In the pantheon of great one-word film titles, there is perhaps none that springs to mind more often (or more menacingly) than Jaws. The mere word evokes vivid terror at the thought of what it implies when associated with the most dangerous fish in existence. After more than thirty years, the groundbreaking Steven Spielberg film has suitably attained a “classic” status alongside other great movie milestones like Citizen Kane, The Godfather, The Sound of Music and Star Wars. Not only that, but Jaws continues to thrive as a timeless pop culture monolith; ever the standard by which all other films of its genre are inevitably compared. Celebrating this tri-decade phenomenon is an all-new retrospective documentary called
The Shark is Still Working – The Impact and Legacy of Jaws.
(L to R) Producers James Gelet, Erik Hollander, Jake Gove and J. Michael Roddy
Conceived and created by lifelong fans of the film, the program thoroughly explores the two aspects of its sub-title with passion and delightful scrutiny. Producers Erik Hollander, James Gelet, Jake Gove and Michael Roddy delved into the project knowing as fans themselves what fellow aficionados would want to see. Given the fact that other documentaries on Jaws have been around for years, one might think the guys were at a disadvantage, having to scour for whatever crumbs might be left after so long a time. Happily, such is not the case. As one viewing of TSISW will demonstrate, there’s lots of meat left on the bone. And one might wonder, astonishingly, how so many cool tidbits of Jaws lore have remained off the radar until now.
The three-hour documentary covers it all. From the familiar, yet never dull, stories of the production Armageddon that was making Jaws, to marketing and merchandising the “Summer of the Shark,” and on to the many and varied ways this classic has left its indelible fin print on pop culture, shark science, the world of film fandom and so forth.
Director/Editor, Erik Hollander is a seasoned documentary filmmaker and self-described Jaws-junkie, whose obsession with the film since his eighth year, back in ’75, has never subsided. He credits Jaws for sparking his interest and endeavors in film and video production.
Writer/Editor, James Gelet is also an experienced documentarian, whose creative instincts and fascination with the craft of filmmaking -- particularly with accounts of the making of Jaws -- made him an ideal point man for the project.
Executive Producer/Producer, Jake Gove is creator and webmaster of www.Jawsmovie.com, the internet’s premiere Jaws fan site. Jake’s passion for the movie has always found him creative venues to help keep the Jaws legacy alive.
Producer, Michael Roddy is show director for Universal Studios Orlando and served as creative director for JawsFest’05. Michael’s lifelong enthusiasm for Jaws and his connections in the industry have inspired him to follow his dreams in the entertainment business.
CinemaRetro’s Lee Pfeiffer had a chance to talk with this creative quartet on the process of making such a unique and inspired piece of work…
Rare Japanese promotional poster
How did your fascination with Jaws begin?
Hollander: For me, it began the day I first laid eyes on the cover art for Peter Benchley’s novel. I’ll never forget, I was eight years old and happened across the book lying on my Dad’s dresser. I was intrigued (to put it mildly). My mom was a nursing student and I used to regularly sneak into her bedroom to leaf through her nursing textbooks which were filled with grisly photos of diseased body parts and bloody injuries. I know, I know…sick. Anyway, I simply assumed this was just another medical book - about dentistry, obviously. I remember thinking Wow! THIS is the coolest cover for a medical journal ever! – I flipped through it - No pictures inside, but who cared? - A giant monster shark with knives for teeth …AND a naked lady on the cover? Too cool!
Shortly thereafter, TV spots began advertise the movie’s imminent release. I was simply hooked. For a kid with a fertile imagination and an obsession with monster movies, those images of Susan Backlinie being stalked by the shark, burned into my young psyche and never left me. When the movie was released, my parents (well, my mother) decreed that I was too young to be exposed to a film whose ad campaign trumpeted the phrase “May be too intense for younger children.”
