Steven Spielberg talks about 'Jaws' -- the greatest summer movie ever made

jaws

Image Credit: Everett Collection

When Steven Spielberg’s Jaws hit theaters back on June 20, 1975, the modern-day summer movie was born. One of the first films ever to be widely released on a large number of screens across the country on a single day, Spielberg’s sea-faring saga redefined what it meant to be a blockbuster. On top of all of that, Jaws also happened to be a rollicking, enjoyable, and insanely scary movie, mixing popcorn thrills and the kind of character development you tend to only see in Oscar-bait prestige films. In a new interview about Jaws with Ain’t It Cool News, Spielberg talked about his nerve-wracking months on the fictional Amity Island (actually Martha’s Vineyard), how he gathered his cast, and Robert Shaw’s infamous U.S.S. Indianapolis scene (oh, and a few words for the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom haters out there — hint: blame George Lucas). Here are some of the more excerptable excerpts.

On being unprepared to make a film in a real body of water, which stretched the shooting schedule way past everyone’s patience:

“I was naive about the ocean, basically. I was pretty naive about mother nature and the hubris of a filmmaker who thinks he can conquer the elements was foolhardy, but I was too young to know I was being foolhardy when I demanded that we shoot the film in the Atlantic Ocean and not in a North Hollywood tank. But had I to do it all over again I would have gone back to the sea because it was the only way for the audience to feel that these three men were cast adrift with a great white shark hunting them.”

On the malfunctioning mechanical shark:

“Everything on land went normal! … I was actually on schedule for the first part of the picture … The shark not working was a godsend. It made me become more like Alfred Hitchcock … When I didn’t have control of my shark it made me kind of rewrite the whole script without the shark. Therefore, in many people’s opinions the film was more effective than the way the script actually offered up the shark.”

On assembling his cast:

“Casting sometimes is fate and destiny more than skill and talent, from a director’s point of view. First, I went to see Lee Marvin and he said no. Then I went to Sterling Hayden and he said no. Then finally David Brown, who had just worked with Robert Shaw on The Sting, and said, ‘What about Robert Shaw?’ I said, ‘David, you’re a genius!’ And Robert said yes. That was a simple story, although it took six months to cast Quint, and I went to several actors before Roy Scheider. They didn’t turn me down, I just decided they were not right for the part. I tested dozens of possible Brodys. I don’t want to mention any names because many of them are still with us. [Then, Spielberg met Scheider at a party] Roy actually said to me, ‘You have such a glum look on your face. What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘Aw, I’m having trouble casting my picture.’ He actually said, ‘Who have you gone out to?’ I named a few names and he looked at me and said, ‘What about me?’ He actually said, What about ME?!? … I looked at him and said, ‘You’re right! What about you? Will you make my movie?’ Without even asking for a script he said, ‘Of course! If you want me, I’ll do it!’… And Richard Dreyfuss was my first choice.”

On Robert Shaw’s infamous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech:

“We shot it twice. the first time we attempted to shoot it Robert came over to me and said, ‘You know, Steven, all three of these characters have been drinking and I think I could do a much better job in this speech if you actually let me have a few drinks before I do the speech.’ And I unwisely gave him permission … I guess he had more than a few drinks because two crew members actually had to carry him onto the Orca and help him into his chair. I had two cameras on the scene and we never got through the scene, he was just too far gone. So I wrapped … At about 2 o’clock in the morning my phone rings and it’s Robert. He had a complete blackout and had no memory of what had gone down that day. He said, ‘Steven, tell me I didn’t embarrass you.’ He was very sweet, but he was panic-stricken. He said, ‘Steven, please tell me I didn’t embarrass you. What happened? Are you going to give me a chance to do it again?’ I said, ‘Yes, the second you’re ready we’ll do it again.’ The next morning he came to the set, he was ready at 7:30 and out of make-up and it was like watching Olivier on stage. We did it in probably four takes. I think we were all watching a great performance and the actors on camera were watching a great performance; Roy and Richard.”

On clearing up who actually wrote the speech:

“I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie. I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard … Howard one day said, ‘Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.’ I said, ‘Howard, what’s that?’ And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write it as a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page. But then when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said, ‘Can I take a crack at this speech?’ and John wrote a 10-page monologue that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down … Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.”

