Quantcast Interview with the filmmakers behind THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING: THE IMPACT & LEGACY OF JAWS

The filmmakers behind
One of the most interesting and extensive documentaries out there is THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING: THE IMPACT & LEGACY OF JAWS; a labor of love project put together by producers James Gelet, Jake Gove, Erik Hollander and J. Michael Roddy. Early screenings have proved that TSISW is THE definitive look at JAWS and the type of documentary that life-long JAWS fans have been waiting for. While pending an official release date, we caught up with all 4 filmmakers behind the doc for the full scoop behind it's creation. Read on for the FRIGHT exclusive interview! - by Robg. 12/07

Can you each tell me what you remember about seeing/experiencing Jaws for the first time? What memories do you have of the movie’s impact on you?

Roddy: As a kid I was a big fan of horror films from an early age. The summer of 75, I was six years old approaching seven and had already been exposed to the Universal Classic Monsters. I was also a fanatic about the disaster films of the day such as THE TOWERING INFERNO. I remember seeing the movie theatre marquee with the word JAWS and asking my Father who was fisherman what it was about? I assumed it was something to do with the human mouth. He told me it was about a Shark. I was hooked. I begged and that weekend we went to see it. Since that time, the film has always served as not only a great movie experience, but an inspiration that the medium of storytelling, when done right, can transport you, and immerse you.
I can still remember that Summer that I spent in the swimming pool with my mego action figures being pulled under and attacked by the monster Great White Shark. It is also the first time I remember really understanding that films are made. I would devour every article in every magazine. When the JAWS Log was released I carried it with me everywhere.
Hollander: Jaws has been a lifelong muse for me in many respects. I saw it for the first time in its theatrical re-release in 1978 at the age of 12. (During the film’s original run, my parents felt I qualified for the “younger children” category to which the film’s ad campaign promised a potentially brain damaging experience. I was only eight). I was primed to be hooked from the start as I had had nearly four years to anticipate finally seeing Jaws.

During that time, I had weaved an imaginary version of the film based on scenes that had been fodder for playground chatter for a long time. Seeing the movie with my own eyes changed me from that point on.

Later, when Jaws premiered on network television, I recorded it on audio cassette, and that became the soundtrack of my daily life for years to come. I had completely memorized every line and every sound effect, and fell in love, not only with Jaws, but the craft of filmmaking.

Gove: When I first saw Jaws, it was all about fear – it gave me completely irrational fears when I was in any type of water. I lived in Minnesota, and knew there were no sharks in lakes, but was deathly afraid that something was going to come up from below and “get me”. I even had the same fears in swimming pools, which is ridiculous.

The movie had more impact on me as I got older – I grew to appreciate it on a different level – for the storytelling, for the suspense, the characters, the acting. Jaws is a true film classic.
Gelet: My story is pretty different from the rest of the guys. I didn’t see Jaws until I was 18, believe it or not. In fact it was Erik and Michael who showed it to me for the first time. That was 1990. So we’re talking about a pan and scan VHS experience on a 25” TV. Usually a movie experience is so diminished by that kind of viewing, but with Jaws it didn’t matter. Jaws immediately became one of my favorite movies of all time. I loved it! What really made me crazy about this movie though, was Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary on the making of it.

To this day I still can’t think of a behind-the-scenes drama that comes close to what they went through on Jaws. That unto itself could be a movie. When I saw that, I became pretty passionate about the process of filmmaking, so to be able to do The Shark is Still Working has been a dream experience.

How did The Shark is Still Working all begin? Was it the Jawsfest?

Gelet: Erik and I had been working on documentaries together for years and we were between projects. In November of 2004, we were brainstorming on what a next project could be. Up to that point, everything we worked on had some kind of a social or philosophical agenda, and they were always projects that we were hired hands on. We knew we wanted our next project to be completely our own, but also wanted it to be completely fun. Around that time, we had just been invited to participate in Jawsfest because of the Jaws props we owned, so doing something Jaws related seemed like a no-brainer.
Hollander: It began as the rather modest idea of covering the fan base at JawsFest and creating a sort of Trekkies for Jaws philes. Because we had been asked by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce to help with the upcoming Fest, we knew we would have access to the VIPS that were to attend, such as Carl Gottlieb, Joe Alves, and Jeffrey Kramer, but we pretty much excluded the thought of getting any of the main players like Spielberg, Scheider or Dreyfuss. Things rapidly progressed however.