So, it was a full three years later when I finally got to see Jaws on the big screen during its re-release in 1978. In the years between, I had obsessed about what I had come to imagine the film to be like. I based my “vision” of the scenes on three years of playground chatter from those lucky classmates that were allowed to see it – which was everyone else! Despite having conjured up a pretty impressive picture in my mind about the movie, finally watching the real deal with my dad on that fateful afternoon in July replaced my misinterpretations with imagery that exceeded my wildest expectations. That day has never left me. When Jaws finally aired for the first time on network television, my dad set up a cassette recorder and taped the audio for me, and for the next Lord knows how many years, I listened to that cassette every single day until the magnetic signal wore away. Every line, every sound effect, every music cue has been seared into my memory ever since. So, for me, Jaws has always been more of a personal life experience than merely a favorite film.
Roddy: I was a big fan of horror films from an early age. The summer of ‘75, I was six years old approaching seven and had already been exposed to the Universal classic monsters and feature disaster films such as The Towering Inferno. I remember seeing the movie theater marquee with the word Jaws and asking my father, who was a fisherman, what it was about. I assumed it was something to do with the human mouth. He told me it was about a shark. I begged and begged and that weekend we went to see it. Since that time, the film has always served as not only a great movie experience, but an inspiration that the medium of storytelling, when done right, can transport you and immerse you.
Gove: After seeing Jaws as a child, it made me afraid every time I went into a body of water. I even had irrational fears when I was in swimming pool. I loved Jaws because it entertained me and scared me. When I got into college I began to appreciate the film on another level, for its masterful storytelling and the performances of Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss. In 1994, my wife and I went to Universal Studios Florida and we went on the Jaws ride, which reinvigorated my interest in the film and led to me creating the jawsmovie.com website. I had searched the net and was shocked to find that no Jaws web site existed, so I created one and it has been going (and growing) ever since.
What was the genesis of The Shark is Still Working? How was the idea birthed?
Gelet: Erik and I had been making documentaries together for years, but they had always been pieces on some kind of cultural issue with some kind of agenda. In November of 2004, we suddenly had a wild hair about making a documentary that would be a complete blast to work on and nothing else. Right around that time we were invited to participate that upcoming summer at Jawsfest ’05 because of some of the props from Jaws that we owned. So when we were trying to figure out exactly what would be the right documentary for us to do, doing one on Jaws just seemed so obvious. Only at that time our vision for the documentary was much smaller. Our plan was to have the entire documentary be about Jawsfest. It was just going to be all about that one festival and end up being kind of a Trekkies for Jaws fans. A couple of months later, we were sitting in the home of Joe Alves interviewing him about editing Jaws, and we started entertaining the idea of broadening the ambition of the documentary to become an all-encompassing retrospective on the impact and legacy of Jaws.
Gove: I knew producers James, Erik, and Michael because of www.Jawsmovie.com. We had corresponded over the years and they had all contributed things to it. I co-own a small video production business and was planning to bring a camera and equipment with me and shoot a featurette about Jawsfest that was to appear on my site. The TSISW producers contacted me, wanted to interview me, and told me about the doc they were planning to do about Jaws and its fans. Needless to say, their ambitions for were a lot grander than what I was planning, so I offered to help them, and came aboard as an additional producer.
Roddy: Because of my background in theatre and events, I was asked to work on the Jawsfest celebration on Martha’s Vineyard. Erik had been asked to showcase some of his props from the film. As I developed events for festival, which was to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the film, I realized that there was a great story, not only about the making of the film we loved so much, but the continuing impact that it has had on audiences. Erik and James had worked on many documentaries and it was just a perfect moment of synergy.
When did you feel that you really had something special on your hands?
Roddy: The afternoon we spent with Roy Scheider conducting an interview at his home in Long Island. He was so genuine and appreciative of our unique approach.
Gove: After I came aboard as a producer, we booked a week-long production trip out to Los Angeles to get interviews with screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, production designer Joe Alves, Greg Nicotero of KNB EFX, cinematographer Bill Butler, and others. Michael had made some arrangements with Spielberg’s office and we knew there was a slight chance we were going to be able to get Steven on this trip, but since he is the most famous film director in the world, I felt it was a long shot. When the news came in that Spielberg agreed to give us an interview (two hours, no less) I could hardly believe it. To add to our good fortune, Mr. Spielberg also gave us John Williams, since he was just down the hall working on the score for War of the Worlds. The fact that we were able to get these two Hollywood legends truly launched the TSISW project into the stratosphere.
The boys nail the big fish himself: Steven Spielberg
Gelet: It seemed pretty clear once we interviewed Steven Spielberg that there was no stopping this project at that point. Having him in it, all by itself, made the project special, but it was amazing how much clout we had after that. He, in an indirect way, really blessed everything we ever tried to do from that point on. If there was ever any other interview we wanted to shoot for the project, but they were hesitant about doing it, all they had to hear was that Spielberg was involved, and at that point they usually couldn’t be held back. Producer Dick Zanuck himself actually called Spielberg, asking him what in the world was up with these four guys he’d never heard of who wanted to talk to him about Jaws. Spielberg vouched for us, and Zanuck was in. That’s how it’s been so much of the time for us.
Clever title, how did you come up with it?
Gelet: We took a page from Darin Beckstead’s playbook on naming the project after a line from Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary, The Making of Jaws. Darin named his short comedy film Courage and Stupidity based on the way Spielberg described his experience making Jaws in that documentary. Our original idea was to name it simply “The Shark is Working” based on a very memorable story that Richard Dreyfuss tells about all the hardship of filmmaking with a twenty-five foot mechanical shark. So we were going to lift ‘The Shark is Working” straight from that documentary as is just like Beckstead did with Courage and Stupidity. Then Michael (Roddy) had the idea to insert the word “still” into the title. Once we heard the phrase The Shark is Still Working spoken aloud for the first time, there was never any doubt. We all loved it. What was so perfect about it, was that it had a double meaning. It harkened back to the mechanical condition of the shark itself when they were trying to film it, but it also extols the legacy of Jaws in that the shark is indeed still doing what it was designed to do over thirty years ago. That is to scare and thrill and entertain…Yeah, we love that title.
The thesis of your presentation is that the impact of this film still reverberates today. What do you think accounts for the impressive longevity of Jaws?
Roddy: It’s a great, simple story that by all accounts should have never reached movie screens. It relates to every one of us… the fear of death, loss of control… and it was superbly crafted, with a budding storyteller that was a product of popular culture and knew how to use those elements to manipulate an audience. The back story of the production became an underdog story for filmmakers that remain to this day.
Robert Shaw as the Ahab-like Quint- a brilliant performance from a brilliant actor
Gelet: We cover quite a bit of this in the documentary itself. The story is told on a very basic level that can appeal to everyone. It’s dealing with the fear of the unknown about an animal that is naturally very fascinating. Then you get into the mythic aspect of the film, and it’s about three different personalities who are forced to go on an odyssey or go to war together. On that level, so much of Jaws really is the oldest story ever told. Then you have the music. My Gosh, that music! That theme that John Williams came up with will never go away. It is so burned into everyone’s psyche as being associated with sharks. It’s amazing how even three year-olds know that theme to be “the shark song”. Who knows where they pick it up, but it just shows how indelibly linked that music is with sharks in the minds of an entire society.
Hollander: As I’ve often said about Jaws; every single component part was crafted to perfection. That rarely ever happens. Whether you appeal to the film’s perfect casting, the masterful directing, the incredible acting, the mythic storyline, the memorable dialogue, the “Hitchcockian” suspense or to the marketing campaign, the poster design, the musical score, the timing of the release of the film itself, even the very title “JAWS”… every aspect just came together to form a composite product that has true staying power. Add to all that a certain timelessness that was somehow achieved, despite having been filmed smack in the middle of the Seventies.
Horror films prove that people like to pay money to be scared. Lots of people still claim they don’t like to go into the water because of Jaws. It seems the film has arguably given people more reason to fear the water than any other cultural phenomenon -- including REAL shark attack accounts. Why do you think this is?
Hollander: Well, I’ve heard some people say that its because people like to experience the “exhilaration” of fear when it’s confined to a safe place -- Like Spielberg says in our documentary, “…when people know where the exit signs are”. Fear is most potent when it involves the unknown, and what could be more “unknown” than a hungry predator gliding inches beneath the dangling feet of a hapless swimmer in the murky depths?
