As a lifelong fan of Jaws, you can imagine what a treat it was for me to recently conduct an in-depth interview with the four producers of the forthcoming Jaws documentary, The Shark is Still Working. Jake Gove, who is the founder of the popular Jaws website Jawsmovie.com is one of those producers, and the others are Michael Roddy, Eric Hollander, James Gelet. Our interview covered a wide range of Jaws-related subjects, touching not only on the content of the documentary itself -- it's currently seeking distribution, but we got an advance copy, and you can read Cinematical's review, which is up today -- but also on the impact of the film in general and legacy that it has left to future generations of moviegoers. We talked about the film's legendary special effects problems, the personality conflicts between the cast members, the film's sequels, and most importantly, the fact that this documentary owes much of its existence to the online movie world, which has a rabid Jaws contingent.
James: That was Eric and myself. We've been making documentaries for quite a few years, and we were just sitting down and watching another documentary that somebody else had done -- it was somebody that we had known. These people had never done one before at all. They decided they wanted to do it, and they had the wherewithal to finish it, and Eric and I really admired them for that. Right around the same time, and completely unrelated to that, we had been invited to participate in Jawsfest, because we owned some props from the movie and Eric turned to me when we were watching a documentary and said 'what would be a fun documentary we could do?' and doing one on Jaws just seemed like such a no-brainer, because we were going to be going to that Jaws fest festival and we're big fans of the movie anyway. So that was kind of it.
The original idea was that it was just going to be about the festival, period. It was going to be much more literally, a Trekkies for Jaws fans. Pretty quickly after that, we were talking to Michael about the project. He was very interested in participating as well, and because of his connections to Universal, he was able to start talking to some of the heavy hitters involved with Jaws, and just kind of hit the pavement and get us some big interviews. Once that happened, obviously the vision grew and it went from being a documentary on Jawsfest into being 'hey, we can do the ultimate retrospective and talk about anything and everything Jaws, if we want to and if we work hard enough, so that's what happened.'
Of all the big interview subjects you pursued, who was the most difficult to get?
Michael: I'm gonna have to say Richard Dreyfuss.
What was his hesitation?
Michael: It wasn't hesitation, per say. I think Dreyfuss, just his personality and his ego needs to be served. We had been lulled into this sense of security for the fact that Spielberg had given us a lot of time and Roy Scheider and everyone else had just been so 'not Hollywood' about it, and honestly, Dreyfuss was the only one that was primarily, you know, we had to have water and cappuchino and we had to do it at a specific suite and all this stuff. You know, when you really think about it, the man is an Academy-award winner, and he's one of the defining actors of the 70s, just that style. You know, I think he was coming into it thinking, 'okay, here we go again. I've told these same stories over and over and over again.' And I have to tell you, we all have one kind of view of it when we got into the room because of the hoops we had to jump through, but the minute he started telling us stories and the minute the camera started rolling, Dreyfuss was the most amazing storyteller and gave us things that we'd never heard before.
He gave us the obligatory 'the shark is not working, the shark is not working,' which is kind of his story he tells whenever anybody tells him about Jaws, but him telling us about things we'd never heard about, like Peter Benchley's maid quitting because she went and saw the movie Jaws and found out how her father died -- her father was on the Indianapolis -- and all these other great stories. It turned out to be one of the most engaging and fun interviews, but as far as just 'hard to get,' he was kind of one of those white whales that we pursued, and once we finally got him, the only other one we wanted to get -- and he wanted to do it - was a guy by the name of Teddy Grossman, who was Steven Spielberg's ... kind of one of his stunt men that he used for years and years and years, but Teddy has gotten into a kind of a retirement thing where he pretty much spends about, I don't know, an hour in the United States a year, maybe, a year? We came close several times and he wanted to do it, but he couldn't. He's the only one in the Jaws cast of characters that we don't have. Everyone else is represented in some capacity.
Going back to Dreyfuss for a second, do you think Dreyfuss has mellowed with regards to his Robert Shaw stories over the years? The old stories seemed to have those two almost coming to blows on the set, but now Dreyfuss is much more diplomatic and takes care to mention his admiration of Shaw.
