Take a Bite Out Of This: Behind the Scenes Facts About Jaws

Dun dun…It scared an entire generation from going into the ocean. Dun dun…It reminded people that not even kids are safe. Dun Dun… It’s the reason people wouldn’t even swim in pools. Dun dun dun…This is what Jaws did and continues to do since the summer of 1975.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is considered one of the greatest and scariest films of all time. See what happened behind the scenes, and what went into making the movie that made going to the beach a seemingly dangerous endeavor.

See what makes the movie different from the book.

The Fake Shark Weighed Enough To Be Real


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The shark prop used in the film was built by production designer Joe Alves. The shark weighed a whopping 1.2 tons and measured 25 feet in length. One reason that Martha’s Vineyard was chosen as the location for filming was partially due to the size of the shark.

The ocean bed in the area has a depth of 35 feet for a stretch of 12 miles offshore. Those conditions made for an ideal location to shoot because they could rest the behemoth mechanical shark on the ocean floor when it wasn’t being used.

The Movie Greatly Deviated From The Book


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Although the movie follows the primary plot points provided by the original novel, it also had some significant differences. In the book, Hooper was involved in an affair with Chief Brody’s wife, complicating the entire situation. Although this was included in the early screenplay drafts, it was eventually cut out from the film for various reasons.

In the book, the actual reason why Mayor Vaughn kept pushing the beach to stay open wasn’t due to the local business owners — it was because he was being pressured by the mafia and needed to maintain their real estate investments on the island.

Numerous Improvised Moments Were Included In The Final Cut


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Like many other films, some of the most memorable quotes and scenes were never in the original script. They were made up on the spot by actors and then added into the movies. One of these particular moments was when Brody’s son Sean began mimicking his father’s movements at the table, and the two start making funny faces at each other.

This interaction actually happened between Roy Scheider and child actor Jay Mellow in between takes. Spielberg loved it and re-staged it to put it in the movie. Also, Brody’s iconic line “You’re going to need a bigger boat” was improvised and turned out to be one of the most classic lines of the film.

Ever wonder how they pulled off that horrifying attack in the opening scene?

Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis Speech Wasn’t In The Book


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Robert Shaw’s character, Quint, has one of the film’s most iconic monologues discussing his experience after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. However, Quint’s past experiences as a sailor and his speech were specifically written in for the movie. Shaw even made some of his own adjustments to the story to make it as believable as it is.

On filming day, Shaw thought since the characters were drinking in the scene, he should too. So, he was given alcohol before and during filming. He ended up blacking out and getting carried off the boat. The next day, however, he came in sober and filmed the scene in only a few takes.

Quint Was Based On a Real Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

A true Martha’s Vineyard fisherman named Craig Kingsbury was hired to teach Robert Shaw to be the salty old fisherman his character Quint is in the film. Kingsbury helped him with his Cape Cod accent and told him old fishing stories, some of which Shaw mentioned on a whim in his dialogue. Spielberg was so impressed and thankful for Kingsbury that he even offered him a role in the film.

Kingsbury ended up being a part of one of the most frightening scares in the film. He played the local fisherman Ben Gardner, whose severed head floats out of the wrecked ship that Hooper is inspecting beneath the water.

The Opening Scene Was No Walk In The Park


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The opening scene with the young woman being attacked was harder to film than you may think. And no, actress Susan Backlinie wasn’t just flailing around in the water. A harness with cables was attached Backlinie’s legs, and she was yanked back and forth by crew members running back and forth on the shoreline.

The directions she was being pulled were at random to achieve a genuine reaction of fear from Backlinie. The entire scene took three whole days to film, but it paid off, with the opening scene from Jaws setting the bar for the horror genre.

See what Spielberg’s first impression of the movie’s musical score was.

