Jaws provided many genuine jump scares, but the most unforgettable is surely the moment when Ben Gardner’s head pops out of a hole in his sunken boat. There’s an interesting story behind this classic scene.
The job of editing Jaws fell to Verna Fields, who had just finished working on George Lucas’s American Graffiti. Her work on Steven Spielberg’s film began six months after principal photography wrapped. When the film was screened to a small cinema to a sell-out crowd in Los Angeles, the director was keen to gauge the feedback. He immediately spotted a missed opportunity to get one last big scare into his film.
The scene in question featured Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) investigating the beat-up boat of local fisherman Ben Gardner. It had originally been shot in deep water tanks on the MGM lot. However, despite attempting different edits, Spielberg couldn’t get the desired fright he wanted. In his mind, there was only one thing to do – shoot additional footage.
Predictably, his request fell on deaf ears. The studio told Spielberg that all the money had been spent (the picture was already way over budget) and the final editing had begun. Undeterred, the director located the prop head and boat on the Universal lot and announced he’d reshoot the scene at his own expense.
With only $3000 to play with, Spielberg needed somewhere cheap to film, and he found it at Verna Field’s Los Angeles home: a small swimming pool. Using a team of five, an underwater camera and a couple of lights borrowed from Universal, Spielberg poured milk into the pool to make it cloudy, dragged a black tarp over to simulate night and shot a new sequence.
The original budget for Jaws was $3.5 million with a proposed 55 day-shoot. It actually cost $9 million and took 159 days. The $9 million was recovered after just two weeks on release, with the box office eventually tallying $450 million.
Spielberg was convinced that Jaws would finish his career. Instead it gave him carte blanche to pursue whatever project he chose.