Jaws was the breakthrough film that changed everything for Steven Spielberg when it came out. While Spielberg had directed other notable projects such as The Sugarland Express, it was Jaws that gave him the push he needed as he followed it up with projects like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The iconic 1975 thriller is now referred to as the first summer blockbuster which provided others of the same genre with a blueprint for commercial success. However, Spielberg almost wrecked his own career due to the volatile nature of the production process for Jaws which threatened to end the project before it was even completed.
In order to fulfil his artistic vision, Spielberg tried to convince the producers to let him shoot on the ocean which presented a lot of problems. Even though he ended up shooting near Martha’s Vineyard, the obstacles kept piling up including the malfunctioning of the mechanical sharks. Fortunately, these breaks in the shooting gave Spielberg the time he needed to work on the script and he landed an unprecedented hit.
On multiple occasions, Spielberg has insisted that he would have gone back to shoot in the sea if he had to do it all over again because that’s the only way the audience would understand what it was like to be fundamentally isolated and at the mercy of nature. While talking about the script, Spielberg revealed that many of his early characters were loosely sketched out in the initial drafts but the shooting brought it all together.
Spielberg noted: “On Jaws, Richard [Dreyfuss] pretty much designed his own character with Matt Hooper. That wasn’t in the book and that wasn’t in the first couple screenplays and when Richard had a good idea, if it conformed to my overview of the whole movie, I said: ‘Great, that’s a great idea! We’ll use it’ and I pretty much sapped from Richard.”
He said that the same thing happened with Roy Scheider (who played the role of Martin Brody), an actor whose work Spielberg admired – especially The French Connection. The director said that he had run into Scheider at a party and he was telling him about how he couldn’t find anyone to play Brody until it finally hit him that he could just get Scheider for the part. Spielberg added that he worked on the character of Brody with Scheider as well, contributing to an overall atmosphere of artistic freedom during the filming of Jaws.