A Sinking Ship Sent Jaws' Crew Scrambling To Save Film

A Sinking Ship Sent Jaws' Crew Scrambling To Save Film

Jun 21, 2022 12:32 AM
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The litany of snafus experienced by the cast and crew of "Jaws" could fill a book. In fact, it did. It's "The Jaws Log" by the film's co-writer Carl Gottlieb, and if you love crazy behind-the-scenes stories, you should order it immediately. Also recommended: Rob Goldberg's dishy "Jaws: The Inside Story," which is currently streaming on YouTube. How dishy is it? Here's a taste.

You've probably heard the saga of the malfunctioning sharks that nearly kiboshed the production of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," but did you know the Orca, the weather-beaten vessel that takes our trio of heroes out to sea, nearly sank as well? The trouble started when cinematographer Bill Butler had a bolt screwed into the rear of the boat with a line attached to a motorboat, which would subsequently speed off and cause the Orca to lurch, as if butted by a giant great white, when the line went taut. All was going according to plan until the motorboat tore one of the Orca's planks out. Chaos ensued.

Production designer Joe Alves remembers the incident well: "They said, 'The Orca's sinking! The Orca!" According to Spielberg, "When the barrel started to go down, the entire bottom of the Orca pulled out and the boat began to sink."

Amity, we have a problem

Ironically, the production had built a version of the Orca that was designed to sink. Unfortunately, the one that was rapidly taking on water was not it. As a member of the camera department, future Academy Award-nominee Michael Chapman was primarily concerned with his equipment. As he recalls, "The water was coming up and coming up, and I had a camera, and I was beginning to get really quite angry, because it seemed so obvious that somebody should take the goddamn camera before it got wet." Special effects crew member Cal Acord and one of his colleagues scrambled, successfully rescuing not only the cameras, but the film magazine cases (miraculously, despite one case getting wet, all of the footage was saved).

The sound crew, alas, didn't rate the same frenzied attention.

An unsound rescue attempt


When Spielberg sent safety boats out to the listing Orca, his attention was on the actors. Per the filmmaker, "Everybody's yelling, 'Get the actors off! Get the actors off! The boat's going down!'" While Richard Dreyfuss appreciated his director's concern, the actor couldn't help but notice seventy-year-old sound man, John Carter, who was lugging a $50,000 Nagra tape recorder. Carter was not happy.

According to Spielberg, "John Carter had his Nagra, you know, recorder over his head, and he said, I won't say the word, he said, 'F*** the actors! Save the sound department!'" Dreyfuss adds, "You could hear Steven on the bullhorn going, 'Get the actors off the boat, get the actors off the boat,' and I yelled, 'Steven, he's seventy years old!' And [Carter] looked up and went, 'That's a wrap for sound.'"

This was one of many reasons "Jaws" wrapped principal photography in 159 days instead of the planned fifty-five. It was an arduous journey that temporarily endangered Spielberg's young career, and you can learn all about it via the aforementioned media.