June 2005. On the island of Martha’s Vineyard I meet Jim Beller at JAWSFest. As a fellow “Jaws” fan I have been well aware of the man they call Jimmy Jaws for the better part of a decade. But we hadn’t met face to face until that summer. During our conversation Jim tells me an idea he has. A coffee table book consisting of behind the scene photos telling the story of the making of our favorite film. “Good idea,” I say.
June 2007. Back on the Vineyard and moments after I propose to my future wife in a room filled with “Jaws” fans, I am introduced to Matt Taylor, who Jim has told me will be writing the coffee table book.
April 2011. I am as giddy as a school boy as I am given the first look at the new book, “Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard.” Did I mention that I thought it was a good idea?
Over this past 4th of July weekend I had the unique opportunity to shadow book author Matt Taylor and conceptualist Jim Beller on Martha’s Vineyard as they met with film fans and discussed their new project. During some rare down time in their whirlwind schedule, as fans gathered for a screening of the film, they took a few moments to sit down with MovieMikes and talk about the book.
Mike Smith: Why “Jaws?”
Jim Beller: Why not “Jaws?” (laughs)
MS: What is it about that film that, 36 years later, you and I and all of the people standing in line behind us still love it?
JB: I think it’s because it’s a movie that still holds up today and will still hold up 20 or 30 years from now. People will always have that fear of not knowing what’s under them when they’re swimming in the ocean. It’s a movie that has everything: great directing, great acting…editing, score, art direction, great writing…it’s a film that has everything. It’s a comedy, it’s a drama, it’s a horror movie, it’s a thriller. It’s a movie that will go on and on. Like (“Jaws” production designer) Joe Alves says, it’s like “The Wizard of Oz.” Years from now other generations are going to watch it and love it.
MS: Matt, you spent three years traveling across Martha’s Vineyard and discovering stories that even serious “Jaws” fans had not heard. Was it an easy task tracking down people?
Matt Taylor: It was an easy task tracking down the people I knew. Islanders are very set in their ways. They may not do things the same way that off-Islanders would. Often times it was very difficult to lock them down for a time to talk or to show up. They might say “yes” to something then keep you waiting for five months. It was either very easy or extremely difficult.
MS: Did the fact that you yourself are an Islander…you’re family has lived here for 15 generations…did that give you an advantage that another author might not have had?
MT: I think so. I didn’t think Hershel West was even going to answer the door. So I dropped my grandfather’s name and after about 20 seconds I heard him undoing the latch. (NOTE: Mr. West played Quint’s first mate early in the film) It helped that I could drop the name of a family member that they were familiar with. Lynn and Susan Murphy have been friends with various family members from way, way back. Susan told me that as soon as Lynn realized who my relatives were he really opened up. So yes, it definitely worked to my advantage.
MS: Is the book your first writing project?
MT: Actually I’ve written a lot. I’ve had three screenplays read by major studios, though nothing yet has seen the light of day. But the book is the first thing that’s been published.
MS: Jim, what is your rarest “Jaws” item?
JB: I have a “Bruce” tooth. It’s not really rare but it’s up there as far as collectibles go. I really have two very rare items. The first is a standee that stood in theatre lobbies in 1975. For years I had no idea it even existed…I had never seen one. But then I saw a photo of another fans collection and I was like, “what is THAT…where did you get THAT?” (I should note here Jim was talking about MY collection and finally did track down the standee in question). The other item is a hard back copy of the novel, “Jaws,” which spent the summer of 1974 on board the U.S.S. Loreno, which was the name of one of the sea sleds that carried the sharks used by the crew during filming. The crew member that had it would have everyone that came aboard sign it. There are probably close to 75 autographs in it, including Bob Mattey, who created “Bruce.”
MS: Matt, what are you working on now?
MT: I have a film that I have to go back and finish. I shot it in 2007 and was assembling a rough cut when I decided to drop everything and concentrate on the book full tilt. I put it on the back burner but now I’m going to go back and finish it up. It’s a documentary on the history of agriculture on Martha’s Vineyard.
MS: I know that the book was a roller coaster ride for you both, with lots of ups and downs. Now that you’ve climbed that last hill it should be all fun on the way down. What do you hope for next?
JB: For me it’s knowing that I can finally talk with fellow fans about stuff I’ve known for years but couldn’t talk about because of the book. It’s great to finally have this book out…with over 1,000 never-before-seen photos and probably as many unheard stories…that “Jaws” fans will be completely blown away by. It will be great to talk with fellow “Jaws” fans about their favorite new stories. [Laughs] And money.
MS: Any chance you two will collaborate on another project?
JB: We’ve talked about a couple things. There are still many photos…and stories…that the fans haven’t seen or heard.
MT: I had to cut about 50 pages out of the book. Two months before we turned it over to the publisher it was 50 pages longer. I had to trim a lot of it and find a way to rearrange the photos after all of the cuts had been made. There are still completely edited stories and photos that were once part of the book that we didn’t use because we had to get it down to 300 pages. And they were great stories!