In the book ‘Jaws’, the marine biologist Matt Hooper dies at the end.
In the movie he doesn’t.
I always assumed this was because Hollywood likes happy endings.
So they just rewrote the script.
Well the real answer is yes, and no.
In the original shooting script, Matt Hooper did die.
The massive shark opened up his cage and ate him.
Just like the book.
That was what Spielberg was planning to shoot.
But things went wrong.
The big mechanical shark Spielberg was shooting wouldn’t work.
It became increasingly obvious they needed a backup plan.
So a second-unit was dispatched to Australia.
They were told to get some underwater footage of a real shark attacking the cage.
But when they got there, they had a problem.
The sharks weren’t thirty feet long like the one in Jaws.
They were fifteen feet long.
Which didn’t look like the terrifying monster they wanted.
How could they make a medium sized shark look huge?
Obviously, what gives something its scale is what it’s compared to.
Which in this case, would be the man in the cage.
So they thought, what if we had a little person in the cage?
Then the smaller shark would look much bigger.
And no one would know what size the man was, because he’d be covered in a black rubber suit and miniature oxygen tanks.
So they lowered the film crew and camera into the water.
Then they lowered the shark cage into the water.
Then they got the little person ready to go into the water.
But before they could, the shark began attacking the cage.
Going crazy and ripping it apart.
When it was over they called Spielberg.
They said, we’ve got good news and bad news.
The good news is we got fantastic footage of the shark attacking the cage.
The bad news is the cage was empty.
Spielberg thought for a bit.
He said “Okay, that’s not a problem.”
And he sat down and rewrote the script so that Matt Hooper managed to escape from the cage before the shark destroyed it.
That was the easy bit.
Now he had to sell it to the Universal Studio execs.
(And remember, at this time Spielberg was still an unknown 27 year old.)
He called them up and said “I’ve been thinking, I want to take out the sub-plot where Matt Hooper has an affair with Police Chief Brody’s wife. It diverts our attention from the point of the movie, which should always be the shark.
It complicates the relationship between the two men, gets in the way and confuses things. Because Hooper has seduced Brody’s wife he becomes the bad guy, so he has to die at the end of the film.
By removing the affair we can create a bond between them, and we have the added advantage of being able to have both guys alive at the end of the movie. So they can swim off talking and joking together, which is a much more uplifting ending.”
And the people at Universal agreed.
They were happy to lose the unsavoury element of marital infidelity.
They thought Spielberg was being sensible and responsible.
And Spielberg never mentioned the real reason.
Which was the only usable footage he had was of a shark attacking an empty cage
He took their attention off what he really wanted.
And diverted their attention to something else.
And while they were concentrating on that, he slid what he really wanted through unnoticed.
Just the way a stage magician does.
Just the way a film director does in a movie, in fact.
He used the same technique he usually uses to persuade the audience of something.
But this time he used it to persuade the studio execs.
There’s a lesson for all creative people there.