In 1975, Jaws came out in theaters, and we’ve been terrified of the beach ever since. The plot follows three men seeking to capture a shark responsible for a series of attacks on the beaches of Amity Island. Along the way, our heroes face endless challenges in their quest to keep the beaches of Amity Island safe. Likewise, when Steven Spielberg set out to film Jaws, the cast and crew also needed to overcome their fair share of adversity. While most audience members probably never even considered it, the challenges that went into filming a movie that took place on the ocean was full of challenges, especially with the filming technology of the 1970s. We’ve dug up the most intriguing secrets from Steven Spielberg’s iconic film that kept us on the edge of our seats from start to finish. You won’t want to miss these juicy secrets. Some of them may surprise you!
The problematic mechanical shark used in Jaws was named “Bruce,” after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer, who also works for celebrities like Demi Moore, Ben Stiller, and Clint Eastwood.
“Bruce” became known by the cast and crew as “Flaws” because he was constantly breaking down and causing delays on set. Despite Bruce’s shortcomings, his legacy still lives on today as he went on to become the inspiration behind the name of the great white shark in Pixar’s 2003 animated classic Finding Nemo.
The Terror Of Imagination
Spielberg originally wanted to use “Bruce” in the opening shark-attack seen. However, when it came time to film, “Bruce” was being particularly troublesome and mechanical difficulties meant that Spielberg needed to improvise.
They ended up shooting the scene, leaving Jaws up to the audience’s imagination. Spielberg later said, “In the end, that worked to our advantage. The thought of the shark, and with John Williams’ perfect score, created more terror in the imagination than the appearance of the shark would.”
“The Stillness In The Water”
Before becoming an iconic blockbuster, Jaws was originally a bestselling novel written by Peter Benchley.
Benchley’s book was inspired by the infamous shark attacks which occurred off the coast of New Jersey in 1916, as well as the story of a 4,500-pound shark captured by New York fisherman Frank Mundus along the coast of Montauk in 1964. Before he decided on Jaws, Benchley considered the titles The Stillness in the Water, The Silence of the Deep, Leviathan Rising, and The Jaws of Death.
In an early scene, a news reporter is shown delivering a report on the beach of Amity Island. This reporter is actually the original author of the bestselling novel from which Jaws was adapted, Peter Benchley.
Before writing Jaws, Benchley was actually a news reporter for the Washington Post. That’s why he appears so natural. Director Steven Spielberg makes a cameo in Jaws, as well. His voice is featured as the dispatcher who calls the Orca to connect Brody to his wife.
Two Months? Try Five
Jaws was originally meant to be filmed in just 65 days. As a result of seemingly endless technical difficulties, including issues with weather, trouble with uncooperative locals, and problems with the mechanical shark, the shoot ended up taking a total of 159 days.
Steven Spielberg, along with the rest of the cast and crew, knew that filming Jaws wouldn’t be an easy task, but they were nowhere near ready for the frustration that came along with making the iconic movie.
The Truth Behind Amity Island
To match Peter Benchley’s idea of the fictional beach town on Amity Island, the producers decided it would be best to film in Edgartown and Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard.
This location was chosen because the waters off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard are known for having a shallow sandy bottom which can reach up to 12 miles offshore. This was important because the mechanical shark needed to be pulled along the ocean floor as far away as possible from land for dramatic effect.
Dreyfuss And Shaw Weren’t First In Line
Before casting Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper, Spielberg looked to hire Jon Voight, Timothy Bottoms, and Jeff Bridges.
When none of them agreed to take part in the film, George Lucas, a friend of Spielberg, recommended Dreyfuss, with whom he had worked on American Graffiti, for the part. Likewise, Robert Shaw was only cast as the fisherman Quint after Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden turned down the role. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown both suggested Shaw for the part.
When Bruce Just Wouldn’t Cut It
Producer Richard Zanuck wanted to include footage of real sharks. With the help of Ron and Valerie Taylor, they gathered clips of 14-foot sharks near Australia.
Because “Bruce” was 25-feet long, a little person named Carl Rizzo was placed in a mini shark cage to give the illusion that the shark was bigger. The shot they wanted came after a week of filming. Even though Rizzo wasn’t in the cage at the time, the thrashing captured on camera was enough for the final cut.
Big Movie, Big Money
Prior to filming Jaws, the estimated budget for the movie was about $3.5 million. However, after facing so many technical difficulties and needing to extend filming from 65 days to 159 days, the film’s budget naturally ended up being much higher than anyone had initially planned for.
