S.M. Douglas

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Twenty Things I Bet You Never Knew About The Making of Jaws

If you are a fan of the movie Jaws then you know that tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the film’s release (June 20, 1975). Last month I discussed some of the reasons Jaws may have been the greatest horror film ever as part of a follow up to a previous discussion of nature-horror films. What many people don’t know is that quite a bit of “movie magic” went into the making of Jaws.

Making of Jaws

Let’s take a look at some fun facts about the making of Jaws even hard core fans of the film might not know:

1. Peter Benchley (author of the novel Jaws) spent his summers on Nantucket (where his parents lived). Yet prior to the movie’s filming he had never set foot on Martha’s Vineyard (the location chosen for filming) even though it was literally the island next door.

2. Though Jaws Production Designer Joe Alves immediately fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard it was the island’s underwater charms that sealed the deal. The seabed off Martha’s Vineyard’s eastern shore has a flat sandy bottom crucial for deploying the platform that would move the mechanical shark they had designed.

3. Steven Spielberg was not the first choice to direct Jaws. However when the original director chosen first met with Peter Benchley and the producers he completely alienated Benchley by constantly referring to Jaws as a whale. Producer Richard Zanuck promptly turned to Spielberg, whom he had worked with on the film The Sugarland Express.

4. The mechanical shark was named “Bruce” after Steven Spielberg’s attorney Bruce Ramer.

5. Led by Casting Director Shari Rhodes, the Jaws team ended up using Martha’s Vineyard locals for the overwhelming majority of the roles in the film. In fact, other than Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton, pretty much everybody else cast in the film was a local – including all of the kids, most of the fishermen, and even Jeffrey Kramer who played Deputy Hendricks.

6. Quint’s boat, the Orca, is actually a 30 foot retired lobster boat named Warlock. The pulpit, mast, and big plate glass windows seen in the movie were all add-ons. This was much to the detriment of the vessel’s seaworthiness. The big plate glass windows were a particular no-no. A wave could easily punch right through the windows and swamp the boat. Surprisingly the Orca actually survived the filming process (a replica was produced for the sinking scenes).

7. Much of the script was reworked during principal filming (which began on May 2, 1974). Carl Gottlieb was the principal writer, but Scheider and Shaw made now legendary contributions to the script. A dozen more had a hand in creating some of the film’s best lines. For instance local resident Henry Carreiro played “Felix” in the film. During the fishing armada scene when Richard Dreyfuss (playing Hooper) asks where he can find a good restaurant Carreiro ad-libbed the line about walking straight ahead (and off the dock). Everyone laughed, and Spielberg decided to go with it. Though Spielberg takes flack for his work on Jaws, he should actually get considerable credit for creating such an open collaborative process and knowing when a good line worked no matter who it came from.

8. Local Vineyard waitress Andrea Muir “played” Chrissie’s hand during the scene when her remains are discovered on the beach. Muir spent hours laying on the beach with her hand made-up to look like it had been floating all night at sea.

9. Robert Shaw modeled Quint’s salty language and personality off two of the most colorful islanders: Craig Kingsbury and Lynn Murphy. Both played key roles in helping with production of the film. Murphy in particular was an expert sailor who time and again bailed out the production team; particularly involving the filming of the movie’s third act.

10. Roy Scheider was slapped in the face seventeen times filming the scene where he is confronted by Alex Kintner’s mother. Luckily he was a former Golden Gloves boxer and could take it.

11. The scene at the dinner table where Roy Scheider and Jay Mello (the six year old local boy playing his son) are copy catting each other initially occurred during a break in filming. Scheider brought it to Spielberg’s attention, and Spielberg liked it so much he put it in the movie.

12. The filming technique “day for night” is used to do most of the night scenes, whereby they actually film during the day but with a special filter on the camera. It was popular in the sixties and seventies, but didn’t work all that well. In Jaws it was more convincing by using techniques such as filming on overcast days and doing additional work in the lab to create the feel of night.

