a delight to watch the familiar story unfold with characters we have got to know and love every nuance and line of dialogue and see them giant on the big screen again. It’s of great testament to the writers, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, that the story, a modern day Wizard of Oz of sorts, still holds true and is practically timeless, which is perhaps as much to do with its setting as much as its writing.

Script wise it is practically faultless and doesn’t miss a beat, the perfect movie script, nothing is wasted, no plot thread is left hanging and each piece of dialogue dovetails into the next and has real meaning and consequence. It’s a piece of storytelling without an ounce of fat. Everything occurs and happens for a reason, right down to the tiniest of nuances and should be high on anyone’s list wanting to study the craft.

images (2)It’s almost as if the film was not made in 1985 but set in 1985, new audiences scoffing as much about Marty McFly’s bulky walkman as much as we did first time round about there being no Pepsi Free!

The film itself bounds along at a fair old pace, another sign of its unflabby script and and edit suite culling, it not out staying its welcome, and at 1 hour 40-something is practically short by today’s standards where we have become used to the somewhat ponderous unfolding of the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and one Captain Jack Sparrow.

It’s also refreshing to see a film where everything looks real and doesn’t have that muted CGI feel to it, everything in both time periods looks and feels real and solid, almost as if you can touch them. Sure, we know the Hill Valley of the 1950s is a film set on the Universal backlot (as also used in Gremlins and countless other films) but we know that it was all recreated for us to see up on the big screen and not rendered in some computer.

images (4)The interplay between Lloyd and Fox dazzles on the big screen, I had a similar experience seeing Robert Shaw writ large in Jaws on the big screen. Fox is deft at comedy, his falls and reactions really sell yet combining both straight man reacting and playing it for laughs on different occasions.

Although everyone else was familiar with how the film unfolded there were still laughs to be heard when it came to Doc Brown and his constant questioning of the use of the word ‘heavy’, guffawing at the really rather more excellent than you ever remember Crispin Glover, he really is quite amazing as the hapless George McFly. His laugh still brought the house down and there were plenty of laughs during the many moments of Marty with his mum, Lorraine.

george_savesdayIt really did feel in many ways as if you were watching it for the very first time, more curious still was the spontaneous applause that erupted when George smacked Biff, I think for many this is a standout moment in the film execution wise and in many ways is just as fulfilling as the DeLorean striking the wire just as the lightning strikes the clock tower, cue massive applause and squeals of delight.

The viewing experience was almost akin to watching someone you know do well on the sports field or on stage. You know they were good last time you saw them and are pleased that they’ve given a barn storming performance this time round. Often favourite films or programmes viewed when growing up tend to lose their charm or appeal, but with this one it only grows. It’s as if you know the film intimately.

Having said that, the film is more sweary than I care to remember and Biff is also essentially attempting to rape Lorraine, moments that tend to get lost when you are younger. But that only makes the George McFly rescue all the more satisfying and shows that it’s not just a kid’s film.

bttf-clocktowerFuture also has its melancholy side as well, not so much in the feeling that this is a period that we are so far removed from – even when referring to the 1980s – and is almost unrecognisable but also in the shape of Michael J Fox. He’s never been more breezy and likable, well okay I’ve got a soft spot for The Secret of my Success as well, but with his absence from our screens, due in large part to his Parkinsons, it’s a reminder of the loss of such an comically gifted actor. And his glances, trips and delivery is effortless to the point that if you aren’t careful you could miss it. That’s how good he is.

I don’t think I’d ever noticed him edging away from Doc before when the DeLorean is heading towards them at Twin Pines Mall, classic. He will forever be Marty, much like Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller. He is stuck, quite fittingly, in a time capsule for us to enjoy again and again.

Dmc11After one of the greatest endings to a film ever the: “roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads” scene and flying of the DeLorean into 2015 (their time), we get the titles and a great rousing end of the score just as the Amblin logo crawls across the screen – so much so I’ve always found it hard to separate the two – that is just so uplifting and celebratory it is almost difficult to find words. That was like a Silvestri full stop to it as at that point he and no one else involved in the project knew there would be two sequels so he really gives it all he has got.

So did the orchestra and it was a sublime finish that was followed by a prolonged and much-deserved standing ovation and crackle of applause that continued long after the baton had been lowered. And as for the experience of a film that you love with a live orchestra, I couldn’t recommend it enough, it takes it to a whole new level.

I’m sure it won’t be long before I end up removing the wrapping of the Intrada special edition version of the score, which I’ve yet to open after six years. Great Scott you say, no, great score.And there was no finer way to celebrate 30 years of Back to the Future.

Will we be back in time to the Royal Opera House? Quite possibly, as Raiders of the Lost Ark is swinging into the venue to do the very same. Perhaps I’ll use the staff of Ra to locate the best possible seat this time round though.