Most of us know what its like to be treading water, ninety percent of our bodies submerged in another realm, while the part that “thinks” stays isolated above the surface, uncomfortably wondering what might be lurking below. Additionally, sharks are a reality, not fantasy. As the occasional highly publicized shark attack reminds us, they can pose a genuine danger. So like an airline passenger pondering the slim but real potentiality of a plane crash, a swimmer pondering a potential shark encounter, while neck-deep in its territory, can experience potent anxiety. It just so happens that this anxiety is one that translates well into a dramatic scenario if depicted right.
That being said, though, I think there’s far more to it than that. There has been a slew of subsequent “shark attack” movies, all evidently trying to evoke the same type of “aquaphobia” Jaws did so well. But none of them have come close to having the same effect. Even its own sequels couldn’t fray the collective nerve the way that Jaws did. Spielberg placed us in a realistic world with realistic characters, and a realistic environment with which can all relate. The makers of other shark movies (including Jaws’ own sequels) seem to believe that “bigger is better.” Sequences of sharks attacking helicopters, scuba diving classes, theme park water skiers, pleasure boaters, submarines and even giant oceanic research laboratories seem to bear this out. So I think that many filmmakers have forgotten that “what makes us afraid” is proportional to “what we can personally identify with.” We’ve all been to the beach, but not all of us have piloted submarines, scuba dive, or work at oceanic research labs.
Another tactic that seems basic enough, but was highly effective in conveying fear in Jaws, was the way Spielberg chose to shoot at surface-level for most of the beach scenes. Of course, this has been addressed in prior documentaries (as it is also in TSISW), but to me, it cannot be stressed enough how potent this simple device was. By placing the viewer in the water with the unsuspecting on-screen swimmers, the director gives the audience members a discomforting edge. They are granted the knowledge that there’s a shark in here somewhere, but are not allowed to see it either.
Joe Alves with an old friend
What would you say sets this documentary apart from prior ones on Jaws? Roddy: The never-before-heard (or seen) information, and the candid interviews. It was crafted with appreciation for the subject and it shows through in every frame.
Gove: Past documentaries on Jaws tended to cover the film’s difficult production, while TSISW focuses on so much more than that. In the more than thirty years since Jaws was released, it still continues to impact popular culture. Go anywhere in the world, and the people know the Jaws theme music. There are current commercials that parody the movie as well as many films and TV shows over the years that have done the same thing. Jaws changed the film industry; it impacted the way films were released and marketed, and we cover all that.
Gelet: Our ultimate ambition for TSISW is for it to be considered a compliment or a companion piece to what Laurent Bouzereau did in 1995. He did the definitive coverage on the making of Jaws that I still consider to be the best “making of” documentary ever. So there was no need to try to redo anything that he had done, and others have since redone. What we wanted to do is pick up where Laurent left off. We wanted to see if there were actually any stories left regarding the production of Jaws that had never been told. Believe it or not, we found quite a few. We also get very up close and personal with the location of Martha’s Vineyard and hear from several of the locals who played smaller rolls that we’ve never heard from before. The second big way we wanted to make TSISW different was that we wanted it to be the ultimate celebration of Jaws. We wanted to examine all the ways that Jaws has left its mark on culture. So we have quite a bit of fun looking at a monstrous fan base and today’s generation of successful filmmakers and oceanographers who were inspired by Jaws.
Did you learn more about Jaws yourselves as you crafted the show? If so, what?
Hollander: It’s amazing how many awesome tidbits remain out there, undiscovered by fans. We have to give credit to a small handful of fellow Jaws fans who graciously shared information and materials that have helped to make this show as comprehensive as it is. Andy Brandy Casagrande, Eddie McCormack, Jim Beller, Brad Miller, Chris Kiszka, Richard Martel, Dana Goudreault, Mike Smith, among others in the fan community have really contributed significantly to the project and to them we say a heartfelt “Thanks!” Also, we have received wonderful rare materials and info from residents of Martha’s Vineyard, some of whom were present during the shooting of Jaws. We’re also very grateful to them. As for specific gems that we learned along the way, folks will have to just watch the documentary… don’t worry, most are in there!