Richard Dreyfuss Wasn’t The First Choice For Hooper


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Although we can’t see Hooper being played by anyone else, he was not Spielberg’s first choice. Initially, Spielberg thought that John Voight, Timothy Bottoms, or Jeff Bridges would all be prime choices to play the brainiac oceanographer. However, when none of those actors committed to the movie, it was George Lucas that recommended Richard Dreyfuss to Spielberg.

Lucas had worked with him in American Graffiti and vouched for his talent. Dreyfuss, in turn, accepted the role because he wanted to redeem himself after his disappointment for his performance in the film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

The Shark’s Name Was Bruce


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

During the process of shooting, the giant mechanical shark was given the nickname “Bruce.” Bruce Ramer is a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles and was Spielberg’s at the time, so the crew jokingly named the shark Bruce, and it stuck. Apparently, both of the Bruces gave Spielberg an exceptionally tough time during filming, but the shark more so than the lawyer.

The crew often referred to the shark as “the big white turd” and other more explicit names. If a great white shark named Bruce sounds familiar, it’s because Pixar gave a nod to Spielberg and named the shark in Finding Nemo Bruce.

Roy Scheider Started a Food Fight At a Crew Dinner


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Because the shoot was so long and arduous, tensions began to run high on the set. So, one night at a crew dinner, Roy Scheider decided to blow off some steam and threw a fistful of mashed potatoes in Spielberg’s face. Richard Dreyfuss jumped at the opportunity to do the same, and before they knew it, there was a full-blown food fight between everyone at the dinner.

Supposedly, even the servers joined in (wouldn’t that make a story). After the food fight had subsided, members of the cast all jumped into the pool to cool off. All in all, the food fight had helped take everyone’s mind off of their stress and gave everyone something new to talk about.

Spielberg Laughed When He First Heard The Theme Song For Jaws


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The first time composer John Williams played the theme song for Jaws, Spielberg laughed in his face. He thought that Williams was playing a joke on him and then asked him what he actually had prepared for the movie’s score. However, Williams wasn’t joking and eventually talked Spielberg into believing that it would work and he was right.

The theme went on to win the Academy Award for the Best Original Score and is one of the most well-recognized scores of all time. Spielberg also later admitted that the film would not have been nearly as successful if he had not trusted Williams about the score for the movie.

See how this movie almost swallowed Spielberg whole.

George Lucas Got His Head Stuck In The Shark


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

“Bruce,” the mechanical shark gave Spielberg more than a little trouble throughout filming. However, one incident occurred before filming had even begun. George Lucas came to visit Spielberg and uncredited Jaws screenwriter John Milius, and they took him into the special effects shop. Lucas proceeded to put his head inside Bruce’s mouth, and Spielberg and Milius closed the jaws on him as a prank.

The only problem was that the mechanics failed and Lucas’ head was trapped in the shark’s closed mouth. They had to pry the jaws open to rescue Lucas. This instance was foreshadowing of the trouble Bruce would give them in the future.

Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw Butted Heads


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

It was not a rarity for Robert Shaw to be drunk during the filming of Jaws. His constant drinking and drunken behavior led him to butt heads with Richard Dreyfuss. At one point, Shaw announced to the crew that he wanted to stop drinking. In response, Dreyfuss grabbed the current glass of alcohol from Shaw’s hand and threw it off of the ship.

This led to even more tension between the two. That was only one particular instance during filming, but the two were known to always be at each other’s throat. The hot weather, mechanical failures, and constantly being in close quarters on a boat certainly didn’t help either.

Spielberg Had Numerous Mental Breakdowns


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Before making Jaws, the pressure was on the young director who had just directed the box office flop The Sugarland Express. Unfortunately, Jaws would turn out to be a nightmare to make. He was buried under a mountain of pressure from the studio, producers, and accountants who were expecting results despite the endless setbacks that Spielberg was experiencing.

Between fighting actors, unpredictable weather, and countless mechanical failures, Spielberg began to have mental breakdowns. He was afraid that he was going to be fired from the movie and blow his career as a director. He even had a pillow sent from his home in California and slept with celery under it because he found the smell soothing.

