Ain’t it cool News landed an interview with the famed director and discussed his first mega-hit “Jaws” and how it changed the movie industry.
Spielberg talked about his nerve-wracking months on the fictional Amity Island (actually Martha’s Vineyard), how he gathered his cast, and Robert Shaw’s infamous U.S.S. Indianapolis scene
Quint: How’s it going, sir?
Steven Spielberg: Hey, Eric. How ya’ doing?
Quint: It’s going well. How’re you?
Steven Spielberg: Good! So, what’s up? Well, I know what’s up with you. I read all your stuff.
Quint: Well, I watch all your movies, so we’re even.
Steven Spielberg: Last time we talked was a long time ago, it was on the (War of the Worlds) set (You can read about that visit here and here). You did the Indy thing, too. I remember that. (Referring to this not-quite set visit gathering of geeks during the filming of Indiana Jones 4).
Quint: Yeah, the War of the Worlds set visit was the big one for me. That’s where I had my big geek out.
Steven Spielberg: (laughs) Well, I geek out, too. So don’t think it’s just you!
Quint: Of course you do. I loved that when we met on the set the first things we talked about were Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien. Their influence can be felt in your films and your movies were almost gateway drugs to discovering more about their work for me.
Steven Spielberg: Well, I’m glad you’re amongst us, making us remember that every decade there’s a new trend and one trend owes legions to its predecessors.
Quint: Especially now it must be hitting you dead center seeing how your very specific visual style is being replicated by the next generation of filmmakers. I mean, JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is obviously a loving tribute to your films, down to a very specific look.
Steven Spielberg: JJ was raised in those decades of movies that all of my colleagues made and continue to make. So, JJ (was brought up in) the same way I was raised, by a decade of filmmakers who I am beholden to. So, it all comes out in the laundry.
Quint: I really appreciate you taking the time to look back at Jaws with me….
Steven Spielberg: Sure, sure.
Quint: Obviously the movie means a lot to me and going through that new making of book, Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard, it really did strike me just how important it was that you made the personality Amity that of Martha’s Vineyard. It makes Amity feel like a real town. So, I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about how you pulled so many locals into the movie and how much of that was a creative choice and how much of that was political to help you ease the troubled waters of filming on location.
Steven Spielberg: Well, I didn’t know anything about politics in those days. I was just trying to find as much naturalism to play against the basic size of the shark. I didn’t want this film to be a mythological tale and if everybody played as big as the shark weighed and measured nobody would have believed the shark was real if the people hadn’t been as real.
So, I looked to the community of Martha’s Vineyard, and also off into the Boston area, to find local people that would make the audience feel that the story was truly happening not in Hollywood, but on a fictitious island called Amity.
Quint: That was also your reasoning for wanting to actually shoot on the ocean as well, right?
Steven Spielberg: Right, exactly, because if I made the movie in a tank it would have had that same mythological feel that the Spencer Tracy film, The Old Man and the Sea, has.
Quint: Or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. When you see Kirk Douglas fighting a giant squid, as awesome as that is, you know they shot that on a backlot somewhere.
Steven Spielberg: Yeah, exactly. I was naïve about the ocean, basically. I was pretty naïve about mother nature and the hubris of a filmmaker who thinks he can conquer the elements was foolhardy, but I was too young to know I was being foolhardy when I demanded that we shoot the film in the Atlantic Ocean and not in a North Hollywood tank.
But had I to do it all over again I would have gone back to the sea because it was the only way for the audience to feel that these three men were cast adrift with a great white shark hunting them.
Quint: I think the real key to the fear that you put into the world populace, the fear of swimming, is the fact that it’s so obviously not just in a pool somewhere. Those creatures actually live and hunt in those waters and almost everybody has been swimming in the ocean, so there’s an easy access to that base fear.
Steven Spielberg: Right, right.
Quint: Even if the average filmgoer doesn’t know how movies are made, there’s something in their brain that clicks, that registers when something is real and sees the difference.
Steven Spielberg: That’s so true.
Quint: I know it was a headache, but I would hope looking back on it now you could say all the aggravation and stress was worth it.
Steven Spielberg: It was worth it because, for number one, Close Encounters, which was a film I had written and a film nobody seemed to want to make, everybody seemed to want it right after Jaws was a hit. So, the first thing Jaws did for me was it allowed a studio, namely Columbia, to greenlight Close Encounters. For number two, it gave me final cut for the rest of my career. But what I really owe to Jaws was creating in me a great deal of humility, about tempering my imagination with just sort of the facts of life.
Quint: Do you have any idea what you would have done with a sequel?
Steven Spielberg: No, no idea at all, but I have a very, very good scene which I thought would have been good for a sequel someday, which I will tell you someday because I don’t want it in print.
Steven Spielberg: But I’ll tell you my scene some day. Every time I think of this scene I think, “Hmmm, could this be another Jaws movie?” and I have to immediately stop myself and immediately pull myself back down to Earth.
Check it out: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/49921