VHS Revival brings you the untold story of John D. Hancock’s superlative sequel.
A Cheap Carny Trick
“…because I don’t intend to go through that hell again!”
Roy Scheider was not a happy man. He’d just left The Deer Hunter due to creative differences; the standard industry term for quitting or being fired. Unusually, in this instance, the differences were very much of the creative kind.
“It’s completely implausible that anyone would go halfway around the world to save a friend,” he declared. Scheider felt trapped. He’d signed a three-picture contract with Universal and, so far, he’d only made one movie for them. The man wanted out. He wanted to tear up the lousy contract and start anew. But what he most definitely did not want was to make another shark movie.
Universal, though, had other ideas.
Scheider owed them. They’d been two weeks away from the cameras rolling on The Deer Hunter when their star jumped ship, and now they insisted he pay them back. Universal knew a successful sequel was reliant on at least one of their stars returning; and Roy Scheider, due to his recent fit of pique, was currently without a job. Finally, Universal made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, “Ok, Roy. You’re contracted for two more movies, as you know. You let us down on The Deer Hunter. And that’s unacceptable. But you make the Jaws sequel for us and we’ll go our separate ways once the movie is done. Call it a two-for-one.”
Scheider thought about it for a moment. He didn’t want to do another Jaws movie, but then he didn’t want to be stuck making another two movies under contract. Who knows where he’d end up next – Jaws 3? He just had to suck it up for a few months and walk away, scot-free. He liked the character of Brody, and even if he didn’t want to re-tread old ground, they were making it in the summer and he’d be the headline star. Hell, he could even work on his tan. “Ok,” Scheider replied. “I’ll make one more shark movie.”
“And those black eyes roll over white…”
The success of Jaws was as unprecedented as it was psychologically destructive. The movie paved the way for what became the summer blockbuster, a hysterical period of high concept, escapist cinema that allowed the theatre-going public to shrug of the humdrum of everyday life for galaxies far, far away. The effect of Jaws on even the most casual viewer was instant and infinite. Never again could one enter a body of water without a modicum of trepidation for what may lurk beneath.
By the end of the summer of 1975, box office takings for Jaws were showing little sign of slowing. Producers David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, the current toast of Hollywood, began discussing their next steps. Both were keen to strike quickly in order to capitalise on Jaws’ success but were concerned that a follow-up would be viewed as a cynical cash-cow. Nonetheless, Brown reasoned, “We knew others would produce ‘Jaws 2’ if we didn’t.”
A script was commissioned, with playwright Howard Sackler, an uncredited writer on Jaws, hired to pen a first draft. Sackler’s plan was to take Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech from the first movie and use it as a basis for a prequel, so he set to work.
Meanwhile, keen to consider all creative options, Brown and Zanuck explored an idea involving Quint and Brody’s sons hunting a shark. This was quickly discarded, along with a fantastical idea from science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, that involved the shark being controlled by a mysterious alien orb in the Indian Ocean.
Sackler quickly turned around a script and the producers met with Universal president, Sid Sheinberg, with a view to getting the project greenlit. Sheinberg was keen on making a sequel but passed on the prequel draft, saying, “That’s a different shirt than we want to wear.” Sackler was sent back to work with a different brief – keep the action and characters located on Amity Island.
“You better check the bite radius.”
Zanuck and Brown began casting the net in search of a suitable director. Steven Spielberg, basking in the glory of Jaws, was already embroiled in a personal project he’d long dreamt of bringing to the screen. Spielberg’s script Watch the Skies would soon transmogrify into Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the focus would be on that for at least a year, so he was definitely out. Besides, he’d already made his feeling clear on sequels, dismissing them as nothing more than “cheap carny tricks.”
In conversations with Brown and Zanuck about possible directors, Sackler recommended one he’d worked with in the theatre, John D. Hancock. Hancock was a wildly left-field choice for a production of such magnitude. While his stage work was exemplary – Tennessee Williams remarked favourably on his skill as a theatrical director – Hancock’s filmmaking résumé only extended as far as short film Sticky My Fingers…Fleet My Feet; a psychological horror, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death; and a sports drama, Bang the Drum Slowly, starring Robert De Niro.
