Behind the Scenes of a Classic: Jaws

Without a doubt one of Steven Spielberg’s most notorious movies, but mostly the one that made him famous, Jaws (1975) has actually been far from easy to produce…

At the time just 28, Spielberg only had one theatrical film under his belt (The Sugarland Express) and already faced a mountain of challenges, including shooting mostly at sea, an expensive mechanical shark that didn’t work, a tight budget and schedule, and many’s belief that his career was finished.

“We would shoot five scenes in a good day, three in an average day, and none in a bad day.” – Steven Spielberg

But it’s not for nothing that the director is today a Hollywood legend. While many problems stood in his way, the young director used them to his advantage by taking a leaf out of Alfred Hitchcock’s book when he made the decision to show the shark as little as possible and use a musical theme to announce its presence, instead.

The result turned out to have a much greater impact than expected. The new perspective increased the tension and created more fear in the audience. Eventually, what started as a practical solution became the foundation of Jaws‘ international success at the box office and among critics.

A true, incredible success story!

Mechanism inside Bruce the shark in Jaws
Universal Pictures

Named Bruce by members of the crew in reference to Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Raynor, ‘Jaws’ mechanical shark required 14 operators to control its moving parts. 

Robert Shaw chills out next to Bruce the shark on the set of jaws
Universal Pictures
Bruce the shark behind the scenes of Jaws
Universal Pictures

On its first test run, Bruce immediately sank, forcing divers to recover it. The machine had numerous defects, which often lead to big delays. Spielberg quickly renamed it ‘The Great White Turd’.

Spielberg in the water with team on set of Jaws
Universal Pictures

Filming in the sea was pretty new at the time, which meant the movie’s team had to create new aquatic shooting equipment and constantly wear diving outfits.

Steven Spielberg check film with editor on set of Jaws
AMPAS
Steven Spielberg film mouth of Bruce the shark
AMPAS
Cameraman films on an inflated baot on set of Jaws
AMPAS
Steven Spielberg poses inside the mouth of Bruce the shark on set of Jaws
AMPAS

Decades later, Steven Spielberg would describe his experience of directing ‘Jaws’ as traumatizing.

Behind the scenes of Jaws
AMPAS
Susan Backlinie on set of Jaws
AMPAS

Susan Backlinie, who played the first victim of the movie, was outfitted with cables that could then be pulled by members of the crew in order to simulate a violent attack. 

 

Want to learn more about the making of Jaws? Watch the compelling 49-minute video, featuring Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, and Roy Scheider, below: