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40 Years of JAWS

If we’re to talk about things making waves few films can compete with the palpable waves Jaws created both on screen and off. From the start of its production in 1974, and its release a year after, Jaws has become one of the most influential and successful films of all time. It introduced movie making techniques even Steven Spielberg didn’t know he’d end up using, which in turn jump started the career of one of the most influential directors Hollywood has ever seen. It single handedly implemented an irrational fear of sharks and the ocean in audiences across the world, still to this day. Something Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws the novel, deeply regrets. Along with this it paved the way for the big summer blockbuster tradition being one of the first films to take over popular culture with all kinds of advertising, posters, merchandise and TV adverts. And forever will the words ‘shark’ and ‘jaws’ be cemented together.

40 years later it is still recognised for all its accomplishments, so I’d like to just take a minute to celebrate with you the 40th birthday of one of my favourite films. I wont be going on about how brilliant the film is, how the story and script are in a perfect three act process, how effective the cinematography and direction is and how impressive the acting and relationships are on screen, I wont do that (I just did it). Instead, I want to give you an insight into the blood, sweat and tears that went on behind the scenes on the stressful production of one of the most successful films of all time. With a little nod to an important woman in which the film, without her, would not have been the same.

“You’re gunna need a bigger boat” One of the most famous lines in cinematic history wasn’t actually in the script. Roy Schneider, who played Chief Martin Brody, came up with this famous line during filming. Needless to say, it stuck.

‘Bruce’ – The Dysfunctional Shark – The famous shark, named Bruce after Spielbergs lawyer, doesn’t appear on screen as much as was intended. The prop departments three mechanical sharks malfunctioned non-stop throughout production, earning them the nickname ‘Flaws’ and forcing Spielberg and his crew to improvise. Instead they decided to imply the presence of the shark with the use of music and camera angles. Making the film that bit scarier, I think.

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Deep Sea of Problems – The majority of the film was shot out at sea, causing a never-ending set of problems. Usually everything on a film set is manipulated just as the director wants it, but at sea you can’t really do that. So after cameras, sound, director, cast and crew were all set up for a scene the tide would turn and take everything out of place. Even when everything eventually was in place a sail boat would appear at the very corner of the shot, making production halt for an hour whilst it slowly drifted out of sight.

Unhappy Universal – As there were so many problems during filming the production schedule grew longer and longer and the budget climbed higher and higher. Universal were so unhappy and unimpressed with new comer Spielberg that they insisted this would be the last time he would ever work for them. Obviously they changed their minds when Jaws became the highest grossing film of its time.

Mother Cutter  Verna Fields was the editing genius behind Jaws. Shooting was so stunted and minimal at best that Spielberg barely had any footage to provide Fields. Even at the end of shooting they fell short of the needed footage, and a lot of what they had was unusable, either from water damage, a slight glimpse of land in the corner or those damn sailboats drifting into shot. Some how Fields was able to work her magic in the cutting room to create the perfect final picture.

So the next time you see Jaws on TV, wish it a happy 40th, admire its brilliance, and take a moment to think of an aggravated Spielberg and crew frantically working just behind camera damning the worst production they’d ever worked on. Who knew all that stress would still be talked about 40 years later. Happy Birthday Jaws!

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