The first Jaws movie gave Hollywood its first-ever summer blockbuster, and established director Steven Spielberg as the king of that genre of filmmaking. But there was one person who had an even longer connection to the Jaws franchise than Spielberg. Production Designer Joe Alves recently spoke to SYFY WIRE about his difficult history with the franchise, which started with him being asked by producer David Brown to create illustrations based on Peter Benchley's soon-to-be bestseller novel, Jaws.
"He just asked if I could go through the galleys and make a lot of illustrations to sell the idea to the studio of doing a shark movie. And Steven wasn't aboard yet, so that was probably August, September of '73. And that's how that started."
From there, the idea of making a horror movie with a shark as the antagonist gradually evolved, bringing on board hotshot new director Steven Spielberg. Alves' most difficult job was designing the mechanical shark that would be featured in the film, nicknamed 'Bruce'.
"We were into it like four, five months at the most, and we're testing it and it wiggles. And we built it in Sunland here in the Valley, and we shipped the three sharks - there are three sharks, left to right, right to left that was towed, and then one on a big crane - and so we got to Martha's Vineyard and we started testing it. And the first problem we found was salt water doesn't like electrical stuff."
"As soon as we got in the water and we started moving it around, all the old electronic stuff started getting invaded by the salt water. So we have to pull that out and redo that and then the various mechanics."
Trying to make the mechanical monster work properly took a long time. In that time, production began on the movie in the hope that shooting the parts that did not need the shark would give Joe Alves time to refine Bruce's internal mechanisms.
"We just kept working on it, and Steven shot everything he could without the shark, all the walk and talk. And then the shark started to work."
Eventually, the film was completed, it went on to redefine box office expectations of summer blockbusters, and caused many people to swear off ever going to the beach again. Alves continued to work on the Jaws franchise, as associate producer, second unit director, and production designer on Jaws 2, and as the director on Jaws 3D. Alves makes no bone about the fact that directing Jaws 3D was far from a pleasant experience.
"It was terrible. I came up with the idea of making it 3D. And so then I got the directing job, but then I realized they didn't have any new cameras. They were all old. So we had to make cameras, and we got to get the convergence right, and I had this television producer [Alan Landsburg] that was, 'Got to do it quick, quick, quick.' So it was extremely difficult in the technology, you know, just shooting it, because the convergence wouldn't be right, and we'd have to check it. And that was very, very difficult. And then, I got to say this: I didn't have final cut. So I cut the movie to a certain length, as with the other two, and then he cut about 20 minutes out of the personal relationships, which is okay. But you know, still, it was very, very successful, made a lot of money. So ..."
These quotes about the Steven Spielberg classic Jaws were first shared by Syfy.