IMG_0034

Men Vs Beast: Jaws – the making of a modern classic

BRITISHQUAD134-2Jaws is 40 and is one of the most iconic, oft-imitated, readily quotable movies ever, but like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, its making of is almost as legendary as the movie itself.

It’s hard to think that the then 27 year old Steven Spielberg almost turned down the chance to direct the movie that launched a thousand nightmares and was the first film to smash the $100 million barrier, but at the time the Director felt that the film was too similar to the man versus (mechanical) beast of Duel (1971).

The original schedule of 52 days tripled due to the problems of filming on location, not so much filming at Martha’s Vinyard, which doubled as the quaint Amity Island, but more the filming at sea, which almost left the whole production at sea. Previously most movies set at sea were filmed in giant tanks with a pre-filmed backdrop but being on a real sea, on a real boat it was made the experience that successful.

The 12 hour days were not wholly productive as only four were devoted to actual filming, due to the poor weather and the not wholly co-operative shark (it sank on its first test and practically exploded on its second), but in the end these were the elements that helped make the film the success it was.

The Beast

jawsiInitially the Producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, thought(!) that they might be able to hire a man to train a Great White to perform a few simple tricks and do the rest with miniatures. Thankfully this route was not pursued and it soon became very clear that there was only one man who could make this monster fish a reality, the retired Bob Mattey, who created the giant squid for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some 20 years earlier.

Jaws and Christian Bale both might have too many teeth but his strops pale into insignificance next to ‘Bruce’ (the name Spielberg fondly called the shark after his Lawyer) who was cross-eyed and his jaws would not shut. This, however, proved to be Spielberg’s masterstroke as he had to be more inventive and hide the shark behind the camera for as long as possible, its presence suggested by twisting camerawork and the now unmistakable primeval music composed by John Williams, thus allowing the audience’s mind to create the horror of the shark, all 25 feet of him. And of course those rather cannily placed yellow barrels!

No matter how well the shark performed or how well it was hidden when it didn’t the filmmakers knew that the audience would need to see real sharks, and that is exactly what they got with amazing footage from Australian husband and wife diving team, Ron and Valerie Taylor.

Thankfully Great Whites do not grow to 25 feet in length so to make the shark look larger for the Hooper cage dive a smaller cage and midget were used to get some spectacular footage. But the best was yet to come when the shark destroyed the cage, and almost the boat, thankfully the pint size stuntman, Carl Rizzo, was not in it at the time and after seeing the ‘attack’ on the boat promptly locked himself in the toilet. The footage remains in the film, which effectively meant the shark helped rewrite the book and ensure the survival of Richard Dreyfuss’ character.

The Men

BN-EU471_jawsph_G_20141001063022The original books author, Peter Benchley, and old pal of Spielberg, Carl Gottlieb, are listed as the screenwriters of the project but beneath the surface of the credits it is revealed that several different people helped stamp their authority on the project.

Benchley had two passes at the script and then the Pulitzer winning playwright (and scuba diver), Howard Sackler, was brought in to beef up the script. One of his greatest additions was the Quint USS Indianapolis monologue. This one moment, more than any other, has been the one that has become fabled in who should take the credit for the powerful moment when Robert Shaw’s character retells his World War 2 shark encounter. Future Apocalypse Now and Conan scribe, John Milius, had a crack at it with Shaw himself, an accomplished playwright, also gave it a polish and honed it to the perfection you see on scream, depending on whose tale you listen to of course.

The great thing about the hours of waiting to film meant that the main actors (Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw) all got to hone their characters, got to know each other and also got to rework their dialogue with co-screenwriter, Gottlieb (who also played opposite Mayor of Sharksville, Murray Hamilton) who often updated dialogue only 24 hours before the shoot, which perhaps goes someway to explaining why these three characters and their words – which even Tarantino would be proud of – and every nuance is so spot on and crisp almost 35 years later.

Other unsung heroes of the movie also had to include camera operator, Michael Chapman, who practically filmed the last third of the movie handheld, which helped give it that realistic, fresh look. And he even saved vital film from a sinking Orca, narrowly saving his skin and the dailies. Finally, there is Editor, Verna Fields, who won one of the three Oscars (it was nominated for four) for the film and edited the movie on location as the footage slowly crept in, not only editing around the underperforming shark but also continuity problems of an ever changing sea and sky, not that you’d notice.

She was also instrumental to adding the ‘head in the boat’ scene that was shot in a swimming pool and added long after filming had wrapped.

Unfortunately due to the many plaudits Fields got for the film, she, at the time, was seen as its hero, rather than Spielberg. That Oscar can’t have helped either, as a result the two never worked together again.

By the end of the film the shark may have been dead but the blockbuster as we know it today had been born. The Spielberg Executive Produced and Universal released Jurassic World smashing the $500 million global opening weekend barrier and US opening weekend record must be the near perfect 40th birthday present, especially with a small cameo appearance from a certain Carcharodon Carcharias.