Michael: I think he's mellowed. I think he's realized that ... it is funny you point that out. From the first interviews that he started doing, when people were doing retrospectives of Jaws back in, I think it was like 95', when the 20th anniversary came out, to now, it almost sounded in that first one like it was sour grapes, whereas now he really is genuinely warm about the man. I think that comes with age and nostalgia. I think Paul Newman said it best -- "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be." I think, as he realizes, there is no 'star' of Jaws. It is the combination of the three of those gentlemen, and that shark. The movie would not have worked if one of them had not been on his game. Shaw did what Shaw needed to do for him, and I think Dreyfuss, again, was coming off of success and needed to feel a certain way, and I'm sure they butted heads. But yeah, there definitely is a warmness now when he talks about Shaw. I think he's come to realize that Shaw actually helped him, because he wasn't happy when he did Jaws. Dreyfuss has gone on record saying that he didn't want to do it, he wasn't happy doing it, and it's funny that 30 years later, it's not The Goodbye Girl, it's not Close Encounters, not any of those other movies -- pretty much, Jaws is at the top of the list.
You mentioned the line Dreyfuss uses in interviews -- "the shark is not working, the shark is not working" -- I've always wondered, if the entire movie was on the verge of crashing over this, didn't they look into replacing the special effects team?
Eric: On that, I would say I don't think anyone on the crew ... it's funny you ask that because I was reading an article this morning about one of the sound designers of Jaws who was talking about the difficulties of the film, and he said in his article -- I can't remember the guy's name off hand -- he said that there's a misimpression today of what Jaws was intended to be. Because it was such a huge hit and a giant blockbuster, people today think that Universal set out to make this giant blockbuster and it was a huge budget film with huge budget effects and everything else, but he said 'absolutely the contrary.' He said that Jaws was viewed by the studio as the little horror entry for the summer. It was supposed to be a little B-movie, 'here's a shot for Spielberg to get his fins wet,' and he was gonna make this little shark movie.
Well, history of course, has proven that it's one of the biggest behemoths ever made, so in terms of the effects, I would say that probably never crossed the minds of the producers to replace the effects crew, simply because the budget would not have allowed it for one thing, and second of all, the people who began working on the shark mechanism began doing so far earlier than the film was being shot, so there really would not have been any time to do so, and they had no other option really, if you think about it. They couldn't fall back on CG or animation or any other way, so that's why they had to fall back on the gimmick of using barrels to represent the shark, or to not show the shark. As we all know now, as history has proven, those were the very elements that help make this movie so classic and why it still scares people. Had you seen the shark from the beginning, as you remember in the doc I'm sure, where Richard Zanuck says it was always the intent to show the shark from the beginning, and as a result of not doing so, we have something of a Hitchcockian thriller that would never have existed had the shark worked, so its one of those happy accidents.
There's very little in the documentary about the sequels to Jaws. Why the decision to give so little time to them? Just because its generally accepted that they're all of low quality?
James: I don't think that was the reason. The documentary is supposed to be about Jaws, and just the impact of that one movie. Just to really put it in a nutshell, we refer to the sequels as part of that legacy. The sequels are mentioned as part of the legacy of the original, but we didn't really want to get into too much depth over them. We do touch on Jaws 2 -- I think we''re on Jaws 2 for about four minutes, and we do that because there really is a very strong tether to the original, just by the fact that Zanuck and Brown produced it, Chief Brody is in it, Hendricks is in it, John Williams does the music ... so we get into it, a few minutes of Jaws 2 for that reason, and then we have that really quick mention of Jaws 3 and 4, but I don't think the decisions were based on quality or a lack of quality.
Eric: There's a point that needs to be mentioned in regards to that. The sequels -- I've said this before and I feel it stronger than ever -- the mystique of Jaws is really tied to Jaws. William Gilmore once said in his interview -- it's not in the documentary -- but he said he doesn't like it when people refer to it as Jaws 1, because he said there's only one Jaws and the sequels are the sequels. As such, there are a lot of other movie properties that have huge fanbases that do conventions and celebrate whole franchises and numerous episodes and numerous sequels, you know, Star Wars, Star Trek, Halloween franchise, Alien franchise ... the thing that makes Jaws so unique is that the legacy of that film is really tied to the first film. You don't see Jaws 2 fans, you don't even see so many fans ... in fact I don't know if I've ever met anyone who would say that they're 'fans of the Jaws franchise.' If they're a Jaws fan, they're a fan of Jaws, period. They'll have their opinion of the sequels, but they are irrelevant to their love of Jaws. That's not to say that they were without merit or they weren't good, it's just to say that that makes Jaws a very unique film property when you consider the huge size of its fan base. You have two hours and four minutes that all these people have celebrated their whole lives. You don't have three seasons of episodes, you don't have six sequels that are equally celebrated. That's a pretty unique little truth.