On what happened to Milius’ 10-page version of the speech:

“I don’t think it exists. I know I don’t have it. I’ve been asked for it, everybody has been wanting to see it and John doesn’t have it because in those days we didn’t have computers, we didn’t have hard drives, it was just on pieces of paper!”

On why he chose not to return for Jaws 2:

“I was done, I was done with the ocean. I would have done the sequel if I hadn’t had such a horrible time at sea on the first film. I would have absolutely jumped at the chance to own the sequel because I knew that when I was walking away from the sequel I was walking away from a huge piece of my life that I helped to create, but it wasn’t a hard decision to walk away from it. [But Spielberg adds that he has had ideas for a sequel since then...] “I have a very, very good scene which I thought would have been good for a sequel someday … every time I think of this scene, I think, ‘Hmmm, could this be another Jaws movie?’ And I have to immediately pull myself back down to earth.”

On all the Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom haters (Spielberg has occasionally been one himself):

“Here’s the thing … for all the fans of Temple of Doom who think I beat up too much on it, those fans who beat up on George Lucas 24/7 at the drop of any fedora, I would just say please give George credit. He’s the one who made it dark, he’s the one that decided on the story and on the concept.”

Read more:
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ gets its Mary Todd: Sally Field
‘Super 8′ teaming with Twitter for Thursday sneak preview push
20 Scariest Movies of All Time

Comments (46 total) Add your comment
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  • commentor

    and please… give George credit for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Knowledge is their treasure! HA!

    • argyle

      dude!!! i didn’t see it yet! thanks for ruining it!

  • Sam J

    When I was 11, I saw Terminator 2 in the theater on July 4, 1991. This was and is the greatest summer movie of my generation. The first film were the actors interacted seamlessly with CGI. Even Jurassic Park’s giant dinos were “viewed” by the actors not interacted, which JP coincedently is the 2nd best summer flick of my generation. Jaws was cool on VHS though.

    • Kevin

      Jurassic Park > T2

      • Chic Geek

        T2 < Jurassic Park

      • Libs

        Ummm…so you both agree Jurassic Park was better?

  • Juneau

    And to think Robert Shaw wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for that career-defining performance. Thankfully, the scene speaks for itself. Jaws ~ my favorite movie of all time.

    • Zach

      Absolutely.

    • Darren DeBari

      I agree-Everyone still talks of Shaw’s performance as Quint-He so deserved a nomination.

    • wipeout

      …and Shaw’s Indianapolis speech is the best scene of the entire movie. (Capped, of course, by the singing!)

      • pie thrower

        Here’s to drinkin’ with bow legged women.

        …and Temple of Doom and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are flat out great movies. Raiders is still the best.

        Jaws, Raiders, Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back = four of my favorite movies of all time.

      • pie thrower

        Show me the way to go home. I’m tired and I wanna go to bed. I had a little drink about an hour and it went right to my head. Wherever I may roam on land or sea or foam you can always hear me singing this song. Show me the way to go home.

  • Jono

    Boo! Way to take the Temple of Doom quote completely out of context. Spielberg is talking to FANS of Temple of Doom, not haters, telling them to give George Lucas credit for its tone and not so easily jump on the Lucas-bashing bandwagon. He’s defending his friend, saying “If you love Temple of Doom, give George credit,” not blacing blame on him. Bad form Chris. Read things a little more carefully, buddy.

    • Jono

      Seriously, read the original interview. I thought it was cool that Spielberg is taking some heat off of his much-maligned friend. And no, I’m not some apologist who loves the prequels.

    • two cents

      Exactly! What’s with the “blame George Lucas” that the author implies… Makes it sound almost accusatory. Not cool.

  • AK

    I finally saw “Jaws” earlier this year, and I thought it was okay, but definitely not worthy of a Best Picture nomination or inclusion on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest movies. I have to assume the great reverence for it is more a result of its success and place in movie history than anything. Also, “insanely scary”? Not so much.

    • Kevin

      You are dumb.

      • erin

        this

      • AK

        At least I have more of a life than someone trolling around on Internet message boards…

      • Alyssa

        Whoa dude….you are ” swimming with the sharks” pun intended. You dont hate or smack talk JAWS. Its a classic. In every version of ” Movies to see before you die”, Jaws is in there somewhere. It may not be scary watching it, but go take a dip in the lake at dusk and play that theme song. Even though you know its a lake, it will scare you out of your wits.