13. Great efforts were put into making the mechanical sharks look realistic. This included spray-painting them with a rubberized paint to make the skin like rough shark skin. The teeth were actually made out of a substance that was similar to rubber. There were two sets, one hard for biting boats and one softer for biting people. The sharks ended up quite impressive looking for the day, but obviously were lacking in many ways. I would love to see what someone could do today instead of relying on all the cartoonish CGI bullshit. Sorry for the editorializing, but sometimes creating real physical special effects works wonders for making a movie an experience. If you don’t believe me then you should go see the new Mad Max (pure movie making with almost no CGI) and then watch the new Jurassic Park (a cartoon fest).

14. Robert Shaw really was hammered off his ass for the Indianapolis scene (all three actors were drinking). And he still rocked it. The man was a genius (plus he could hold his liquor).

15. The dirty ditty sung by Quint about the lady who died at 103 and “for fifteen years she kept her virginity….not a bad record for this vicinity” came from a gravestone Robert Shaw saw in England and added into the script.

16. The guitar player on the beach at the beginning of the film is playing a stylized version of Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay”.

17. The scenes shot on the sinking Orca were mostly done within one hundred yards of the beach.

18. Robert Shaw and his stunt double had to wear a special padded vest to protect themselves from the shark teeth during the filming of Quint’s demise. Though the teeth were rubber they and the jaws snapped hard enough to deliver quite a chomp.

19. Not all water scenes were shot at Martha’s Vineyard. The shark cage sequence was a composite of real sharks shot in Australia and a swimming pool in California. Ben Gardner’s boat discovery scene was also shot in the same pool, as were the scenes of the swimmer’s from below.

20. To get the sea gulls to swarm around after the shark is blown up and Brody and Hooper are kicking to shore potato chips were scattered all over the water (which apparently sea gulls love).

 

 

Was the Greatest Horror Movie Ever Really a Horror Movie?

Last month we discussed the topic of “nature-horror” and as part of that discussion the movie Jaws came up. Given we are fast approaching the forty year anniversary of the film’s release (June 20, 1975) let’s revisit one big reason why it was able to become a massive blockbuster, unlike Grizzly, Orca, Piranha, and so on….

Jaws_Movie_Poster_

First off, remember that Jaws is widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever, with the opening scene rated by Bravo as the scariest moment in film history.

People were so terrified by Jaws many spoke of being afraid to even take baths. Now some of this is hyperbole, but as a kid I more than once found myself peeking under the water in fear when in a swimming pool or lake, no less the ocean. That didn’t stop me from watching the movie over and over again. To this day it is my all-time favorite, and a huge influence on my life – including a primary reason behind my twenty plus years as a scuba diver.

When people discuss why Jaws became such a cultural phenomenon they often point to the strong cast, John William’s great score, the superb editing done by Verna Fields, the decision to leave the shark unseen for most of the movie (though this can backfire as anybody who has seen the latest Godzilla film will attest), and other such elements. But I believe there is another reason Jaws achieved the cross-over appeal most other horror flicks can only dream about; and that’s because Jaws was more than a horror movie.

Now, many of my readers will blanch at such a statement. After all what is more quintessentially horror than a giant man-eating shark laying siege to an entire town? But careful viewers of Jaws will note that it’s really two movies. The first half is an unquestionable scare fest featuring numerous gruesome deaths capped by the bloody shark attack in the estuary. The second half is more of a man versus nature adventure film. Don’t get me wrong the final act is also filled with classic horror techniques, including many “gotcha” moments to make the audience jump – plus Quint’s ghastly death. But that’s also why the film works so well where others fail.

In combining the genres of horror, adventure, and even comedic aspects Jaws connects with the viewer in ways standard horror movies struggle to emulate. The strong character development, intense pacing, and story don’t hurt either. But without blending genres as he did I seriously doubt Steven Spielberg and the immensely creative team of actors, screenwriters, editors, and so on working with him would have been able to so viscerally tap into our most primal fears. And before you say “well if mashing together different genres is the ticket to the big-time then why doesn’t everybody do it” note that doing it in a way that works is far from an easy task. One need look no further than Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name.

Sure Jaws the book was a best seller that achieved tremendous success, but when measured against the movie version it is one of the few books that comes out the loser in such comparisons. For instance, and for whatever reason (perhaps to piggyback on the Godfather’s coattails) Benchley included a mafia related sub-plot that simply did not work with the horror/adventure genre’s he tied together and Spielberg’s team improved upon. That’s why come June 20th I will plop down on my couch, dim the lights low, and not crack open my early edition hard cover copy of Jaws. Instead, and for the hundredth time, I will pop into my Blue-Ray player this all-time classic. And I will love every minute of it.

