MCA/Universal Home Video
MCA/Universal Home Video

25 Incisive Facts About Jaws

MCA/Universal Home Video
MCA/Universal Home Video

Daah dun, daah dun, daah dun, dun dun, dun dun, dun dun. Today is the 43rd anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s original blockbuster, Jaws. Here are 25 fascinating facts you may not have known about the Oscar-winning shark flick.

1. THE BOOK COULD HAVE BEEN CALLED SOMETHING ELSE.

The film is adapted from author Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel of the same name, which Benchley based on a series of shark attacks that occurred off the coast of New Jersey in 1916 and after an incident where a New York fisherman named Frank Mundus caught a 4,500-pound shark off the coast of Montauk in 1964. Other title ideas Benchley had before settling on Jaws were “The Stillness in the Water,” “The Silence of the Deep,” “Leviathan Rising,” and “The Jaws of Death."

2. THE BOOK’S AUTHOR MAKES A CAMEO IN THE MOVIE.

Benchley himself can be seen in a cameo in the film as the news reporter who addresses the camera on the beach. Benchley had previously worked as a news reporter for the Washington Post before penning Jaws.

Steven Spielberg also makes a cameo in the movie: His voice is the Amity Island dispatcher who calls Quint’s boat, the Orca, with Sheriff Brody’s wife on the line.

3. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT THE DIRECTING JOB BECAUSE OF DUEL.

Spielberg was chosen to direct Jaws by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown (who had also worked with the then-28-year-old director on his 1974 film The Sugarland Express) because of his film Duel, which featured a maniacal trucker terrorizing a mild-mannered driver. The producers thought the movie was thematically similar to the story for Jaws, making Spielberg a great fit.

4. THERE’S NOT A LOT OF JAWS IN JAWS.


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The shark doesn’t fully appear in a shot until one hour and 21 minutes into the two-hour film. The reason it isn’t shown is because the mechanical shark that was built rarely worked during filming, so Spielberg had to create inventive ways (like Quint’s yellow barrels) to shoot around the non-functional shark.

5. IT TOOK A VERY LONG TIME TO MAKE.

Jaws was marred with so many technical problems (including the shark not working and shooting in the Atlantic Ocean) that the originally scheduled 65-day shoot ballooned into 159 days, not counting post-production.

6. AMITY ISLAND WAS ACTUALLY MARTHA’S VINEYARD.

To create the fictional town of Amity, the production shot on location in Edgartown and Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Strict land ordinances kept the production from building anywhere—Quint’s shack was the one and only set built for the movie, while the defaced Amity Island billboard had to be constructed and taken down all in one day.

7. THE SHARK WEIGHED MORE THAN A TON.

The pneumatically-powered shark, designed and built by production designer Joe Alves, weighed in at 1.2 tons and measured 25 feet in length. Part of the reason that Martha’s Vineyard was chosen as a location was because the surrounding ocean bed had a depth of 35 feet for up to 12 miles offshore, which was perfect for scenes that required the mechanical shark rig to be rested on the shallow ocean floor.

8. SPIELBERG TOOK INSPIRATION FROM HIS LEGAL COUNSEL.

The director nicknamed the shark “Bruce” after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer, who also currently represents other celebrities like Demi Moore, Ben Stiller, and Clint Eastwood.

9. SOME GOOD, OLD-FASHIONED ELBOW GREASE HELPED CREATE THE OPENING SCENE.

The opening scene took three days to shoot. To achieve the jolting motions of the shark attacking the swimmer in the opening sequence, a harness with cables was attached to actress Susan Backlinie’s legs and was pulled by crewmembers back and forth along the shoreline. Spielberg told the crew not to let Backlinie know when she would be yanked back and forth, so her terrified reaction is genuine.

Spielberg went on to spoof his own opening scene for Jaws in his 1979 World War II comedy 1941. The scene features Backlinie once again taking a skinny dip at the beach, but instead of being attacked by a shark she’s scooped up by a passing Japanese submarine.

10. SOME EAVESDROPPING GOT ROY SCHEIDER THE LEAD.

Scheider got the part of Chief Martin Brody after overhearing Spielberg talking to a friend at a Hollywood party about the scene where the shark leaps out of the water and onto Quint’s boat. Scheider was instantly enthralled, and asked Spielberg if he could be in the film. Spielberg loved Scheider from his role in The French Connection, and later offered the actor the part.

11. RICHARD DREYFUSS WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY HOOPER.

Spielberg initially approached Jon Voight, Timothy Bottoms, and Jeff Bridges to play oceanographer Matt Hooper. When none of them could commit to the role, Spielberg’s friend George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfuss, whom Lucas has directed in American Graffiti. Dreyfuss would later accept the part because he thought he was terrible in the title role of the film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz a year earlier.

12. ROBERT SHAW WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY QUINT.

When actors Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden—the first and second choices to play the grizzled fisherman Quint, respectively—both turned Spielberg down, producers Zanuck and Brown recommended English actor Robert Shaw, whom they had previously worked with on 1973's The Sting.