What are some of your fondest moments from the making of this documentary?
Gove: For me, the chance to meet Steven Spielberg was something I never imagined would ever happen to me, and to hear him say that he had been to my site jawsmovie.com was a real treat. The fact that he, an Oscar-winning Hollywood legend, was so cordial to us and so down-to-earth was pleasantly surprising. Jawsfest was an opportunity for me to meet many of the people who have been regulars on my site’s forum for years. Were it not for them, the site could have died out a long time ago. Their enthusiasm for the movie mirrors my own and it was great to connect with them. The other highlights for me were meeting and interviewing Kevin Smith and Eli Roth. Both of these filmmakers are of my generation, and are living the Hollywood dream. I have been a huge fan of Kevin’s for years, and he was just as I thought he would be -- unassuming and funny -- a fantastic interview. I didn’t know much about Eli at the time -- I hadn’t even seen his debut film Cabin Fever. After his interview, however, I now consider myself a fan. He was a real film aficionado and his answers to our questions were incredibly insightful and interesting.
Gelet: For me, it was meeting and maintaining friendships with several of the personalities who made Jaws. Few people get to say that they’ve become friends with folks who were their childhood heroes, and we’ve been fortunate to have done that. For the past two years, we’ve really lived the Jaws fan’s dream. Other than that, living for a week in the log cabin where Spielberg lived in while making Jaws was a real treat. And what amazing timing we had on that, because three months after we stayed there, it was destroyed. That will always be an unmatched memory. Lastly, getting to be the first ones to cover some of the big names in the Jaws legacy who have never been recognized before has been a real thrill. We get to introduce the Jaws world to Percy Rodrigues and Roger Kastel. Percy was the amazing voice that burned “There is a creature alive today…” from the Jaws trailers into our memories. Roger was the artist who painted that iconic image for the movie poster. Both of these guys played such big parts in the success and mystique of Jaws, but they were never talked about before. Every Jaws fan has loved their work, but never knew who they were. Of the Jaws fans who have seen TSISW thus far, without fail, they all say that the coverage of those two guys is one of their favorite things. It is very satisfying knowing that we get to introduce them to the Jaws world for the first time, and that the Jaws world appreciates learning about them.
Roddy: For me, having Steven Spielberg introduce us to John Williams was by far the coolest of moments that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Hollander: I second that.
You said TSISW has been more than two years in the making. How much time and effort did you put into TSISW and what was your favorite aspect of creating it, and most difficult challenges?
Roddy: I mostly brought the interviews into the room and helped with the initial buzz. Erik and James should be applauded for the laborious task of putting together the show. Jake was the man who saved the documentary with financial and website support. My favorite aspect was the moments after we would interview one of these childhood heroes and just sharing the giddy enthusiasm with each other, as we reveled “We just interviewed Richard Dreyfuss!”
Richard Dreyfus reflects on his memories of Jaws
Hollander: Making TSISW was as fulfilling and fun as it was difficult and tedious. I’ve edited many documentaries in the past, but I admit had I known just how long and how much work the effort was going to be, I almost certainly would’ve had second thoughts. Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not a psychic. The most fun part for me was the actual shooting of it. We spent many weeks over the period of at least a year and half incrementally shooting material for the doc. This did require a lot of travel and lugging equipment back and forth, making arrangements for interviews, etc. but was the most immediately rewarding. Together, we went on numerous trips to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard and elsewhere, which was always a blast, and the hard work on these excursions was offset by the incredible experiences we had along the way. The hardest work began in the editing room - when we had to collate and digitize a hundred plus hours of footage, research and archival footage, photos, and every other Jaws-related minutia imaginable. (That process never completely ended, as we were up till the end, constantly adding or replacing visuals). Then there were the legalities and permissions, and licensing agreements. I had to triple my monthly cell phone minutes due to endless hours of phone calls, making sure agreements went through, people were happy with the way their contributions were handled, obtaining releases from interviewees, tracking down Jaws rarities, negotiating with agents, getting credits right, on and on. Gelet and I would split up these duties, and on any given day one might find us with our cell phones glued to our ears, typing emails and scarfing down a quick dinner before sitting down to work from 5 to midnight on the “Shark.” Often, we’d remark about how we wouldn’t know what do with all our free time once the production was completed. This is not to say there was no enjoyment in the post-production phase; there were good days and bad days. More were good than bad though. When we’d begin to see it coming together, and a completed section worked, that was always exhilarating for us.
