Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Jaws w/ Carl Gottlieb

I've never seen Jaws all the way through let alone on the big screen. A pristine print at The American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre rectified that this past July 4th. A decent sized crowd had gathered for the 30 year anniversary as co-screen writer Carl Gottlieb was slated for Q&A and signing his hit tie-in book, The Jaws Log. Touted as the first blockbuster, a young Steven Spielberg directs the tale of quaint island community Amity, a summer beach town where New Yorkers and mainlanders come to kick back and relax. A giant shark terrorizes the coast but the money and image conscious mayor instructs new Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) not to close down the beach. After a young boy becomes the next victim, Brody and the town go into panic mode. Local drunk and fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) offers to hunt down the beast and kill it for $10,000 while ocean expert Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) shows up to see what they're dealing with. The three men set out to catch the beast, risking their lives in the process.

30 years later, Jaws is still a classic. Production problems plagued the shooting as the mechanical shark didn't work, weather delays and the logistics of shooting on open water. However the slow burn horror mixed with memorable characters still resonates for a funny, frightening and fun 2 hours in the dark. The cast are all excellent in their roles with Scheider being the rational one who doesn't like water, Dreyfuss as the young hotshot leaning on science and history while Shaw is straight cool as the grumpy, shambolic, drunk ship captain not afraid of staring death in it's teeth filled mouth. John Williams' classic score lets you know whenever a shark attack is imminent yet somehow doesn't detract from the tension or shock value while Verna Fields' editing gives the shark and underwater scenes real impact.

After the film; actor, author and screen writer Carl Gottlieb took the stage for Q&A:

- Already knew Steven Spielberg, two were pitching scripts around town when Jaws came up.
- Novelist Peter Benchley negotiated writing the first draft to make more money but adaption was deemed underwhelming.
- Gottlieb sent his notes to Spielberg and producers who asked him to join them in Boston for pre-production to work on the script.
- Main production crew lived in same house during pre-production where Gottlieb's respect for Spielberg grew as he saw the real person waking up in the mornings and before going to bed.
- Most sub-plots from book were dropped, affair between Brody's wife and Hooper just didn't fit with the actors in the roles.
- Lots of adlib on the set, for decades Gottlieb thought Scheider improvised "You're gonna need a bigger boat" but it was actually in the script.
- Gottlieb co-wrote The Jerk with Steve Martin, who had a two picture deal with Paramount based on premise of Martin's staple joke of being born a black child.
- Had opportunity to work on what would become Saturday Night Live but passed.
- Started in TV but when got chance to work in film, pursued immediately.
- Scene with shark cage was shot with a little person and real shark in Australia but bars bent and actor freaked out, refusing to do scene again.
- Prop Master misspelled Coroner's Report as Corner's Report but no one ever noticed. 
- Verna Fields given much of the credit at young Spielberg's expense but Gottlieb defends director as an editor can't work without what the director shot.
- Jaws Log is most successful movie tie-in book with over one million copies sold.

So, are any of the sequels good? Doesn't one have Dennis Quaid and another has Michael Caine?

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