Still, Brown and Zanuck had taken a chance on the unknown Spielberg, so there was every reason to suggest lightning could indeed strike twice. Hancock, who was just finishing work on his third full-length feature, Baby Blue Marine, was approached, and a deal was quickly done. With Sackler having handed in his second draft, it was passed to the new director for his perusal. “I read the first script they had—Howard Sackler had written it—and was intrigued with the challenge of doing a sequel to this enormous‐grossing picture,” Hancock said. “I had liked the first film a lot, and I was impressed when the producers told me they were trying to top it.”
Hancock, however, made the immediate decision to rewrite Sackler’s script. With all the other pre-production tasks he’d need to undertake, Hancock didn’t want to work on it by himself, so offered the job to his wife, Dorothy Tristan, a successful actress who’d written several unproduced screenplays.
When Sackler discovered that his supposed friends were dismissing his script, he was furious at the treachery. “He felt betrayed and rightly so; I would have felt betrayed, too,” Tristan conceded. “It was one of the things we did. It was ignorant and blithe, but what he turned in was crap – it never went anywhere and he wrote it out in longhand!”
In Tristan’s revised version, Amity Island is suffering from economic meltdown following a series of shark attacks four years earlier. The once-thriving community is reduced to near-deserted streets, dilapidated store fronts and vacant beach cottages. A new venture, Amity Island, Inc. aims to return the island to its former glory, but a series of unexplained deaths offshore lead Chief Martin Brody to believe a shark is the cause.
“I think we may have another shark problem.”
Tristan’s spec script was immediately given the seal of approval and, within weeks, location scouting and casting began. Of the original triumvirate, only Roy Scheider, courtesy of the singular deal struck with Universal, would be returning: Richard Dreyfuss had followed Spielberg to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Robert Shaw’s character, Quint, was dead.
All of this had been taken into account in Tristan’s script rewrite. What it hadn’t accounted for, however, was the hubris of Sid Sheinberg, the Universal President married to Lorraine Gary, the sometime actress who’d played Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen, in Jaws and was due to return for the sequel.
One evening the Sheinbergs invited Hancock and Tristan over for dinner. A major plot point in the script involved Chief Brody taking a boat out to save several Island kids, including the Brody boys Mike and Sean, from a makeshift raft as the shark circles them. The Sheinbergs thought it would be a good idea to have Ellen join the Chief on the boat, and during the course of the evening they repeatedly pressed the point home. “Over my dead body!” Zanuck shot back when Hancock confessed to the producer the following day.
Loyal to the man who’d hired them, Tristan and Hancock decided to turn in another draft, minus Ellen on the boat. Following another ‘betrayal’ by the couple, Sheinberg stopped meeting their eyes whenever they were in close vicinity. Somewhere on the distant horizon off Amity Island, storm clouds were beginning to gather.
Three short weeks on Martha’s Vineyard
“Are you people telling me I don’t know what a shark looks like?”
18 months is a long time; in the movie making business it may as well be an eternity.
When the cameras finally cranked into action on Martha’s Vineyard on the 6th June 1977, fingers and chests were crossed that the shoot would be a smooth one. As was, and still is, standard for movie production, scenes were filmed out of sequence. Following the initial attack on the scuba divers, to be shot in a tank at a later point, the script introduced Chief Martin Brody for the first time. Tristan’s screenplay clearly demonstrates the tone the film was looking to adopt:
EXT. AMITY ROAD – DAY 3
Martin Brody’s squad car speeds past the Amity billboard, weather-stained, peeling and flaking in the strong May sun-
shine. Over the wind we hear snatches of a speech-making
voice on a P. A. system.
4 INT. SQUAD CAR – BRODY 4
has the look of a survivor who will never shake off the memory
of what he survived. He passes:
5 BEACHSIDE COTTAGES 5
closed and in disrepair. A faded upside-down FOR RENT sign in
one of the windows.