Our vision grew bigger every day. Michael arranged some contacts with some of the A-listers and we were off and running. We then decided to make it a roundly “comprehensive” celebration of all things Jaws – from the film to its fans and everything in between.

Roddy: Because of my background in live theatre production and events, I was asked to work on the JAWSFest celebration on Martha’s Vineyard as the Creative Director. It was such a great honor to be the one who would help craft a celebration of the very movie that I loved so much.

Erik had been asked to showcase some of his props from the film. As I developed the celebration for the 30th Anniversary of the film, I realized that there was a great story, not only about the making of the film we loved so much, but the continuing impact that it has had on audiences. We were going to have amazing access to some of the people and the locations and I thought it would be great to document the event. Erik had directed and edited many documentaries and it was a perfect moment of synergy.

When we started filming we realized that we could really chronicle the story of this film’s impact in a unique way with a unique perspective.

How difficult was it to contact and track people down to take part in your documentary? Who was the first person you did get in touch with? Who was the first person you interviewed? And when did you know you were onto something?

The challenge of finding everyone was great fun. It is amazing when you realize how many people worked on JAWS or knew someone who had been a part of the Production in some capacity. JAWS was and is a blockbuster and many of the main stars have moved on in their careers, and in many cases were not so intrigued with initially going back to revisit. We reassured everyone that we were not just looking to copy the great documentaries that have already been produced on JAWS, but show how the film has inspired and motivated, how it changed the way movies were and are made. One of the things that is unique to our documentary is that we found stories that have never been told before.
Hollander: The very first was Joe Alves. James, Michael and I flew out to LA and met with Alves at his home in Woodland Hills. At that time, we hadn’t fleshed out the entire concept of the documentary and our list of questions was not as developed as it would later become. He brought out all his original production sketches and storyboards, as well as loads of rare photographs from the shoot. We spent all day with him and recorded much of this material for the doc.
Our second major interview was with Roy Scheider in March of 2005, which is when we really kicked into overdrive. We spend most of the morning chatting with him at his beachfront home in the Hamptons. With Scheider’s enthusiastic participation and on-camera interview we knew we had the necessary fuel to pursue all the biggest fish in the Jaws ocean. Michael, through his connections at Universal, then went on to arrange interviews with Spielberg, Zanuck, and Dreyfuss among others, and the scope of the project grew from there. (We did eventually go back and shoot a second interview with Joe Alves using questions that were consistent with the now-developed flow of the documentary).
Gelet: Even after the Scheider interview, I often wondered if this project would ever really become anything, or if it would ever even be finished. I never said that out loud to the other guys, because I didn’t want to be a buzzkill, but I was thinking it.

In May 2005, came the Spielberg interview and that was when any doubts I might have had were completely annihilated.

Can you talk about Peter Benchley a bit? He appears prominently in the doc, and he’s no longer with us. What are your memories of meeting and interviewing Mr. Benchley and how’d he feel about your devotion to his creation?

Until the day before JawsFest was to begin, there was no certainty that Peter was going to be able to attend, due to his already failing health. Once he showed, I remember being very tentative about even approaching him to do an interview.

However, thanks to a providential run-in with his wife Wendy at the “Behind the Screams” event, Michael and I were able to share the vision of the documentary. We proposed an interview session in which we would talk with Peter about not only Jaws, but also his lifelong passion for shark preservation. She graciously passed the info along to her husband, and the next thing we knew, there we were in their rented cottage, away from all the press and fandom, recording Peter Benchley in what has become, to me, one of the most special memories of this whole experience. Ever since, Wendy has been a tremendous friend to our project, providing us with much material on Peter, and we are forever in her debt.

Gelet: What a vivid moment it was when we learned the news of Mr. Benchley’s passing. Erik and I were actually editing the doc when the news broke, so there was this rush of awareness that in one second we went from producing a documentary celebrating the writing of a man who was alive, to producing a documentary celebrating the writing of a man who was gone. I immediately turned to Erik and said, “Well, I guess we know who we’re dedicating this thing to now.” Within a half an hour we had written up an article for our website, and got back to work.

Meeting him was wonderful. I remember arriving at the door of the house he was staying in, and on either side of the door, there were boxes and boxes of hundreds of copies of “Jaws” and other Benchley novels. They had been sent to him by fans to be autographed, and Peter signed every one of them. That was heartwarming to see.