The final product cost about $9 million, nearly tripling early estimates. Luckily, the investment paid off and Jaws was a big success in theaters, bringing in a current box office total of $260 million.
What’s So Funny?
We all remember those two repetitive and gradually building notes from Jaws that told us trouble was coming.
The composer behind the iconic, eerie, and suspenseful music was John Williams. When director Steven Spielberg first heard the score that John Williams wrote for Jaws, he actually laughed. Spielberg would later confess that “It seemed wrong. It just seemed too simple. Often the best ideas are the simplest.” Williams went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
When Richard Dreyfuss was first offered the role of Hooper in Jaws, he actually turned it down, predicting that the filming process would be too demanding and arduous.
He ended up changing his mind, however, after looking back at his not-so-stellar acting in the film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. He believed that he needed to somehow redeem himself after his potentially career-ending Duddy Kravitz performance, so he reconsidered and agreed to take on the grueling task of filming Jaws.
Filmmakers often like to utilize colors to convey symbolic meanings or emphasize certain themes. It’s pretty rare, however, to see a movie go out of its way to avoid specific colors in order to achieve the same effect.
Whether you noticed it or not, this is exactly what we saw in Jaws. Steven Spielberg intentionally avoided using the color red while filming Jaws, except for shark-attack scenes. “We did have red wine, but there’s a symbolism to that,” said Spielberg.
The filming of Jaws had become so stressful that the entire cast and crew needed to vent their frustrations. The outlet they had so desperately needed came during a fancy buffet-style dinner.
Roy Scheider thought it would be fun to throw some mashed potatoes and gravy into the face of Steven Spielberg. Richard Dreyfuss responded by tossing his dessert at Scheider’s face, launching an all-out food fight. “It was a bit of a Three Stooges brawl,” Spielberg would later confess.
A Close Call
While the crew was trying to capture one particularly challenging shot, water began to flood into the boat they were filming from.
As the vessel began to sink, Spielberg yelled, “Get the actors off the boat!” Safety rafts came to rescue the sinking ship. The sound man, John Carter, reportedly lifted his recording device, the Nagra, above his head and begged the rescue crew to save him. Luckily, every member of the cast and crew made it out of this close call.
Just Following Orders
In Peter Benchley’s novel, the character of Dr. Matt Hooper is written to be a bit of a lady’s man. Steven Spielberg decided to take some creative license over the characters in Jaws.
Spielberg wanted his Hooper to be a nerdy, book-smart type. To ensure that Richard Dreyfuss didn’t get the wrong idea about his character, Spielberg instructed him not to read the book. “I take directions so well that I still haven’t read it,” Dreyfuss said in an interview with People magazine.
Making Changes On The Fly
As we’ve already seen, the screenwriting for Jaws was very much a collaborative effort. Robert Shaw’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech was never included in Benchley’s original novel.
In addition, Quint’s background as a former Navy sailor wasn’t part of the script until playwright Howard Sackler added it in an uncredited rewrite. Writer-director John Milius later broadened Quint’s naval history into a long monologue, which Shaw, who was also a playwright, shortened and worked off of as the cameras were rolling.
One of the biggest problems that the cast and crew of Jaws needed to overcome was the weather. For one beach scene, the crew offered 64 dollars for each extra.
After about 400 extras showed up for the shot, bad weather prevented them from filming. Once the sun returned, only about 150 extras ended up coming back to the beach. Additionally, during the Fourth of July scene, the extras ran out of the freezing ocean water, which was close to 64 degrees!
Going Out With A Bang
The original ending of Jaws was meant to be similar to that of Moby Dick, with the shark slowly dying from in a pool of blood while circling Chief Brody.
Spielberg felt that such a thrilling and suspenseful movie needed to end with a literal boom, so he altered the ending to feature the infamous explosion. Benchley, however, did not approve of Spielberg’s change, and argued about it until he was kicked off the set. Benchley later confessed that Spielberg’s ending was the right call.
A Good Listener
Roy Scheider was once invited to a Hollywood party where he overheard Steven Spielberg speaking with a friend about a scene from his upcoming movie involving a shark jumping onto a boat.
Without any context, Scheider knew he wanted to take part in this film and immediately asked Spielberg for a part in the movie he was talking about. Spielberg had seen Scheider in The French Connection and took a liking to him. He would later cast Scheider as Martin Brody.
