25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's thriller by going behind the scenes.

Universal

Forty years later, the shark, the music, it all still horrifies. On June 20, 1975, Jaws was unleashed on the world and people couldn't get enough. Thrill-seekers had their appetites slaked by The Exorcist two years earlier, but Jaws was something different. This was a horror show that could actually happen.

Great white sharks have never recovered. Despite killing people less often than falling pianos, director Steven Spielberg's film ensured that they would become the most-feared animal on the planet... or one of them anyway. Jaws scared everyone.

And Jaws is still scaring everyone. This year, on the film's 40th anniversary, let's revisit the dramatic thriller by remembering the movie's amazing production. Etched in film lore, Jaws was nearly impossible to make with a half-baked, half-finished screenplay and a shooting schedule that would far exceed its budget. But all these trials made one hell of a story. Here are 25 things you never knew about Jaws:

1. Universal producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown both loved Peter Benchley's book, Jaws. They bought the rights in 1973 for $175,000, and settled on Dick Richards to direct. But Richards kept calling the shark: "the whale." He was soon dropped.

2. Spielberg would turn 27-years-old in 1973. He had just finished The Sugarland Express for Zanuck and Brown and he loved Jaws, which reminded him of his first movie, about a killer truck driver: Duel. Spielberg would replace Richards.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
Universal

3. Spielberg got cold feet before production began, fearing becoming the "truck and shark director." He tried to leave to direct Lucky Lady for Fox instead, but Brown convinced him to stay, telling him, "After Jaws, you can make all the movies you want."

4. Jaws was almost lost at sea, literally. An important camera, with the film still in it, was submerged when the Orca started sinking after an accident on set. The camera was flown to a New York film lab, still underwater, where technicians were able to save it. Jaws, the shark, was almost lost at sea also. The first time it went in the water, it sank to the ocean floor and had to be retrieved by divers.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
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5. "Bruce" the mechanical shark (named for Spielberg's lawyer) spent much of the production broken-down and couldn't be used as much as originally planned. Spielberg compensated by using his camera as "the shark," which led to the film's many point of view shots.

6. Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts doubled as Amity Island primarily because sandbars create shallow waters, around 30 feet deep, very far offshore (up to 12 miles). This helped with Bruce's functionality, especially. Resident extras were paid $64 to scream and run along the beach. And Jaws helped to triple Martha's Vineyard's tourist population in the years after its release.

7. Robert Shaw (Quint) could not stand Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper) during filming. They argued all the time, but the conflict helped their characters' relationship in the movie. Shaw drew the ire of Spielberg one day after challenging Dreyfuss to climb the boat's 75 foot mast and jump off.

8. Roy Scheider (Brody) described Shaw as "a perfect gentleman whenever he was sober." Shaw's drinking was a source of tension on the set and nearly ruined the famous USS Indianapolis scene. The veteran actor tried doing it drunk, as his character was supposed to have been drinking, but none of the takes could be used. Shaw, regretting the decision, asked Spielberg for another chance and nailed it in one take the next day.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
Universal

9. Quint's tale of the USS Indianapolis was conceived by playwright Howard Sackler, lengthened by screenwriter John Milius, and rewritten by Shaw following a disagreement between screenwriters Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Shaw presented his text, and Benchley and Gottlieb agreed that this was exactly what was needed.

10. Spielberg shot roughly 25 percent of the film from sea level to give viewers the perspective they're treading water.

11. Spielberg originally wanted Charlton Heston to play Brody but opted against it because Heston "saved the day" in his previous two films, Airport 1975 and Earthquake. He reasoned that Heston's presence would telegraph the ending for the audience. Heston heard about this and blackballed Spielberg, vowing to never work with him.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
Universal

12. The director also sought Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, and Sterling Hayden to play Quint, but Marvin turned it down and Hayden was mired in tax trouble. Shaw was cast based on the recommendations of the producers. Ironically, Shaw was in tax trouble too and had to be flown to Canada on his off-days because he couldn't spend consecutive days in the U.S.. He made no money on the film.

13. Dreyfuss was tested and cast as Hooper at the suggestion of George Lucas who had just worked with him on American Graffiti. He also backed out of the role before asking for it back. Spielberg would cast him again in his next film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and once more, in 1989, in Always. Other choices for Hooper included Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Jon Voight, and Jan-Michael Vincent.

14. Spielberg thought John Williams' now-iconic score was a joke at first.

15. The line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" was improvised by Scheider, according to writer Carl Gottlieb.

16. For the opening sequence, two 300-pound weights were attached to Jaws' first victim, Chrissie (Susan Backlinie), and tugged in opposite directions by two groups of crewmen on shore. It took three days to film the sequence.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
Universal

17. According to Spielberg, a prop arm looked too fake in the scene where Chrissie's remains are discovered, so a female crew member was buried in the sand with only her arm exposed to replace it.

18. The dolly zoom shot of Brody on the beach realizing there's a shark in the water is a reference to the pioneering shot invented by cinematographer Irmin Roberts on Vertigo in 1958, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Jaws popularized the shot and it's been used many times in movies since.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
Universal

19. When the shark attacks Hooper's cage, there's live footage of a real Great White with a rope hanging from its mouth. This mouth is clearly much smaller than the shark's mouth when it attacks the boat moments later. These scenes were filmed by noted shark photographers Ron Taylor and Valerie Taylor, with the help of shark expert Rodney Fox, specifically for the movie.

20. In Jaws, the book, Hooper is killed by the shark after going in the cage. And the ending is different: Jaws, succumbing to multiple wounds in his fight with Quint and Brody, dies and sinks slowly to the sea bed with Quint's dead body wrapped in barrel ropes trailing behind. The movie's ending, (spoiler alert) which sees Jaws blown to bits by an exploded gas canister, upset the author, Benchley, so much he was thrown off set.

21. Hooper also has an affair with Ellen Brody in the book.

22. The "oceanographic institution on the mainland" that Hooper hails from refers to the real-life Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Bob Ballard, who rediscovered the RMS Titanic, works from Woods Hole.

23. After Jaws, Spielberg was offered King Kong and Superman, but turned them both down to make Close Encounters.

24. Jaws was the first film to earn $100 million and the first summer blockbuster. It would earn over $470 million worldwide.

25. Spielberg considers Jurassic Park a spiritual sequel to Jaws.

25 Things You Never Knew About 'Jaws'
Universal

[Big h/t to IMDb, Wikipedia, and the Jaws DVD special features]

Senior Editor at Zimbio. I'll take Johnny Clay, the Rev. Harry Powell, and Annie Savoy. You can have the rest.
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