    • Mr. Burns

      The new Transformers movie is coming out; I am sure it will be much more to your taste.

      • AK

        How does your comment make any sense?

      • Sam J

        Ak you are probably younger than 30 and therefore are used to a higher quality film. The natural environment(the open sea) of the filming location of Jaws caused its budget to be quite high for its day. Also under water camera shots were very new and scary( the sharks view of teh girl at the begining) to see on the big screen in 1975. You are just too young. By the way, I was -5 yrs old when Jaws came out, but I’ve “studied” film and believe this was intense half a decade before I was born.

    • peggym

      See Jaws in a big theater with no idea of what wil come next, wihout hearing “we need a bigger boat” a thousand or so times, and you’ll get it. The problem is that so much of it is known to new audiences now that there’s no surprise or suspense. I saw it the week it came out, and realized halfway through that I was sitting with my feet up on my boyfriend’s lap, so the theater sharks couldn’t get them (he must not have minded; we just had our 34th anniversary).

      • JenD

        That’s a nice story- thank you for sharing it.

    • Linda

      Jaws was made over thirty-five years ago -you can’t judge it on today’s standards. The movie is definitely one of the best summer movies ever. The movie left a profound impact on me when I was young. On most of today’s movies, I just leave shaking my head. It’s all flash and no real substance -kind of like eating cotton candy.

    • Pickle t1ts

      Does AK stand for “Always Knelling” cause you love blowing dudes in truck stop bathrooms?

    • Joe

      Remember NOT to take the movie out of context. Viewing it for the first time in 2011 obviously isn’t the same as those of us who were kicked back in a lawn chair at a drive-in movie theater in the 1970s. A whole generation of movie directions grew up with it in their inspirational cannon. Jaws inspired countless others . . .

    • Joel

      There were not many movies with realistic special effects in the 1970’s. This movie was VERY realistic and ominously foreboding of the next shark encounter. Today, we expect realism because CGI makes it so easy to deliver, but back in the day it was pure magic!

  • anne

    This movie premiered on my 5th birthday. I’ve been in love with it ever since. I’m actually re-reading the book right now!

  • NedPepper

    I can’t believe that there are people who have never seen Jaws. God, that makes me feel old. I grew up on that movie. It’s one of my favorite films and as a kid, when VHS hit, I watched that movie again and again again. And TBS used to play every day…THAT is how a summer film should be. Notice there are CHARACTERS and DEVELOPMENT of the said characters. There’s meat on the bones. Sad what summer movies have turned into.

  • Charlie

    Thank you, Steven, for making me forever afraid of public beaches.

    • Joel

      True! It has had a lasting impact on me as well, and speaks to the realism of this movie.

    • Alyssa

      I blame the cello music. It plays in my head no matter what body of water I go in, even a dumb pool.

  • Joe

    I’m a 23-year-old and I’ve got to say that Jaws would most definitely make it into my top 5 movies of all time. As much as I love the shark and the suspense it creates, it doesn’t get much better than watching Dreyfuss, Schreider and Shaw share the screen.

  • Del Taco

    Jaws is in my top 5 best movies of all time. Saw this sucker in July of 1975. Totally blown away. Seen it hundreds of times since. Hasn’t lost any of its’ impact. Easily Spielberg’s best movie

  • Brad

    I remember he used to describe his experience making that movie was so bad I assume he meant the entire movie. Here and on Aint it Cool, he cleared it up that he meant his experience at sea. Wow thanks for that interview. It was informative and refreshing.

  • AD Smith

    Now I want to stay home from work today and watch it! Ah, such a great film, and the score is genius. Thank you Steven!

  • Jerry

    36 years Later, Spielberg is up for an incredible year. Produces Super 8. 2 films coming out in Dec the same week. Starting Lincoln in September. Forget Cameron. Steven is truly the King of the Entertainment world.

  • Rush

    Infamous: You keep using that word. I do not thing that word means what you think it means.

    • Rush

      thing::think

      • Ival

        I was really confused, and this answered all my quetsinos.

  • Alyssa

    Steven Thank you for all the ” Monsters” you help create. They are scary and other-worldly awesome. Jaws, Jurassic Park, Gremlins, ET, – Some are big scary monsters some are little cute aliens that can just freak you out. But they are all memorable. I never saw JAWS in theaters, I wasnt born till 89. But I can quote it word for word.

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