Second Try’s The Charm
Throughout the filming of Jaws, Robert Shaw was drinking rather heavily and would even occasionally struggle to deliver his lines as a result.
When he first attempted his famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech, Steven Spielberg found it impossible to use any of the footage they captured. Embarrassed over his poor performance, Shaw called up Spielberg and requested a second chance. A day later, the cast and crew returned to the set and Shaw recited his speech perfectly in just one take.
Steven Spielberg initially wanted Quint’s first scene to show Robert Shaw watching Moby Dick in a movie theater, laughing hysterically at the bad effects, causing the other movie-goers to leave the cinema in anger.
However, actor Gregory Peck, who starred in Moby Dick and owned the rights to the poorly-received film, wouldn’t allow Spielberg to use the footage. According to multiple reports, Peck was so embarrassed by his terrible performance that he refused to let it resurface in Spielberg’s Jaws.
Heston Was Too Heroic
Charlton Heston was originally in the running for the role of Police Chief Martin Brody.
However, Spielberg was looking for someone who was less recognizable because he didn’t want the audience to assume right off the bat that Chief Brody would be the film’s hero. Unfortunately for Heston, most of his previous roles involved being heroic in one way or another. Heston was reportedly so upset about not getting the part that he refused to ever work with Spielberg again.
Spielberg Had Enough
The filming of Jaws was so taxing that Spielberg reported having a mental breakdown not long after wrapping up.
He later confided, “I vividly recall getting into my hotel room and having a complete anxiety breakdown… I couldn’t stop shaking, my jaw was clenched, I couldn’t open my mouth. I was getting electrical shocks through my brain, like I was having seizures or something…. It was a full panic attack which I don’t ever remember having at that level before.”
Curiosity Killed The Shot
“Bruce,” the nickname given to the three mechanical sharks used in the filming of Jaws, was so eye-catching and interesting to look at, that boaters and fishermen would frequently want to get a closer look.
Unfortunately for Steven Spielberg, their curiosity was detrimental to the productivity of the cast and crew. Each time a boat entered the camera’s frame, the footage would become useless and it could take the crew up to six hours to re-create and re-do each shot.
Beyond The Horizon
Poor timing was a reoccurring theme during the filming of Jaws. One particularly frustrating obstacle to overcome was the summer boating season.
First, the New York Yacht Club held their annual cruise in the vicinity of the Jaws set. Not long after, a large group of boats on their way to the America’s Cup race in Rhode Island drifted by. The crew ended up losing ten days of shooting before they could go back to filming with an empty horizon.
A Slap In The Face
While filming the scene where Mrs. Kinter, overcome with grief, slaps Chief Brody across the face, the crew came to realize that Lee Fierro, the actress playing Mrs. Kinter, was unable to fake the slap in a way where it would look realistic.
Therefore, Fierro ended up slapping Roy Scheider for real, without holding back, for each and every take. Hopefully, it didn’t take too long for Spielberg to get the shot he was looking for out of Fierro!
Scheider’s Iconic Improv
Chief Brody’s line, “We’re going to need a bigger boat,” wasn’t included in the original script or in Peter Benchley’s novel.
Roy Scheider improvised the iconic line on the spot, which went on to define the characters’ struggle to take down the massive shark.
Spielberg Was MIA
The final scene of Jaws shows Chief Brody taking down the beast by shooting an air canister in the shark’s mouth, resulting in an epic explosion. This scene was actually not directed by Steven Spielberg.
After a very long five months of shooting, Spielberg was completely drained and had already gone back to Hollywood to begin the long process of post-production. Therefore, the secondary crew took the reigns and filmed the infamous explosion scene without their commander in chief.
An Unlikely Fan
Movies are often more than meets the eye. Screenwriters will use topics that seem simple on the surface to represent deeper and more meaningful themes. However, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes movies can be read the wrong way or misinterpreted.
Surprisingly, one of Jaws‘ biggest fans was Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former communist Prime Minister and President. Castro liked Jaws so much because he assumed the shark attacks were meant to be a metaphor for an attack on American capitalism.
PG: Pretty Graphic
Despite the graphic and gruesome shark-attack scenes, the MPAA gave Jaws a PG rating. This is because the first PG-13 rated movie didn’t come out until nine years after the release of Jaws.
Spielberg’s masterpiece was actually given the R rating before the post-production team cut out a number of scenes, including one showing a severed leg. Once they made the necessary revisions, Jaws passed as a PG movie. However, the movie’s poster read, “MAY BE TOO INTENSE FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN.”