Another of the early scenes was actually the idea of Spielberg. Ahead of taking the job, Hancock had met the director for lunch to talk over the challenges ahead. “He just had wonderful ideas.” Hancock enthused. “He had a whole series of things, like the shark coming into the harbor, he described it so vividly and I used that in the film.”
The scene is indicative of the ominous feel Hancock was looking for. As night falls, a huge fin breeches the water’s surface as the shark silently cruises into the harbour, before slipping back into the inky blackness. There are no actors in the scene and no dialogue, but it’s dark, brooding and full of quiet menace – a demonstration of the potential of a film never realised. It’s also one of the only scenes Hancock shot that remains in Jaws 2.
But there were darker forces at work than the menace of a Great White shark. Power struggles were rife. Sheinberg and Zanuck were at constant loggerheads: both wanted their wives in the film. Sheinberg won out with Gary already cast as Ellen Brody; a bone of contention for Zanuck stretching back to the first film when the producer had pushed for his wife to play Ellen. On the set of the sequel, Hancock and Tristian found themselves sandwiched between the two warring factions. As Tristan recalled, “We knew they both wanted their wives in the film. What we didn’t know was how seriously this would impact upon us in making decisions.”
Weather issues were also affecting progress. Within four days of arriving on the Island a storm blew in, forcing production inside. In a perverse irony, Sheinberg’s wife, Lorraine Gary, arrived with it. Conversely, a week later with temperatures rising amid a cloudless sky, Hancock, still pursuing a depressed look for the community, resorted to calling in fog machines and a fire engine to soak the streets. It was becoming apparent that it wasn’t only the elements against Hancock; by the third week the director was informed that the shark still wasn’t ready.
Off camera, another powerful voice was making herself heard. Verna Fields, the formidable editor of Jaws and now a Universal Vice-President, was not impressed with the darker tone the film was taking. As Hancock noted, “When she saw the dailies, Verna Fields said, ‘It’s so contrasty and blue, can that be changed if we decided to fix that in post?’ It was no secret that Fields had been passed-over for the director’s chair and still coveted the spot – but since she was not a member of the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) the directorial role would remain elusive.
By the third week, the strain was beginning to tell. A fairly rudimentary scene involving Ellen Brody walking through a crowd towards an ambulance was ruined several times by extras stepping into her path. Hancock’s level of tolerance was being tested and his clashes with extras continued as a number of them were sent home to change as ‘their ensemble was too bright for the director’s liking’.
These minor issues aside, there was still the prospect of relocating the entire cast and crew to Pensacola, Florida, for the remainder of the shoot, where the intention was to film all of the shark attack scenes in warmer waters further south. By this time, a number of businesses on Martha’s Vineyard were actively petitioning due to production designer Joe Alves’ set design plan. Only a few would allow their shop window to be boarded up and a number went as far as printing t-shirts which exclaimed, ‘Universal, Go Home!’ There was also a rumour that Sheinberg would be visiting the set imminently. Pensacola couldn’t come soon enough.
“Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr Brody.”
Finally, and with perhaps sad inevitability given the struggles mounting, Hancock was finally relieved of his duties. He immediately left with Tristan and headed for Rome, and production shut down on Jaws 2. Hancock had, to the point of his dismissal, gamely forged ahead in the belief that everything in front of camera was working out fine. “We shot for three weeks, maybe a month, everything seemed to be going well, when a Lear jet landed on the island and the next day, I was on my way to Italy! I never saw Sheinberg. He came, talked to Zanuck and Brown, and took off. Zanuck and Brown called me in and said, ‘Well, we’re letting you go,’”
It is a minor tragedy that John Hancock’s Jaws 2 and his vision of a community struggling to overcome its grief never came to pass. While replacement director Jeannot Szwarc’s wholly decent sequel is the one forever committed to celluloid, there’s a nagging feeling that it could have attained a higher level had Hancock been afforded the opportunity to see his work through.
Some years later, David Brown would state that Hancock was “ill-equipped” for a film like “Jaws 2”, and it is possible that the director genuinely wasn’t up to the task. It’s also possible that the producers baulked at his anti-blockbuster take on the sequel. Whatever the true story, only a handful of shots from the abandoned Hancock movie still exist, including the portentous moment the shark enters the harbour.