Describe the process of establishing the writing and the structure.
Gelet: Building the structure was really the agonizing part of TSISW. We had over a hundred hours of footage that we shot and from June of 2005 to November of 2006, we spent every night from 5:00 till 12:00 hammering all this out. Since we had so much material that had to be pared down to three hours, we had to be very precise about what content went in, and what content came out. In some cases, a bit probably got added and taken back out, and then added again several times. Content management was just torture sometimes. But once we established what was going to make it in, we also had to establish the sequence in which the content would fall. This was also torture at times. I would estimate that the section about John Williams and the section about the sequels were settled in at four or five different locations at one point or another – including almost to the very end of the doc which seems pretty stupid now. Another direction we were going in for a while was that the coverage of Greg Nicotero’s full-size Bruce replica was at one point going to be this ongoing cohesion throughout the entire piece. We were going to revisit the progress and status of the replica several times. That was another idea that we jettisoned in favor of consolidating it all into one section. But once we knew what content would go in, and then we established the order, the last step in the process was writing the narration that would bridge the gap from bit to bit. We ended up leaning on narration a lot more than we originally intended, but I’m glad we have as much as we do since it was Roy Scheider who ended up reading it. Plus, it was really fun to write.
Hollander: Because of the very nature of documentaries like this, it is impossible to construct a completed outline and script and then proceed to build upon it. Where you can go with your subject depends totally on what materials you have to begin with – what the content of your interviews dictates. This makes post-production an incredibly organic process. As your raw materials increase, so, the structure of the work changes to accommodate it - determining the topical order and segueing of sequences. It really is backwards from the way dramatic productions are done, but there’s a certain freedom you enjoy with it being so.
How did you get the cooperation of some of the heavy-hitters from Jaws to appear in TSISW?
Roddy: At first, most of the participants seemed kind of “Jawsed-out”, but when I would explain the approach as not just a retrospective on the making of the film, but the impact and enduring legacy, they all signed on with enthusiasm.
Gove: Once the official website was up and running, it gave us a new level of credibility with potential interviewees. I maintained a production blog, and we posted photos and video clips from the various interviews as they were happening. We directed potential interviewees to the site as part of telling them about the project, and explained how TSISW was different from other documentaries on Jaws.
Specifically, how did Roy’s involvement as narrator come about?
Hollander: We had already formed a relationship with him since our first meeting back in March of ’05 and knew that wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Roy. He had already agreed to be credited as associate producer on the project. And the credibility his name lent to our little endeavor had paved the way to get the involvement of other top Jaws veterans – many of whom Michael got in contact with, and arranged meetings with.
Roy Scheider provides the narration
After finishing the script and by the time we had our very first rough cut back in early 2006, it became increasingly pressing to decide on a narrator. Up to that point, we had used a good friend of ours named Brian Church to do a temp narration track that we used to build the documentary. We had done a couple tests with some professional V.O. talents, but they just didn’t work well for what we needed. We began looking at some high-profile voice artists like Bill Mumy and Peter Coyote, another Spielberg film veteran (E.T.). Then one day while on the phone with Mr. Scheider giving him an update on our progress, he asked “Who do you have doing your narration?” I told him we hadn’t gotten that far yet, then immediately remembering that Roy was also a prolific voice artist, I paused to see if he’d say what I hoped he was getting at. “Well, how about me?” he asked enthusiastically. Of course, the utter coolness of that was not lost on me, as I recalled the story of how Scheider had secured his role in Jaws to begin with. According to his own recollections from Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary, Roy had been at a party with Spielberg who was looking for principals for Jaws. As Steven described the story to him, he became intrigued with the character of Chief Brody and simply asked “How about me?” It seemed so right to Spielberg, and he basically cast him on the spot. Now, here I was…thirty-something years later and hearing the same exact words from “The Chief.” Needless to say, we had our man!
