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You’re gonna need a bigger boat … er … theater

Jim Hill

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You’re gonna need a bigger boat … er … theater

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I know, I know. It’s just the first week of May. But as far as Hollywood is concerned, Summer blockbuster season starts tomorrow with the release of “Iron Man 2.”

But before the Web goes wild with predictions of how much this “Iron Man” sequel will earn over its opening weekend, I thought it might be nice to pay tribute to the first real summer blockbuster, “JAWS.” Which was originally released to theaters on June 20, 1975.

“People often forget that – prior to the mid-1970s – Hollywood used to release all of its important A-List pictures in the Fall or around the holidays. Summer was the time when the Studios traditionally released their lighter, more throwaway fare,” explained J. Michael Roddy. “But ‘JAWS’ changed all that. This Steven Spielberg film proved that there was a huge audience out there -- more importantly, that there was big money to be made over the Summer -- which Hollywood could tap into if the right project came along & was promoted in just the right way.”

Jake Gove, James Gelet, Erik Hollander, Bruce the Shark and J. Michael Roddy
(L to R) Jake Gove, James Gelet, Erik Hollander, Bruce the Shark and J. Michael Roddy

And when it comes to “JAWS,” J. Michael knows of what he speaks. Roddy – along with James Gelet, Jake Gove and Erik Hollander – has produced what many film fans & industry insiders considered to be the definitive documentary on Hollywood’s first summer blockbuster, “The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of JAWS.” A film that came about in kind of an unusual way.

“I first saw ‘Jaws’ when I was 6 years-old. I remember seeing the local movie theatre marquee with the word ‘JAWS’ and then asking my father what that was about. I assumed that the movie was about the human mouth,” J. Michael laughed. ‘But as soon as my Dad told me that ‘JAWS’ was about a shark, I was hooked. I begged & pleaded to see ‘JAWS.’ Which is why -- later that same weekend -- we went to go see it.”

Now our story jumps ahead some 30 years. Roddy’s working as a themed entertainment professional who occasionally moonlights in PR. Which is why – in 2005 – he’s working with Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce on JAWS Fest. An event that’s designed to honor the 30th anniversary of the release of this Steven Spielberg film.

The original Jaws movie poster
Copyright Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved

“This literally is my dream job,” J. Michael remembered. “They were flying me up to Martha’s Vineyard every other weekend to have meetings about JAWS Fest. Which meant that—inbetween these meetings -- I then able to tour the island. Visit the actual locations where my favorite film had been made.”

And it was during one of these trips to Martha’s Vineyard (which – to be fair to Roddy – were mostly done during the winter. Which meant that getting out to see some of the actual shooting locations often involved slogging through some snow) that J. Michael had an idea. That the very best way to pay tribute to “JAWS” on its 30th anniversary would be to put together a motion picture that talked about the enormous impact that the original summer blockbuster had on moviegoers as well as on the film industry.

So Roddy recruited a few friends and then began interviewing the actors as well as the behind-the-screen talent on this Universal Pictures release.

Steven Spielberg & John Williams jawing about "JAWS"
Steven Spielberg & John Williams jawing about "JAWS"

“And sometimes we just got lucky when it came to grabbing interviews,” J. Michael recalled. “I remember when we were talking with Steven Spielberg in his office. And Steven asked if we’d interviewed John Williams yet. And I said that we’d been talking with Williams’ agent and had been trying to set something up. But so far, we’d had no luck. Spielberg then turns to his assistant and says ‘Go get John.’ It turns out that Williams was in the building at that exact same time, recording the score for ‘War of the Worlds.’ And as Steven slipped out to grab some lunch, we were then able to interview John Williams about how he came up with the theme for ‘JAWS.’ "

Roddy had a lot of magical moments like that while working on “The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of JAWS.” But perhaps the ones that he treasures the most were those times that he got to spend with Sheriff Brody himself, Roy Scheider.

“Sheriff Brody was the first action hero that I ever saw up on the screen as a kid. And since I work in themed entertainment, I get to meet a lot of actors. And most of the time you learn the hard way that the actor is not the role, that they’re just some guy reading lines,” J. Michael continued. “But the kindness, the decency you see in Sheriff Brody in ‘JAWS,’ that’s who Roy Scheider really was. He became a huge supporter of our project, a great friend. He even narrated the film.”

Roy Scheider holding a copy of the documentary about "JAWS", "The Shark is Still Working"
Roy Scheider

And clearly Roddy & his collaborators weren’t the only ones who have an affection & an enthusiasm for this Steven Spielberg film. For when “The Shark is Working” held its world premiere at the Los Angeles United Film Festival last year, all four screenings of this documentary quickly sold out.

“And since the Festival has such a big supporter of our movie, we thought that we’d do something special this year,” J. Michael said. “Which is why – ahead of tonight’s screening – we’re going to stage a little handprint ceremony where we’ll then be honoring ‘JAWS’ screenwriter Carl Gottlieb.”

Which brings us to the headline of today’s JHM article: Given how popular last year’s screenings of “The Shark is Still Working” – more importantly, given that the Festival’s organizers wanted as many JAWS fans as possible to be able to see tonight’s presentation of this documentary – they decided to move this screening from LA’s Los Feliz theater to the Vista at 473 Sunset Drive.

Which (I know) might be slightly inconvenient to those of you who were already planning on seeing “The Shark is Still Working” at the Los Feliz. But the upside is that the Vista is a much larger venue with a huge screen. Which will make for a far better viewing experience for all you JAWS fan. More to the point, the Vista will honor all tickets that have already been purchased for the screening at the Los Feliz.

Mind you, if you’re not going to be in LA tonight but would still like to be able to see “The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of JAWS” sometime soon, this acclaimed documentary is also going to be screened at the DocMiami International Film Festival. Which runs May 27 -30.

For further information on tonight's and/or any upcoming screenings, please click on this click this link to the official “Shark is Still Working” website.

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