Roddy: Working on JAWSFest, I realized that Benchley might make it. Initially he was hesitant about being part of the celebration because he really didn’t know how much his work had affected so many. I remember having the honor of introducing him at the screening of the film to the thousands of fans and you could see how genuinely touched he was. I had a few moments with him and he laughed that he felt like a Rock Star and I remember saying to him – “You Are!”.

What struck me most is that everyone seems to forget that without Benchley we would have no JAWS. The initial story came from this man. That realization happened for me about four or five minutes into the interview. As he talked about the inspiration for the characters, I realized I was looking at Brody and Hooper. He was really a tremendous personality.

Tell us about your time with Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider? Roy eventually ended up narrated the documentary which obviously means he gives the doc his seal of approval. How’d that all come about?

Roy Scheider has been an amazing ally in all of this. I think he really loved the angle we presented to him from the get-go. We met Roy at his beach house on Long Island on a frigid day in March of 2005, spending the better part of that day discussing his recollections about the film. I remember him offering us each a root beer and thinking “I could do this for living – chillin’ with my favorite actors in their houses, drinking root beer…”

It was simply awesome. Sometime the next year, I was speaking with him on the phone during post-production and the subject of narration came up. I told him we were considering Peter Coyote or Bill Mumy, when he enthusiastically asked “How about me?” Well, of course, when the star of the film your producing a documentary about says he wants to narrate it…he narrates it! ‘Nuff said! We hired him and the rest is history. Of course, he’s done lots of interviews about Jaws in his career, but this is the only project he ever asked to narrate himself, and for that we are singularly honored and thankful. He did a superb job. I cannot imagine anyone else as the voice of TSISW now.
Roddy: Dreyfuss was the most elusive interview. He is such a talented actor and the demand for his time is always at a premium. What was amazing to me is that Richard is such a great storyteller that when we were interviewing him, I forgot there was a camera.

Roy Scheider was a weird experience for me in a positive way. I remember driving up to his home and getting nervous. I realized that he was such an important figure from my childhood that I was scared that he wouldn’t be what I hoped and needed him to be. He was more than I ever expected. He is truly a kind and generous man.

You literally got everyone involved in this doc. Tell us about tracking down and getting Steven Spielberg to participate. In fact, what was it like to interview him? Intimidating? Didn’t you interview him and John Williams in the same day?

Roddy: We were told that Spielberg would not talk about JAWS anymore. He felt the retrospective had been done and it was a painful trip for him.

When we presented our hopes and how we wanted to tell more than just the stories of the production but how this one film has inspired and impacted so many in a positive way, it became clear that we were not just a production crew looking for a story about the 30th Anniversary but a group of passionate filmmakers who were inspired in the same way, we were granted time with him. He was the coolest and most disarming man. He truly loves movies and he is grateful for what JAWS has afforded him in his career.

I can’t speak for what it was like for the other guys, but I conduct all the interviews so I feel like there’s a different kind of pressure on me when we get into a room with these people. There have a couple interviews where I was tripping over my own tongue quite a bit, but Spielberg was the easiest interview out of anyone. I still can’t get over how ironic that is! You’d think he’d be the most intimidating interview out of anyone, but he wasn’t. He made us all feel so comfortable and we had a wonderful time with him. I like to think he had a great time too.

Gove: We did interview Spielberg and Williams the same day and it was completely unexpected. While we were setting up for our interview with Spielberg, He asked us if we had interviewed John Williams yet, and because we hadn’t, Mr. Spielberg asked Mr. Williams to sit down with us for a short interview as well. They just happened to be recording the score to War of the Worlds at the time but we didn’t know it at the time. I was definitely feeling intimidated that day. At this point in the production I was new to the project and hadn’t really met any “famous” people before. That day I was operating a second camera to shoot B-Roll of the interviews and because of the intimidation factor, I basically was just trying not to get in the way or embarrass myself or my fellow producers.
I had many questions I wanted to ask, but in the end, I kept my inner fanboy in check and asked just one of Mr. Spielberg, concerning the Chrissie autopsy scene and the slightly jarring edit when Hooper says, “this is what happens”. This is one of the most asked questions to visitors to my website JAWSmovie.com. I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and genuine both Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Williams were. The “trial by fire” of this early interview -- getting two legends in the same room -- helped me to become more relaxed around later interviewees.

Two welcome interviews on your doc that I found fascinating were Percy Rodrigues (the “voice” in the Jaws trailers) and artist Roger Kastel who painting the iconic famous image. I never would’ve thought to interview them! How’d you find those guys?

