With detailed look at the minutiae of film production and captivating trivia strewn all throughout the book, The Jaws Log is a delightful read, whether you’re interested in the film-making process or not.
Murphy’s law states the following: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
I don’t know where that adage originated, but after reading The Jaws Log, I’m 100% sure that’s how those working on the production of the 1975 blockbuster felt. From budget overruns to hostile townsfolk on-location, driver strikes to misfiring machinery, everything went wrong during production, and it resulted in the first - and arguably one of the greatest - blockbuster of all time. And we get to read a first-hand account of all of it.
Written by Carl Gottlieb, who also worked on the final draft of the Jaws screenplay on-location, The Jaws Log was originally commissioned to add to the film’s pre-release marketing. It is credit to Gottlieb’s storytelling abilities that it has turned out to be one of the finest books written about film production. The book begins with the producers visiting Peter Benchley to purchase the rights to the novel and ends with preview shows of Jaws being showcased to audiences to gather early reactions and leaves no stone unturned in-between.
In the broad spectrum of Five Ws and One H (5W1H), The Jaws Log concerns itself with everything but the “Why?”. The only thing we don’t learn is why Spielberg chose to shoot a page from the script in a particular fashion. (If you’re interested, Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies provides many answers on that front.) This book, however, holds the answer to almost every other question I’ve ever had on film production.
What is the difference between an executive producer and a producer? What exactly does a second-unit director do? Or a production manager? What about minor but important roles like caterers and drivers? Can they really bring down production with a union strike? (Yes, they can!) Just how moody do some crew and cast members get if they don’t get their morning paper delivered on time?
How exactly does one create a 25-foot shark and scare audiences into never going to the beach again?
Wanting to know the answer to the last question is why I began reading the book. What made Jaws such a global sensation was the verisimilitude of the shark scenes. Naturally, Gottlieb devotes a bulk of the book to him. Yes, it is a him. And yes, he does have a name. From getting a Hollywood special-effects engineer out of retirement to getting the mechanical shark to work in the middle of the ocean, applying make-up on him to getting him ready for the day’s production schedule, Gottlieb describes in detail the effort it took to create Jaws’ breathtaking shark scenes.
Outside of providing an in-depth look at the nuts-and-bolts of the production process, The Jaws Log is also chock-full of trivia that will make the inner film-buff in you giddy. For instance, Gottlieb has words of praise for how steadily Jaws’ camera-operator held up even under the rocky conditions of a boat. You find out this camera-operator is a New Yorker who goes by the name of Michael Chapman. (The latter, of course, went on to be Scorsese’s cinematographer for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.) Or take the tidbit about why and how Spielberg reshot Jaws’ scariest scene; it’s something that made me understand what makes him a genius.
Beyond all that, Gottlieb being a master raconteur is what makes The Jaws Log such an engrossing page-turner. Learning about the nightly dinners of the cast and director where they ironed out the flaws in the screenplay, or of Robert Shaw’s golf games, or of how Spielberg scared the crew with his gun, is just one of the pleasures to be had from reading this wonderful book.