I do remember thinking early on that it might be awkward to have one of the main interviewees also provide the narration because we had always intended it to be from an objective viewpoint. It didn’t occur to me until approached by Roy that he could still speak in third person without it clashing with his interview appearances. We just changed the script to make sure we didn’t have him “throw” directly to his own segments or refer to himself in first person or as “Roy Scheider.” You’ll notice that whenever he has to mention himself, he refers to his character “Brody.” In the end it all worked out quite well. Naturally, we’re thrilled and honored to have him on board and now we cannot even imagine anyone else being the voice of TSISW.
What aspect of the documentary do you personally find most interesting?
Gelet: That’s a tough question! You’d be amazed at how much stuff I find interesting that had to be cut. It got the point where we weren’t even cutting fat anymore. We were forced to cut pure 24 carat gold just to get the doc down to the three hours that were left. So everything that is in there is the creamiest cream of the crop. Having said all that, the first thing that comes to mind is when Steven Spielberg told us what happened to the Orca. For years there has been controversy and confusion among Jaws fans over whatever became of Quint’s famous boat. Well, Spielberg himself finally settled that whole debate before our cameras. I won’t give you any details here, because it would ruin the surprise of actually seeing it in the doc, but it’s quite a story. And Spielberg naturally tells it in a wonderfully entertaining way.
Roddy: For me, it is great that I am not alone in my fascination with the film. I am just one of countless people who have become a finatic.
Hollander: That we finally finished it! (wipes brow).
There seems to be a growing interest in fan-made retrospectives like TSISW. What advice would you give to anyone who might endeavor to make a similar retrospective on their favorite movie?
Hollander: Well, first, I would suggest that anyone who embarks on such a project try to get as much information as possible about the pertinent studio’s policies on licensing and acquisition of independent projects. I’d also advise the filmmakers to consider the marketability of their concept. Is the idea one that hasn’t been done before? Does your angle (and chosen film) appeal to a wide enough audience to warrant consideration for release by the parent studio? There are virtually unlimited issues that need to be addressed when making an independent documentary like this. But, if one is serious enough and willing enough, there’s always a way.
That being said, I do want to encourage new filmmakers and movie fans that have “passion projects” such as this, to go for it. There does seem to be a growing interest in this type of “fan-made” film retrospective. I think that ongoing advances in computer editing technology and its increasing affordability, is making it an inevitable sub-genre of its own. The kids who grew up as fans of certain movies are now adults who still cherish those movies. Now, many are becoming filmmakers themselves and some make it their mission to celebrate the films that helped shape them as young people. And believe me, there is a huge market for these types of documentaries. There’s an enormous “fan boy” culture out there that live for this stuff. Some film franchises or genres have regular conventions attended by hundreds of thousands of loyal fans annually. Also, with hundreds of DVD titles featuring “making-of” special features, audiences today are more interested than ever in what goes into making films.As far as fan-crafted works go, productions like Trekkies I and II, Halloween 25 Years of Terror, Ringers,The Sci-Fi Boys, and others have met with considerable success. And I understand there are others in the pipeline such as Don’t You Forget About Me (a retrospective on the John Hughes teen comedy films), Beware the Moon (retrospective on An American Werewolf in London), Looking Back at the Future (on the Back to the Future films) The Psycho Legacy and docs on The Goonies and Mad Max films – all made by dedicated fans. I find this all tremendously exciting, and wish each of these productions the best! It’s really satisfying and fun to be a part of the “bleeding edge” of this expanding art form.
Gove: The best advice I can give is to use the power of the internet to your advantage. In many ways, the potential audience for your doc can become an unofficial member of the production team. Create a website and blog for your doc early on in production. Use social networking sites such as MySpace to generate interest and buzz. Upload video clips to YouTube, and post messages on film related sites to let people know about your project. We used our doc website to let the fans know who we were interviewing and we posted production photos and uploaded video clips throughout the entire process. We can truly say that TSISW is a documentary made by fans for fans -- it wouldn’t have been as rich in content if not for their help. Fans from around the world contacted us and provided us with insights and ideas of things to cover. Some of the interviews we landed were as a result of fans helping us to make contact with interviewees, and fans provided us with interesting tidbits about their Jaws obsessions and how Jaws inspired them. They sent us photos of their collections, of their Jaws inspired tattoos, of their Jaws-related art. For this type of documentary, connecting with the fans is essential.