Gelet: Those two really have become the dynamic duo of the documentary. It’s amazing, but that just shows how passionate and knowledgable Jaws fans are. They all know what a valuable contribution those two made to the Jaws mystique. One of the great honors of The Shark is Still Working is getting to be to first ones to celebrate their work. It seems kind of a shame that they’ve never been discussed before, but better late than never.
Erik was the one who tracked down Kastel and I tracked down Percy. It’s a pretty cool story about how Percy unfolded. It originally never occurred to us to interview Percy because none of us knew who he was. We never knew whose great voice that was on those unforgettable trailers. Once again, this can be chalked up to the oversight of Percy’s work never being considered part of Jaws lore until we came along.
One day I was on the phone with a friend of ours, and we were talking about all the Jaws radio spots that bore the same voice. He told me that voice belonged to an actor named Percy Rodrigues. Within one hour of hearing that name for the first time, I was on the phone with his representation in LA, and then Percy himself. Three weeks later, we were sitting down at his house for an interview.

After that, we maintained a wonderful friendship and when we sent him an early cut of the doc, he gave us some of the most lavish praise we had received from anyone. So he was more than thrilled when we asked him to narrate our new trailer in a way that would recall his original Jaws work back in 1975. Since we released that trailer, it seems like Percy has become the new rock star among Jaws fans and that’s really nice to see. That is all more meaningful now even more than ever because Percy passed on about a month ago. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that Percy’s agent and his family really thought it was nice for his last job to be The Shark is Still Working because it reconnected him with Jaws after all these years.

Hollander: A good friend and fellow fan named Richard Martel, who is an avid collector of Jaws memorabilia got me some info that led to getting in touch with Roger Kastel. I asked if he’d be interested in being a part of TSISW, and he was delighted. James and I flew to New York and met up with him and his wife Grace at their home and he gave us a tour of his “barn” studio where he painted the poster artwork for Jaws.

That was a very special moment for me, as I have been obsessed with that image from childhood. I have since gone on to design many book covers in my capacity as graphic artist, including Steve Alten’s MEG shark thrillers, so for me, this visit was very significant and special. I told Roger that his work had been a sort of muse for me in my developing art career. I still have numerous drawings of the famous shark and swimmer I did as a kid… and here I was sitting at the very same easel (he still uses it) upon which the famous image was painted.

Roger was admittedly taken aback at the adulation we showed and seemed to be unaware of the fan world that surely would be interested to hear from him, but we convinced him that his story needed to be a part of the Jaws legacy, as his painting remains an indelible icon in film history. We are so pleased to have been able to shine a little limelight on this amazing artist, and now, great friend.

There are a lot of interesting filmmakers inspired by Jaws that talk about their love of the film in the documentary. Can you talk about people like Bryan Singer, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, hell… even Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante taking part?

Hollander: Because TSISW was to explore the various ways Jaws influenced pop culture, it seemed obvious to us that we’d need to visit those individuals on whom the film made the most demonstrable impact – contemporary filmmakers who have made a name for themselves building their careers on a love for Jaws and other great films of their childhood. Though there are multitudes of directors, writers, and entertainers who love and respect Jaws, we decided to keep our interviewees limited to those who have been publicly frank about their devotion to it; some of whom have paid homage to it in their own work.
Gove: Bryan Singer and Robert Rodriguez were interviews that were not shot by us, but were done for us since both filmmakers are such huge Jaws fans. Thanks to Michael Roddy for making those interviews happen. I have been a big fan of Kevin Smith for years, so it was a real treat for me to be there for the interview with Kevin. Kevin was a blast to hang out with and his insights on Jaws added so much to TSISW.
Gelet: Don’t forget about M. Night Shyamalan! He’s the latest addition that we’re hugely excited about. Both Shyamalan and Smith came on board the same way. Shyamalan saw our new trailer, and Smith saw the one previous to it and once they saw those they immediately said, “I’m in!” They both were the greatest guys to hang out with. Their enthusiasm for Jaws was obvious once they start talking, so it really felt like we were spending time with old friends.

Benante came to us through a mutual friend. After talking on the phone with him about Jaws for a couple of hours, I really felt like he loved Jaws more than anybody I had ever met – and that’s saying a lot considering all the Jaws fans who’ve come in and out of my life in a past couple of years.