Eschewing the more obvious thrills-and-spills of a shark attack movie was a bold, if ultimately and futile move. Hancock, via Tristan’s screenplay, wanted to tell a grittier story of a town in mourning; not just for its lost souls, but for its own carefree past, with boarded up storefronts, paint peeling from weathered but unused beach front cottages, and a gloomy mist hanging, almost unceasingly, over its colourless streets. “This Island has suffered a terrible calamity and we ought to show the residue of that.” said Hancock.
Yet, it wasn’t to be an action-free mood piece, this was a Jaws film after all, and Hancock had a responsibility to ensure that the film horrified and entertained its audience, as well as cater to a more cerebral demographic. “I wanted to make a scary movie. We wanted to really give you the feeling of what it was like to be bitten by a shark.”
Hancock was in no doubt, though, that the film should be edgier than its predecessor. By the time he was fired, Hancock’s vision was only just starting to take shape and he was excited about the prospect of shooting some of the shark attack scenes. One in particular that remained in the movie in an altered format, shot by Szwarc, was the water-skiing set piece. “We had two water skiers in the script and the sequence was much darker than it wound up being — a man and a woman, but the shark gets them both, and he eats them slowly. It was bloody and grim — and it would have been a good sequence. I really missed getting to shoot that.”
“I have had some experience with sharks.”
The movie-going public are long-accustomed to films and franchises that ‘go dark’, ad nauseum. But, succeeding what is regarded as the principle summer blockbuster with a considerably more melancholic, character-driven follow-up would have been unprecedented in the mid-1970’s.
Brown and Zanuck, reeling from their mistake and with an expensive production on hiatus and haemorrhaging money, needed a quick replacement. Verna Fields wanted the job and was initially offered the director’s chair, but following a disagreement that culminated in a shoving match with head of the DGA, Robert Aldrich, Sheinberg demurred. Production designer Joe Alves was also considered, but he too was not a DGA member.
And then there was the return of Spielberg, which almost, but ultimately didn’t, happen. Sheinberg contacted Spielberg directly and asked him to consider taking the reins. Spielberg went away over the Fourth of July weekend to hammer out a new script. On reflection, though, he realised he couldn’t go back to Amity Island. Spielberg later said, “I just could not imagine going back out to the ocean and sitting in a boat for nine months.”
With time of the essence, Universal plumped for Jeannot Szwarc, a television and film director best known for ‘creature feature’ Bug, and managed to persuade Carl Gottlieb to rework the script to suit the new action-orientated direction the studio desired.
The result is a very entertaining, if workmanlike film of spectacle over substance. It’s does succeed in its aim of keeping the viewer engaged for the entire running time, and for the most part the characters, especially the kids, are empathetic. Each set piece is expertly crafted and it’s certainly horrific in parts, amusing in others – and, though the shark is once again unmistakeably fake, it’s not without charm.
Jaws 2 also stands as one of the finest sequels in any genre, largely due to the return of Roy Scheider, who despite constant on-set disputes with Szwarc, seemingly channelled his energy into performance. Most importantly, John Williams’ score compares favourably to the original, even surpassing it, especially in the opening title theme, Finding the Orca.
Following the trauma of their brief tenure on Jaws 2, Hancock and Tristan moved on to other projects, on both stage and screen, including Hancock directing his wife in California Dreaming. In the most delicious of ironies, undoubtedly not lost on Hancock, he also replaced director Michael Wadleigh on cult horror film, Wolfen.
Despite Hancock’s continued professional success, the experience of Jaws 2 would have coloured his future career choices and, through no real fault of his own, he was never again given the opportunity to direct a franchise movie. 41 years later, and with the benefit of passing time clouding his recollections, it’s still highly unlikely Hancock feels any affection for the three short weeks spent on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1977, “I was caught between these huge forces like a babe in the woods and paid the price for it. Jaws 2 is a very bitter, painful experience that took years to recover from.”