Michael: I'm actually in California right now, and as luck would have it, there was a screening last night in Irvine and I was talking to a friend that went, and what was fascinating is that you don't see Jaws 2 being played at a revival house, or Jaws 3, but they played Jaws and there were a huge amount of people who had never seen it. You know, we experienced this at a screening on Martha's Vineyard. The movie, after 30 years, still works on every level. The laughs still work, the screams still work, and as far as the sequels go, we also wanted to give ourselves the opportunity to make The Shark Is Still Working Part 2, and Part 3 and The Shark Is Still Working: The Revenge. Those are things that we're looking at doing in the future. I'm lying.
Let's talk about distribution. Where do we stand right now with the distribution process?
Michael: Here's the funny thing about distribution. There are a couple of distribution companies that understand the relevance of film history and documentaries, but they are not the biggest boys on the block. However, we have been waiting for just the right moment, and have not shopped it around because we really want it to be a Universal release. It means so much to all of us to have that Universal logo at the beginning, it feels right, it should be a companion piece to the original film, but there are other places that are actually interested and its interesting for us because we're really involved in the business in so many different capacities, but none of us are really involved in the distribution of films, so its a learning process for us. I think everybody loses sight of the fact that we're not a production company that has a full staff. We're four guys who the elements all worked really well to produce this documentary. We want to get it out, but we're also kind of naive babes in the woods as far as this. We really are four guys -- one lives in Florida, two live in Nashville, one lives in Colorado, so if you think about it that way, and the fact that we're even being interviewed right now, it's kind of a miracle. I mean, when you think about the amount of manpower it takes to produce a documentary of the scale that we have, the marketing, just the awareness ... I can't imagine if we actually had a marketing team behind us that had full-time resources to sell this documentary.
A lot of the awareness, the audience, the fan base is living on the Internet it seems.
Michael: Well, what's funny -- and I'll throw this to Jake -- Jawsmovie.com is pretty much still the only place for Jaws fans to go and have fellowship and just talk about Jaws. Jake jumped on the website bandwagon back in 95' or 96', but what you're saying is true -- without the Internet, this documentary would not have happened. I will guarantee you it would not have happened. Without Jawsmovie.com and the awareness that we've built on that and then other websites -- we built our own website which was fantastic, and then Aintitcoolnews helped us out, and several other websites, Chud.com and things like that -- if we didn't have those partners, we wouldn't be sitting here talking. I believe that.
Jake: It's interesting to note that I started Jawsmovie.com back in 95' and it's just grown into this big community of Jaws fans, and how I got involved with the documentary was that I had known these other three guys just threw the years, talking Jaws things, and they actually contacted me about interviewing me for the documentary. I was gonna go to Jawsfest as well and my plan was just to shoot some footage of the event and post it on Jawsmovie.com, so I ended up getting in contact with them and becoming part of the team. The Jaws fan base is kind of an underground fan base, in terms of ... when you think about Star Wars, the fan base for Star Wars is huge. Everybody knows about Star Wars, and there are probably hundreds and hundreds of sites dedicated to Star Wars, but Jawsmovie.com .. it's kind of weird that when I created the site there wasn't any other Jaws websites on the Internet and that's why I created it. Throughout the years, there have been a couple other ones that have grown up a little bit, but it seems like for the most part, all the Jaws fans hang at Jawsmovie.com, on the message boards. They become friends, they do things together, they make pilgrimages to Martha's Vineyard, and to get into what we wanted to cover about the fanbase of this film, we really wanted to showcase the fact there is a huge fanbase for Jaws, and we wanted to show some of those fans and their passion for the film and the things they've done in their life, as a result of being inspired by Jaws.
What's the enduring appeal of this movie? How has it created those generations of fans? Is it just the simple 'man against the sea, man against nature' aspect?
Michael: It's a simple story. Everyone can relate to it. There's nothing that really happens that's really fantastical. We've all been in the ocean, we all have a connection to water, there's no heroics in that movie ... even Roy Scheider was great in his interview about the fact that he's just this stumblebum cop who is on this island, and all of a sudden is doing what anybody would do -- he's in survival mode. He's not a Clint Eastwood or an Arnold Schwartzenegger or a Sylvester Stallone, he's doing what anybody would do -- he's fighting for survival. I think in that story, you see yourself in that character or the other characters. It's a simple story and people love it.