It’s very different with him. I know a lot of people who know every minute detail about the movie. They live it and breathe it and are very passionate about it. But with Charlie, it’s almost as if he views Jaws like it’s a family member. He truly loves the movie in the most literal sense of the word. Since we knew it would clearly mean so much to him, we made a special exception to add him late even though at the time we considered the edit locked.

Why aren’t the sequels covered more extensively in the finished documentary? Are there plans to cover them more in the special features when THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING is officially released?

Gelet: We didn’t breeze through the sequels as quickly as we did because we don’t like them or anything like that. A detailed analysis of them just didn’t fit in with our vision for the doc. Our aim was to talk about the “Impact and Legacy” of that one movie that changed the movie world in 1975. Of course, the sequels can be referred to as part of that legacy, and that was what we did.

As far as any more material finding its way onto bonus features of anything like that, I really don’t think we have much else on them. We knew what our vision was even during the interview process, so sequel talk was kept to a minimum. I think we have some stuff from Lorraine Gary that we didn’t use, but that’s about it. Oh, and David Brown told us the ol’ “Jaws 3 – People 0” story.
Gove: Consider Star Wars – many feel that The Empire Strikes Back, is in many ways superior to Star Wars – A New Hope. That’s not the case with Jaws. Although there were sequels made after Jaws, it’s not really a “franchise”, in the sense that other films in the series are widely respected. While we all love Jaws 2, it’s just not up to the quality of Jaws. As a result, we spend a little time on Jaws 2, and give a courtesy mention of the other two sequels. In a perfect world, I would have liked to interview a few more people involved with Jaws 2, such as director Jeannot Szwarc, and actor Keith Gordon (who later became a filmmaker).

Roddy: The main focus of our documentary is the lasting impact of the film JAWS. We all enjoy the sequels for different reasons, but JAWS The Revenge did not inspire anyone to be a filmmaker or shark-researcher…

Seriously, we labored over this and have some great interviews with William Marks about JAWS The Revenge, but at the end of the day it was not serving the point of our documentary. There are always supplemental features though.

How difficult was it to edit the piece? As it stands, it’s a 3 hour epic that spans 2 discs. Are you still working on the editing process of the documentary?

It wasn’t difficult. I think “spongy” is the word.

Hollander: It was an incredibly organic process. We started with an initial outline, but it was promptly discarded as James and I would sit for hours each evening and wade through so much material, finding a flow we hadn’t planned on. It really sort of created itself, in a sense. Once we started building it, there emerged a logical progression that built itself based on segues made by the interviewees themselves. Sometimes, we’d have to shuffle material around to work better, but it just seemed to improve every day.

Some days seemed effortless, others were interminably frustrating, but overall, it was a very rewarding experience. It really was where we began to see the potential of this thing explode and it was that excitement that drove us through many a late night editing session.

How has the overall response been to the completed documentary? Are you proud of the task you guys set out to make and the finished product? Any word on a potential DVD release yet?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I am very proud of the finished TSISW -- it became much more than I ever hoped it could be. As a result of making it, I have become part of the history of my favorite movie, JAWS.

Hollander: We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response, frankly. We couldn’t be more pleased with the buzz that seems to grow every week on the net. Our only regret is that we are not able to give people a release date as of yet. We know that folks have been aware of TSISW for some time -- going on three years now -- and though we may risk creating a sense of apathy among long-awaiting fans, we wanted to keep word afloat on the web about our progress from the beginning. This is mostly because we are a grassroots production and the internet can be an indie production’s best friend. You’ll see this same approach being taken by fellow fan-made retrospectives like Indyfans, Beware the Moon: An American Werewolf in London, The Psycho Legacy, and others.

With venues like YouTube, IMDB and MySpace, indie producers have sought to share their exploits with as many as might be intrigued, so the payoff will be that much sweeter for all when their respective shows are finally released. The good news is that, without giving too many details, we are starting to see some headway in getting this sucker represented through an entertainment attorney, which is the first monumental step in getting a deal with a studio… so stay tuned and keep checking our website: www.sharkisstillworking.com

Roddy: We are so proud of the finished product. We want the audience to see it. What people forget is that the documentary was not produced by a large production team with resources at their fingertips, It was produced by four passionate people who live in different sections of the company. The story of the documentary truly mirrors the making of the original film. We believed in what we were doing.

Visit www.sharkisstillworking.com and MySpace.com/tsiswmovie!

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