Can you tell which scenes they used an actual shark in?

The Decapitated Head Scene Was Filmed In A Swimming Pool


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The famous scene when Hopper discovers fisherman Ben Gardner’s decapitated head in the hull of a boat was filmed in a pool. Although they had shot an original take during their time in New England, Spielberg wasn’t pleased with it. So, six months after shooting had ended, they re-shot the scene in editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool in Van Nuys, California.

Spielberg borrowed some props and film equipment from Universal Studios and poured milk into the pool to give it a mirky look like the water in Martha’s Vineyard. After completing the scene, they easily edited it into the movie and has since become one of the film’s most notable scenes.

Robert Shaw Was Evading The IRS During Filming


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

On top of his drinking and continuous fighting with Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw had the IRS to worry about. At one point, he was attempting to evade the IRS and the British taxmen at the same time. This forced him to flee to Canada on numerous occasions to avoid facing a tax liability for spending too much time in the United States during a single visit.

When the IRS finally caught up too him, he had to forgo his salary to pay for his crime. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also eaten by the shark to top off his troubles.

The Orca Sank In Real Life


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

During filming, one huge roadblock that Spielberg faced was when the ship “The Orca” sank in real life, not just the movie. It began sinking with Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, and Roy Scheider still on board. More importantly, the ship also held numerous cameras and a lot of precious film.

Seeing the boat sink, there was a mad dash to get the actors and especially the equipment off of the boat. One of the cameras was submerged, but they were still able to save the film that was inside. This was just one of the endless issues that Spielberg had to overcome to complete the movie.

Real Shark Footage Was Used


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Producer Darryl Zanuck insisted that there was real shark footage used in the film. Spielberg, a perfectionist, obliged but used the footage sparingly. He hired shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor to get underwater footage of 14-foot sharks off the coast of Australia. They hired a 4-foot 11-inch stuntman named Carl Rizzo to go inside of a small shark cage to make the sharks seem bigger than they are.

After a week of filming with no results, a shark became stuck inside the cage when Rizzo wasn’t inside. This caused the shark to panic and thrashed around in the empty cage. This was the live footage that was used in the film.

Roy Scheider Got The Part After Overhearing About The Movie At A Party


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Roy Scheider got the role of Chief Martin Brody not after his agent signed him up for an audition, but after overhearing Spielberg mentioning it a Hollywood party. He heard him talk about the scene when the shark jumps out of the water and onto the boat, which really got his attention.

Scheider then approached Spielberg and told him how interested he was in being a part of the film. Spielberg remembered Scheider’s performance in The French Connection and offered him the role shortly after. Apparently, sometimes it pays to be nosey.

Gregory Peck Cut Out A Whole Scene


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

In the original drafts of the screenplay, Robert Shaw’s character Quint was supposed to be introduced while disrupting the screening of the 1958 adaptation of Moby Dick. It would have let the audience know his true attitude as well as make it clear that he’s a sailor himself. It would also have been a foreshadowing of what was to come in the rest of the film.

The scene was shot and ready to be added to the film when Gregory Peck, who played Captain Ahab in Moby Dick said no. He owned the rights to the film version of Moby Dick and wouldn’t let Spielberg use the footage of the movie in Jaws.

The Movie Poster Was Originally For The Book


Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The iconic poster for Jaws wasn’t actually made for the film. It was initially designed by artist Roger Kastel for the paperback version of Peter Benchley. The image of the shark coming up to the surface was modeled after a great white shark diorama at the American Museum of Natural History.

The swimmer at the top was a model for Kastel who was working on an advertisement for Good Housekeeping. After he had finished the work for Good Housekeeping, Kastel asked if she would stay a little longer and pose like a swimmer. 30 minutes later, the now-unforgettable poster for Jaws was complete.