Eric: I think that's certainly part of it, but I've thought about it many times, and there's no real boil-down point where you can say 'this is what makes it ..' you know. That's certainly a huge element, but it's one of those situations ... like Jeffrey Kramer calls it, 'the perfect storm.' Every single element that went into making that movie worked out in such a way that it was as best as it could have possibly been done. Whether you're talking about the casting, because originally it was cast with more mainstream actors, really big stars, and they decided to go with just really good actors who weren't quite as well known at the time. I think that was part of it, the acting obviously, the cinematography was something really new, even just the overall look of the film ... it has a certain timelessness that they could have never known at the time, especially being shot in the middle of the 70s when, you know, fashion was at its most abhorrent, probably. Yet, the film is really timeless, unlike its sequels, which came out later and are far more dated. So you have that, you have a soundtrack that was unlike anything that had been heard before -- the Jaws theme itself is arguably the most familiar tune in soundtrack history. You only have to go up to somebody and go 'da-dum' and they know its Jaws, even if they haven't seen it. It's the shark's theme. You have the poster campaign, the marketing campaign ... it's one of the most classic images in movie poster history. Spielberg's career in connection to it, the timing of it, the fact that we knew so little about great white sharks in the early 70s ... so it was still this mysterious leviathan out in the water that we knew nothing about, and as you know, we always fear what we don't understand. I don't think Jaws could be made today and have the same impact, because we know too much. So even the timing of the film ... it all came together and that so, so rarely happens in Hollywood.
To wrap up, why don't each of you tell me your favorite scene from Jaws.
Jake: My favorite scene is Quint's USS Indianapolis speech. The scene is just perfect in terms of setting the mood. Robert Shaw, any time he did any kind of performance in Jaws ... he's my favorite actor in the movie and his performance just blows me every time I see it. A perfect scene in a perfect movie.
Michael: You know, it's funny. We got asked that same question two days ago, and I gave an answer and I thought about it, and then I watched the movie again on the airplane out here, and you know, my favorite scene is the very first appearance of the shark. Not the very first appearance, but the first time you really see the shark, when Brody is chumming. I think because its such a fantastic moment ... you've been waiting and you've been waiting to get this kind of gory shot of this villain that's been waiting, and they're out there in the middle of the ocean and the fact that you get the 'why don't you come down here and chum some of this ..' and you get this laugh, and then all of a sudden, there's the face of this creature. Brody's reaction ... everything that happens from that point, for the next five minutes. That's my favorite, I think it's amazing.
Eric: My favorite part has always been the opening scene with the skinny-dipping victim.
Eric: Yes, it was, and that's another element that sets Jaws apart -- it used that technique so effectively, and rarely do movies use that, and to me that just added such an atmosphere. So I think that opening scene, with the water shimmering in the moonlight, and the girl's leg coming out of the water, and she's just totally unaware of what she's about to experience. I've been fascinated with it ever since the trailers first appeared on TV in 75', because as you know, as on the book cover for Jaws, the swimmer is on the book cover, the poster and in the trailer -- they really exploited that aspect of it, showing her treading water ... those just seared themselves into my conscience. That was, to me, the iconic scene from Jaws, so it always stuck with me, and to this day remains my favorite scene. I actually own the buoy that was in that scene now, as a result of my fascination with it, so there it is.
James: My favorite scene is the same as Jake's, only not just the Indianapolis speech, but pretty much that entire portion of the movie that takes place down there, below deck, where they're eating and getting to know each other. The reason for that ... like Michael was saying earlier, what makes Jaws so great is, in a lot of ways, Jaws is the oldest story every told. It's three guys on an odyssey, three guys having gone to war together. Just about any time you have a good war movie, there'll always be that scene where, between shellings, the soldiers kind of go and retreat into their fox hole and they learn about each other, they get to know each other. That's what that scene is in Jaws -- the three soldiers in their fox hole, learning about each other, and you have these three guys who are so different, and each one of them are becoming more likable, because they're starting to like each other more, because they're learning about each other, and that, in my opinion, is the scene where all three characters really grow and really get fleshed out, is in those moments when they're laughing and telling stories, so that one would be mine.