The Jaws Log (originally published in 1975; 25th Anniversary Edition, 2001) by Carl Gottlieb
Newmarket Press, New York
trade paperback, 223 pages
(includes introduction by Peter Benchley, film credits, endnotes, index)
I would venture to guess that the majority of movie fans have no idea what really goes into the making of a movie. Sure, many realize that most movies are (usually in this order) first written, then produced, with locations, actors and crew chosen. Then the movie is shot, edited, and processed, adding music, special effects, etc. Next, it’s distributed and then we watch it (these days in a wide range of choices and formats). What I’ve just described is a very crude abridgment of how films were put together “back in the day,” before computers and digital technology. Even now, most people (including me) really don’t understand how movies evolve from an idea to a finished product. Then take an enormously popular movie like Jaws, a film millions know and love, and allow its screenwriter Carl Gottlieb to take you behind the scenes from start to finish. After reading The Jaws Log, you realize it’s a miracle that any movie gets made at all (especially this one with all its unique problems).
Let’s take, for instance, a movie’s script. We often hear things from directors or producers like, “That scene was unscripted” or “We had to depart from the script there” or something similar. To a casual fan, those sentences carry about as much weight as innocuous statements such as “Sure, I had to change my shirt; no big deal” or “Yeah, I took a short cut and got to the meeting just fine.” When you change a script, it has a ripple effect that can upset everything. Says Gottlieb,
In any film, especially a big-budget theatrical feature, the script is a crucial road map and guide to every physical production department. The cameraman must know what he is going to be asked to shoot. The production manager has to know where, and how many actors will be required. The prop man wants to have his props ready, the wardrobe department wants to know whose clothes to lay out, and so on down the line. The script is a bible, and on the set, when money is disappearing down the tubes at about $3,000 an hour a 20-minute wait for the prop man to go get some beer that was not indicated in his pages costs the company a grand. All it takes is a few of these moments a day for a couple of weeks and all of a sudden the picture is days over schedule and hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget.
And remember, this book was originally written in 1975. Once again, technology has greatly changed the way movies are made, but the nuts and bolts really haven’t changed that much. 99% of the time, you still need a script to drive your film.
Jaws certainly had its share of script problems, which Gottlieb describes in a manner both enlightening and entertaining (and sometimes cringe-worthy). But it wasn’t just the script that gave Steven Spielberg and company fits: the shark often didn’t work (perhaps the production’s biggest, most frequent problem), the locals interfered (sometimes intentionally), the weather was uncooperative, permits were denied, actors fought, the production was delayed, went over budget, Robert Shaw had to quickly get back to Ireland so he could escape the IRS, and much more. The set was filled with several other shenanigans, which I’ll leave for readers to discover for themselves. It’s a wonder the movie got made at all. Of course the film became a monumental success and almost single-handedly became responsible for the term “Hollywood blockbuster,” but at the time, nobody working on Jaws would’ve ever guessed it.
The Jaws Log makes for fascinating reading, not only because it chronicles the development of such a well-known and important film, but also for it’s in-depth look at how films were (and sometimes still are) made. The stories and reminiscences are fabulous. (Just how do you construct a full-sized, authentic-looking mechanical shark? No one had ever done it before…) I do, however, wish that many of those stories and reminiscences were included in the body of the book rather than in the endnotes, but that’s a small quibble. You’ll find many great little treasures scattered throughout the book.
One thing you will not find, however, is the film’s script. Many fans have been led to believe that the shooting script (or any script) is included in the book. That misconception comes from the book being reprinted in 2012 by Dey Street Books as part of their “Shooting Script” book series. When you look on Amazon and other online sites, you’ll see the title of the book appear as The Jaws Log: Expanded Edition (Shooting Script), which is misleading.
In tracking down the book, you’ll also find several other editions, the first of which was published shortly after the film’s release in 1975. For this review, I read the 25th Anniversary Edition, published in 2001. The most recent edition came out in the 2012 “expanded edition” noted above, although it contains the same number of pages as the 2001 edition. Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature gives you a generous sample of the book and Gottlieb’s writing style. For fans of the movie and movies in general, I highly recommend the book.