REVIEW: The Jaws Log: 30th Anniversary Edition by Carl Gottlieb
Winner of three Oscars and the highest-grossing film of its time, Jaws was a phenomenon, and this is the only book on how twenty-six-year-old Steven Spielberg transformed Peter Benchley’s number-one bestselling novel into the classic film it became.
Hired by Spielberg as a screenwriter to work with him on the set while the movie was being made, Carl Gottlieb, an actor and writer, was there throughout the production that starred Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss. After filming was over, with Spielberg’s cooperation, Gottlieb chronicled the extraordinary yearlong adventure in The Jaws Log, which was first published in 1975 and has sold more than two million copies. This expanded edition includes a photo section, an introduction by Benchley, and an afterword by Gottlieb that gives updates about the people and events involved in the film, ultimately providing a singular portrait of a famous movie and inspired moviemaking.
I first read this book by Carl Gottlieb years ago after I finally watched the film – yes, I was initially too chicken to go with my father and older sister to see the first run release. I guess the promos did too good a job of scaring me. Anyway the book was both informative and enjoyable then and when I saw it on sale, I bought a digital copy as who knows where my paperback is now.
Using his notes, interviews, and (don’t we all?) Internet Movie Database, Gottleib tells the behind the scenes version of how Peter Benchley wrote a bestseller, how the rights were acquired by Universal, and then how “Jaws” the Movie came to be.
Using tried and true techniques, the studio people began to prepare to make the movie. The main problem was that this type of movie had never been made before. Steven Spielberg “was twenty-six when the picture started shooting and about 101 when it ended.” Hollywood thought it could easily be done. Hollywood was wrong.
When the cast and crew arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, though it couldn’t have been playing yet, the four note shark theme ought to have been heard in the background. What could go wrong – or be made to go wrong by disgruntled types – did go wrong. The frazzled production department could barely keep up with all the rewrites, the locals were wary at first then more and more pissed as the filming continued (see the description of building Quint’s shack), and the cast and crew began to slowly lose their minds as the shooting schedule doubled.
And then there was “Bruce” – actually three sharks along with the twelve ton rig which required fifteen men to work it – when it worked correctly. It was more often referred to as “that sonofabitchin’ bastard rig.” Sometimes Bruce worked and sometimes the “strings” could be seen. This was called “technical problems.” But when it worked, Spielberg got shots that made Gottlieb, the editor, timers, effects cutters, and finally movie audiences, jump.
Originally written shortly after the film was finished, reissued twenty five years and then thirty years later, the book is fun to read while also giving a great view of what goes into making a Hollywood film. Gottlieb has a deadpan sense of humor and keen eye for interesting details. Plus he was staying there in “the Log Cabin” where Spielberg and other key players in this real life drama were staying so he saw it and heard it. Blood, sweat, and tears plus a lot of cursing went into it but when all was said and done, the world got “Jaws.” B