Roddy: Never lose site of the reason you want to hear about the movie you are celebrating. Keep that passion for the film, and remind yourself of your love for it.
Why three hours? Jaws itself is only two.
Gove: The vast wealth of information that was acquired during our production travels gave us too many good things to leave out of the doc, or to relegate to being a potential special feature. The doc was always about the impact and legacy of Jaws, so it just made sense to do two discs, one on “The Impact”, and one on “The Legacy”.
Gelet: A three hour running time wasn’t anything we set out to have as our goal. In fact we very much had it in our minds that TSISW would be ninety minutes to two hours long at first. But as the editing process progressed, it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen unless we cut out what we considered to be some very essential stuff. In fact, we had to can about an hour of really good material just to get it down to three hours. And that was a very long process trying to figure what should stay and what should go. In the end, what we were left with was the most non-negotiable material we had. We feel that those three hours that make up TSISW are as tight a drum.
Roddy: It could have been five.
Some of your documentary features the events at JawsFest ’05. What was that experience like?
Roddy: It was nothing short of amazing and surreal. A great celebration, when the island of Martha’s Vineyard became “Amity” once again. The best thing is that the island has not changed that much and for the most part looks exactly as it did. It really was amazing to walk down that main street and then see an Amity banner hanging across, and then see Joe Alves or Jeffrey Kramer standing right there.
Gove: It was phenomenal to have so many like-minded Jaws fans in one place. Martha’s Vineyard hasn’t really changed that much since the movie was filmed, so it was like we were actually in “Amity.” To be able to visit South Beach, to ride the ferry over to Chappaquiddick, to run along the same jetty rocks that Roy Scheider did in the film, was amazing. There was a screening of Jaws on the big screen in Owen Park, with an audience of hundreds of people in attendance. Being among that crowd, we were able to experience the same excitement felt by the filmmakers when they attended screenings back in 1975. The best part was connecting with and interviewing fans from all over the world, and seeing their reactions to meeting with and talking to the Jaws cast and crew.
Roy Scheider as Chief Brody- the shark hunter with a fear of water.
How did you uncover so many rare gems, like photos, film footage, and people who’ve never been interviewed before?
Roddy: We did our homework. Many of the people that gave us these gems wanted to share them before but were literally never asked.
Hollander: The internet Jaws community was instrumental in this…Lots of Googling. I couldn’t imagine having to tackle a project like this without the net. The rest was connections, elbow grease, persistence and dollar power. …And a lot of asking.
Was there anyone you tried to get for an interview, but couldn’t for one reason or another?
Gelet: There were only two names left that we really felt caused our documentary to have holes because of their not being in it - Teddy Grossman (the guy in the little red boat) and Steven Soderbergh. Other than those two, we strongly feel TSISW really has everyone that it’s supposed to have. We actually contacted both of those guys, and they were very interested in participating. It was just a matter of not being able to get our schedules to line up.
Roddy: For me personally we came close to having George Lucas weigh in on the Jaws phenomenon, but the schedule couldn’t work.
If you were to make another similar documentary, what would you do it on?
Gelet: Another tough question. It’s probably not likely that we’ll have a chance to do anything that covers the entire milieu of a movie in this much detail again. This art form of covering a movie from a fan’s perspective catching on like wildfire, and all the movies worth covering are being snatched up like candy. In fact, we’re pretty lucky that we jumped on Jaws when we did, because we’re pretty certain that someone else would have done it by now. Anything we do from this point on will probably be a more traditional “making of” approach. A personal dream project for me would be to a documentary on the life and career of John Williams.
Roddy: It seems that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and all of the movies I would want to cover are getting the fan treatment. I am in discussions to produce a documentary on a major horror property franchise, but for me, I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of what we hope will be recognized as the definitive Jaws retrospective and celebration.
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