We were going to schedule a time between then and June 20th, which was the latest the interview could go up as that was the anniversary of the release of Jaws in 1975, but as of Thursday afternoon I hadn’t heard anything back. 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). Their influence can be felt in your films and your movies were almost gateway drugs to discovering more about their work for me. I’m sure my ruse was as transparent as clean plate glass window (I don’t hide my geekiness very well), but the kind souls around Spielberg allowed my request to make it to him and I heard back an enthusiastic yes right before Memorial Day weekend. (Referring to this not-quite set visit gathering of geeks during the filming of Indiana Jones 4). I loved that when we met on the set the first things we talked about were Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien.
Of course I had to watch Jaws while compiling a list of questions, so that gave me a little more than 4 hours of sleep before the interview. I mean, JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is obviously a loving tribute to your films, down to a very specific look.
I went in not knowing how much time I had with Spielberg… but I was bound and determined to milk my time for as much as humanly possible. Could I somehow not be Chris Farley in this scenario? But, like my brief encounter with the man on the set of War of the Worlds, once the conversation began the nerves went away and I was just excited to have the opportunity to talk with Steven Spielberg about Jaws. The conversation occasionally splinters off to his other films, including Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, E. Steven Spielberg: JJ was raised in those decades of movies that all of my colleagues made and continue to make.
When the words, “Eric, I’m transferring you to Steven Spielberg’s office. So, JJ (was brought up in) the same way I was raised, by a decade of filmmakers who I am beholden to. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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: 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.