(Credit: Universal Pictures)

The secret in-joke behind the Jaws line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”

On the list of cinema’s most quotable quotes, Jaws’ now-iconic line “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” sits right alongside the Star Wars effort “I am your father” and The Shining’s brilliant “here’s Johnny” at the top of the pile. It’s a gleeful, perfectly timed line that well encapsulates the films smart attitude, as well as the cool persona of Roy Scheider’s Brody. Though, much like Jack Nicholson’s famous line in Stanley Kubrick’s aforementioned horror classic, Roy Scheider’s quip was actually improvised as part of a larger in-joke behind the scenes of Jaws.

A year before the film’s release in 1975, Jaws’ screenwriter Carl Gottlieb was contacted by his friend and director Steven Spielberg who handed him script notes on a humble horror-thriller about a shark. His rewrite of the original script was frantic, with Spielberg “anxious to do a rewrite before they started shooting — they were about two or three weeks before principal photography,” according to Gottlieb. 

Also appearing in the film as ‘Ben Meadows’, Amity Island’s newspaper editor, the screenwriter ended up sharing a house with Spielberg spending “every waking moment together for the next four months because I was either rewriting or acting in the movie”.

The story behind the famous line, however, came from the real-life problem of the small support boat that helped to steady the larger barge that carried the crew’s equipment. This made for some tricky nautical challenges, having to work from a tight and cluttered base of operations, with many crew members complaining to the producers that the support boat was too small. As Gottlieb recalls: “Zanuck and Brown were very stingy producers, so everyone kept telling them, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat,’” coining the now-classic phrase. 

Becoming synonymous with the production’s troubled filming process, the phrase fluttered around the cast and crew and became an in-joke on set for when anything at all went awry. Fatefully, Roy Scheider liked the line so much he began to improvise it in various scenes until his iconic use of the phrase upon the shark’s full on-screen appearance. With a cigarette teetering out the very edge of his mouth, Scheider’s Brody backs slowly away from the ship’s boat deck and into the cabin, staring into the blue abyss as he says “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”. 

Setting the template for subsequent monster horrors, to the extent that Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien was pitched as “Jaws in space”, Spielberg’s film is an iconic piece of cinema that would cause aquaphobia for an entire generation…

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