“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
There’s a fairly widely spread myth in Hollywood that, as a young college dropout, Steven Spielberg set up camp in an empty office at Universal Studios. Posing as a screenwriter, he hustled his way into his first few jobs, wandering around the studio, introducing himself to key people and inhaling the atmosphere of the late 60s/early 70s America film industry. Whether the story is true or not is another matter, but whatever he did, it must have worked.
At the age of 21, he started directing television shows for the studio. At 24, he landed his first feature-length directing gig for the straight-to-television Duel (1971). The film would lay the foundations for Spielberg’s later successes, the director himself noting the similarities between Duel and his 1975 classic Jaws. He also accredits his appointment as director on Jaws to the success of Duel. Jaws was the film that made Spielberg.
It would become the first film ever to gross over 100 million dollars at the box office and it propelled Spielberg straight to A-list director status. He was 27 years old. It’s interesting to wonder whether the young director knew his shark flick would irrevocably redefine the international film industry forever.
The making of Jaws has long since become something of a legend amongst film buffs. From the notoriously difficult shoot out on open water and the faulty mechanical shark to the offscreen tension between Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss to the debate over the true writer of the Indianapolis speech, the anecdotes from the shoot have now become ingrained in popular culture.
Jaws is notable for two important reasons. One, it is directly responsible for the genesis of the Blockbuster and the Hollywood Summer Movie mould as we know it today. Second, it arguably marks the true beginnings of Steven Spielberg’s career as we have come to know it.
It has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg film; the everyman, the father/son relationship, an iconic score from John Williams. The director’s natural instinct for the cinematic is obvious. Watching Jaws, we are witnessing the naissance of a man who would go on to become the world’s most famous director.