 

Nature, Horror, and 1981

Last week there was a tremendous amount of buzz about the 1981 horror movie Roar.  As I will discuss below, and if one were going to single out the best nature-horror movie of that year, it would not be Roar. But before we get to that point I just want to clarify what I mean by ‘nature-horror’.

On June 20, 1975 perhaps the greatest horror movie of all time was released – Jaws. I will have much more about Jaws in the months to come, my all-time favorite film. Jaws was immensely influential for a number of reasons. One of these being that it spawned a slew of imitators based on the concept of man eating beasts, or as referenced here: nature-horror. In the late 1970’s to early 1980’s horror fans were treated to such films as Alien (Jaws in space), Orca (Jaws as a vengeance minded killer whale), Grizzly (Jaws as a bear), Piranha (I once owned three piranha’s and other than when feeding they are actually quite tame fish), and of course Jaws II and III; as well a veritable cornucopia of lesser films (Tentacles, Barracuda, and so on….). During these years virtually every type of animal, real or imagined, was turned into a vehicle for scaring film-goers. And lions were no exception. Which brings me back to 1981 and Roar.

Directed by Tipi Hedren and Noel Marshall, Roar is famous for and promotes itself as “The Most Dangerous Film Ever Made” as seen by the official movie trailer:

Now, this is not just idle boasting. The film featured 130 big cats, including lions, tigers, jaguars, and more. During filming the cast and crew sustained 70 injuries. Many were quite severe. For instance teenage Melanie Griffith was mauled by a lion and needed facial reconstructive surgery. Director (and big cat activist) Tipi Hedren broke her leg in an accident riding an elephant, and was bitten by a lion (38 stitches). Co-Director Noel Marshal was slashed by a Cheetah, bitten on the hand by one lion, and dragged around the set by another lion. The film’s cinematographer, Jan de Bont was almost scalped by a lion. He needed 220 stitches to put his head back together. I could go on and on….

It ended up taking 11 years to make the movie (for a variety of reasons), and when it was all said and done Roar (which was ostensibly about a man living with wild animals but whose family gets attacked when they come to visit) bombed at the box office. It pulled in only $2 million even though it cost $17 million to shoot. To add insult to injury it wasn’t a good movie. Other than if you’re a Melanie Griffith fan, the only reason to see Roar is that several of the animal attacks on crew members and cast make it into the film – adding a certain authenticity to the experience.

Though Roar is currently grabbing all the attention what many forget is that in 1981 another similar and much better film was released – Savage Harvest. Taking place in drought plagued East Africa this film is about a pride of lions that attacks a family in their home.  Again pretty basic stuff, even for the nature-horror genre.

But there are a couple of things that make this movie work where Roar falls on its face. This is not to say Savage Harvest rises to the level of Jaws or Alien. The film can be schlocky at times (especially early on), but it has some genuinely frightening moments. In addition it has Tom Skerritt (Dallas from Alien). He does a commendable job of playing the family patriarch. Furthermore, the movie takes the time to craft its characters so that you actually care about what happens to them. In particular, once the lions besiege the family Savage Harvest finds it’s footing. Check it out for yourself. The entire movie is available courtesy of You Tube:

Now in discussing Roar and Savage Harvest astute readers may have clued in on something else – the year. Ah yes, here we are again in 1981. In previous posts I have visited this year because it featured two of the all-time greatest werewolf movies. Now I’m back discussing two notable nature-horror films from the same year. Could it be that 1981 was the best year ever for horror-film fans? You will just have to stay tuned, because even though I have presented strong evidence toward making that argument I am not yet finished.

Richard Kiel “Jaws” Dies at 74

Richard Kiel, famous for his role as the James Bond villain “Jaws” in the 1970’s Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker has passed away just a few days shy of his seventy fifth birthday. The 7 foot 2 inch actor was born in Detroit Michigan in 1939. Though he appeared in a number of other films and television shows his role in the James Bond films will forever be remembered. the-spy-who-loved-me-jaws-richard-kiel

Last week was the Discovery Channel’s infamous “Shark Week”. First off, I am an avid scuba diver, and have completed 50 open water dives since I started diving at age 18 way back in 1991.

