The Nightmare of ‘Jaws’: 10 on-set disasters that plagued Spielberg’s 1975 classic

“When I think of 'Jaws' I think about courage and stupidity. And I think of both of those things existing underwater.”

That's a quote from Steven Spielberg on his time directing the 1975 horror classic, which turns 40 this Saturday. Proving that sometimes greatness can spring from unimaginable misery, the film was famously a nightmare to shoot, with numerous production problems including the frequent malfunctioning of “Bruce,” the collective name given to the film's trio of animatronic sharks. But don't take my word for it. Below are ten hellish behind-the-scenes straight from the mouths of those involved that will make you wonder how they managed to finish the film at all.

1. This is what happens when you hire a stuntman with no diving experience

When husband-and-wife shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor were commissioned to get footage of actual Great Whites attacking a cage (for the famous Richard Dreyfuss underwater sequence), the biggest sharks they could find were about ten feet smaller than the behemoth described in the film.

Spielberg's solution: hire a little person to double for Richard Dreyfuss, put him in shark-infested waters in a miniature cage off the coast of southern Australia and voila! You've got yourself a shark that appears, scale-wise, considerably larger than it actually is. It's a good idea! Unfortunately, the “little person” they hired, 4'11″ stuntman Carl Rizzo, wasn't suited for the job…at all. Here's Valerie Taylor describing the horrid experience in the documentary “Spotlight on Location: The Making of Jaws”:

“Hollywood sent us this little man, and he couldn't dive. He had spent most of his life riding horses, doubling for children in films like 'National Velvet' — he had doubled for Elizabeth Taylor. And we had to take him out and stuff him into a cage, and dangle him into the cold southern ocean, and have sharks — big, huge, monstrous sharks! — swimming around him. And he was very much afraid, and we had a lot of difficulty getting him into the cage.”

Even worse, Rizzo was saddled with miniature air tanks despite the fact that, as production designer Joe Alves wisely points out, “small people breathe the same amount of air [as the rest of us]…and when they put [Rizzo] in the cage and they set the cage down and the white sharks came, he sucked air up just like that, because he had miniature tanks.”