Steven Spielberg was 27 when he made ‘Jaws’.
The budget was just $4 million.
That’s the only reason Spielberg got the chance.
He was pretty much unheard of, just a kid.
So, since this wasn’t such a big film, they took a chance.
This was only supposed to be a monster movie, like Godzilla.
A big scary creature that goes around eating people.
But straight away the problems started.
The monster, the shark, didn’t look good and it didn’t work.
Spielberg tried everything to get Universal Studios to make him a better shark.
But the best special effects guys were working on the studio’s two biggest pictures that year.
These were ‘Airport 75’ and ‘Hindenburg’.
The pictures everyone thought would make the studio’s fortune.
So Spielberg was stuck with a monster that he couldn’t show.
Then he had a thought: what would Hitchcock do?
If you can’t show it, don’t show it.
The main lesson he’d learned from Hitchcock is that suggesting something can be more powerful than showing it.
Because imagination is more powerful than reality.
So Spielberg built a waterproof box that allowed him to film underwater.
The shark’s POV.
The camera moving through the water looking for prey.
Cut to above the waves, to see everyone’s POV: happy people swimming.
Cut to below the waves, to see the shark’s POV: legs as food.
The people above can’t see anything.
That’s much more terrifying.
Then Spielberg took something else from Hitchcock.
Use the visual rhetoric of the camera to deceive.
In Hitchcock’s ‘Suspicion’ for instance, Cary Grant suspects his wife is trying to poison him.
So the camera cuts between his eyes and the milk she is bringing him.
Cut to his eyes.
Cut to the milk.
Cut back to his eyes.
Cut back to the milk.
(The camera is telling us the milk is poisoned.)
Eventually Cary Grant refuses the milk.
So his wife drinks it.
It wasn’t poisoned at all, he imagined it, and so did we.
The camera deceived us into thinking like Cary Grant.
Spielberg would use that technique.
Sometimes the underwater camera would actually be the shark’s POV, getting ready to strike.
Sometimes it wouldn’t.
Sometimes it would just be a harmless underwater shot.
The audience wouldn’t know what to expect.
And not knowing is an even bigger fear than knowing.
Certainty is fear.
But uncertainty is terror.
Not being able to use the shark was actually the best thing that could have happened to Spielberg.
He knew that the star of the movie was the shark.
But the lack of it forced him to use the camera to do all the work.
Which established him as a director in Hitchcock’s league.
A master filmmaker, at 27 years old.
Spielberg says “After Jaws I could make absolutely any movie I wanted, because everyone trusted me, totally.”
Jaws was the first film ever to gross $100 million, and went on to gross over $500 million.
All because Spielberg had to find a creative way round a problem.