In addition, my interest in diving and thus the ocean and all that swims in it stems in no small measure from the Movie “Jaws”. Perhaps my all-time favorite film I, much as the character Matt Hooper describes during the film, saw something at a young age that should have scared me out of the water but instead sent me running with fascination into the ocean any chance I got. So you would think that I love “Shark Week”; and I do, but…..

I know “Shark Week” is bigger than ever, but why oh why Discovery Channel do you have to puff your annual line-up with utter bullshit when the real thing is so much more fascinating. Furthermore, why do you have to quote scientists out of context to imply something that is simply not true when again, the actual material you can cull from is that much more interesting.

Many before me have shown why the Megalodon series of specials from Shark Week 2013 and last week’s new Megaladon specials would have been perfect for the Sci Fy Channel but not Discovery as each was totally bogus, but to make it worse Shark Week 2014 also included the equally false Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine – which was also a pack of lies/fake documentary.

Other examples of obfuscation or outright lying occur in episodes such as the “Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss”. This was an otherwise well done episode that attempts to get on film deep sea sharks rarely seen by the viewing public. However, Shark Week states several times over that this was all part of an expedition to the Southern Indian Ocean for only this purpose. Then at the end of the episode there is a claim that they “saved” 100 sharks. Saved from what? Were they actually on a working fishing boat? Would the sharks have died if they hadn’t dragged them up from the deep, unduly stressing their systems, and then thrown them back? Or would the sharks have been better off just filmed down deep, as other scientists now do and which was acknowledged as the preferred modern method of research by another scientist quoted in the episode?

In addition, Shark Week makes incredibly odd decisions when they often find compelling content but gloss over it in lieu of somewhat random programming. For instance, in “Jaws Strikes Back”, regardless of the title, there is some really good stuff involving scientists using underwater drones and attempting to document how a Great White Shark hunts elephant seals in deep water. In the course of this episode these scientists manage to tag and film the largest great white shark ever seen alive on film; a massive, pregnant female of some 21-22 feet in length as seen below:

Considering that the fictional “Jaws” was 25 feet in length this coup is the closest anyone has ever come to getting the real thing on camera. And what do they do with this opportunity? Turn it into about 5 minutes of screen time in a 47 minute episode (after stripping out commercials). Really? The biggest white shark ever filmed and you only spend 5 minutes on it? For chrissakes get a clue! How many viewers would have gobbled up an entire hour of little more than watching this huge fish swim around? What is all the more perplexing is that the episode “Lair of the Mega Shark” spends an entire hour searching for an 18 foot great white when they already have found a much larger shark off the coast of Baja California.

Another example of this phenomenon of ignoring TV gold when it is right under your nose takes us back to “Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss”. In one small scene of no more than 30 seconds the Thresher Shark is mentioned, and briefly shown; with a comment on how the Thresher Shark uses its unusually long whip like tail to herd and stun prey for consumption. How about an episode on that? Has anybody ever filmed Thresher’s actually hunting? They seem like and look like fascinating animals, lord knows I love Great Whites, but wouldn’t it be nice to profile even more of the over 350 species of known shark? Especially big visually captivating one’s like the Thresher?

And therein is the dilemma that is Shark Week. It offers up copious servings of odious and misleading content about fictional or extinct animals alongside some really groundbreaking and intriguing actual science; all while managing to fail to exploit situations when something of tremendous interest is caught on film or raised by its almost throw away presence in a larger episode. Luckily there is DVR. Informed viewers who actually know something about sharks can easily skip over the worst of Shark Week and peruse the other episodes for occasionally jaw dropping footage of our favorite animals. And that is why I will be recording and watching a good chunk of “Shark Week 2015” when it rolls out next year.

In the meantime, and if like me you find what is real in this world to be even more exciting than what is fake, please let Discovery know when they do something right and when they do something wrong. You never know, by “Shark Week 2050” we might even have top notch visual and educational programming all rolled into one. And if we get to jonesing for something fake and silly there will always be “Sharknado 37″ or “Megalodon vs. whatever” on Sci Fy.

 

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