13. A LOCAL MARTHA’S VINEYARD FISHERMAN WAS THE REAL QUINT.

Shaw based his performance of Quint on Martha’s Vineyard native and fisherman Craig Kingsbury, a non-actor who appears in the film as Ben Gardner. Kingsbury helped Shaw with his accent and allegedly told Shaw old sea stories that the actor incorporated into his improvised dialogue as Quint.

14. GREGORY PECK FORCED A SCENE TO BE CUT FROM THE MOVIE.

In early drafts of the screenplay, Quint was originally introduced while causing a disturbance in a movie theater while watching John Huston’s 1958 adaptation of Moby Dick. The scene was shot, but actor Gregory Peck—who plays Captain Ahab in that movie—owned the rights to the film version of Moby Dick and wouldn’t let the filmmakers on Jaws use the footage, so the sequence was cut.

15. THE BOOK WAS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE MOVIE.

Early drafts of the screenplay featured a subplot where Hooper has an affair with Chief Brody’s wife, which was carted over from the book. Another detail left out of the movie from the book was that Mayor Vaughn was under pressure from the mafia, not local business owners, to keep Amity’s beaches open because of their real estate investments on the island.

16. SPIELBERG ADDED AN OFFSCREEN IMPROV MOMENT.

The scene where Brody’s son Sean mimics his father’s movements at the dinner table was based on a real thing that happened between Scheider and child actor Jay Mello in between takes. Spielberg loved the off-the-cuff moment so much that he re-staged it and put it in the movie.

Another iconic moment was also a spontaneous one: Brody’s famous “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line was entirely improvised by Scheider on the day of shooting.

17.  ROBERT SHAW PUT HIS OWN SPIN ON THE INDIANAPOLIS SPEECH.


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Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis speech wasn’t in the novel, and the backstory of Quint being a sailor on the ship first appeared in an uncredited rewrite of the script by playwright Howard Sackler. Later, writer-director (and Spielberg’s friend) John Milius expanded the characteristic into a multi-page monologue, which was then whittled down and spruced up by actor Robert Shaw (himself a playwright) on the day of shooting.

18. SOME REAL SHARK FOOTAGE WAS USED.

Zanuck demanded that real shark footage be used in the movie, and Spielberg used it sparingly. He hired experts Ron and Valerie Taylor to shoot underwater footage of 14-foot sharks off the coast of Australia. For scale, they hired a little person actor named Carl Rizzo to appear as Hooper in a mini shark cage in hopes that they could create the illusion of a shark attacking the character. After trying to get the right shot for about a week, the sharks would only swim around the cage. Then, during a take when Rizzo wasn’t in the cage, a shark became entangled in the cage’s bridle, causing it to thrash and roll around. This footage was included in the final film.

19. DESPITE ALL THE BLOODY SHARK ATTACKS, THE MOVIE IS RATED PG.

Jaws was initially rated R by the MPAA. But after some of the more gruesome frames of the shot showing the severed leg of the man attacked by the shark in the estuary were trimmed down, the film was given a PG-rating (the PG-13-rating wasn’t created until after Spielberg’s own film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, caused the MPAA to change the system in 1984). The poster for the film still reads that the movie “MAY BE TOO INTENSE FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN.”

20. SPIELBERG DIDN’T DIRECT SOME OF THE FINAL SCENES.

Spielberg didn’t direct the shot of the shark exploding. In fact, he had already returned to Los Angeles to begin post-production on the film after the film’s grueling shooting schedule and left the shot up to the production’s second unit.

21. THE POSTER IMAGE CAME ABOUT BY CHANCE.

The film’s iconic poster image was designed by artist Roger Kastel for the paperback edition of Benchley’s book. Kastel modeled the image of the massive shark emerging from the bottom of the frame after a great white shark diorama at the American Museum of Natural History. The female swimmer at the top was actually a model that Kastel was sketching at his studio for an ad in Good Housekeeping. He asked her to stay an extra half-hour and had her pose for the image by standing on a stool and pretending to swim.

22. JAWS WAS HUGE.

Jaws was the first movie released in more than 400 theaters in the United States, and the first movie to gross over $100 million at the box office. It was the highest grossing movie of all time until Star Wars was released two years later.

23. SPIELBERG INCLUDED A NOD TO HIS PREVIOUS MOVIE.

The faint roaring sound that is heard after the shark is blown up was also used by Spielberg in Duel, when that film’s villainous truck falls off a cliff.

24. IT ORIGINALLY ENDED JUST LIKE MOBY DICK.

The original ending in the script had the shark dying of harpoon injuries inflicted by Quint and Brody à la Moby Dick, but Spielberg thought the movie needed a crowd-pleasing finale and came up with the exploding tank as seen in the final film. The dialogue and foreshadowing of the tank were then dropped in as they shot the movie.

25. THE MAIN THEME MUSIC IS EASY TO PLAY.

The sole music notes played for composer John Williams’s Jaws theme are E and F. Jaws marked the second time Williams worked with Spielberg after his film The Sugarland Express, and Williams has composed the music for every Spielberg movie since with the exception of 1985's The Color Purple and 2015's Bridge of Spies.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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