On a movie scale, if the original 2005 “JawsFEST” was the fan equivalent of “Jaws” then the recent “JawsFEST: The Tribute” was more like “Jaws: The Revenge!”
I took some time off between the end of the Fest and writing this because I wanted to make sure that other fans shared some of my feelings about the event. Some did. Some didn’t. Some were pleased. Some were pissed. Some were downright angry. The quotes that I include in this piece are real. And before I list the Top 5 Reasons “JawsFEST: The Tribute” was not well received I want to point out that this is not an indictment of the people behind the event. They did what they could with what they had. In my opinion (and a majority of those I spoke with) there just weren’t enough hands to go around. There was some fan input (mine included) but a lot of things were either dismissed at the beginning or fell off during the planning stages. The people in charge were nothing but great to deal with, both as a fan and as a member of the media. I was proud to have some of my memorabilia on display and even prouder to host one of the “Location Bus Tours.” That being said, here we go:
- EXPENSIVE! (Part One)
If you’ve ever been to Martha’s Vineyard you know things are just a little bit more expensive than elsewhere. Never is that statement truer than during the month of August, the busiest (and most expensive) time of the season. Like the fictional town of Amity, the island needs summer dollars. The same hotel where I’ve stayed in early June for $145.00 a night was renting for $450.00 a night during the Fest. My wife and I were lucky to have found a nice 1BR studio to rent for the time we were there, averaging $225 a night. A little more than what we were used to but it had a kitchen where we could make breakfast before we headed out for our day. Even still, we spent almost as much on food as our airfare from Kansas City and back cost. Lunch and dinner routinely came to $30-35.00, including tip. And this was for what I would call “simple” food: sandwiches and such. We did have one “nice” meal which came to about $100 with tip but if you can’t splurge on a romantic dinner while overlooking the water on Martha’s Vineyard when can you?
- EXPENSIVE (Part Two)
From the $295.00 VIP bracelets to the $20.00 programs, it seemed that every time you turned around you were opening your wallet. Let me be up front here and inform the reader that because of my assistance with the Fest, the fact that I was also there as a member of the media and that I had actually won a free general admission for winning a contest describing my best original 2005 “JawsFest” memory, neither myself or my wife had to pay for our bracelets. Those that did were disappointed to find that not everyone was checking them. “I feel so bad for people who paid for the gold bracelets,” said one fan. “People with red bracelets got into things meant for gold bracelets, people with no bracelets got into things meant for people with bracelets period. Things were sold at outrageous prices and then just handed out for free on the same day. I’m pretty sure my $50 red bracelet wasn’t worth the free keychain (that wasn’t even like…given to us… we had to go find them) and the foam fin hat that Discovery channel pushed at us.” Said another, “gold bracelets basically got nothing for their money. I had an absolutely amazing time but it had nothing to do with “JawsFest.” If anything, it was in spite of it. The screening was a disaster. I can’t imagine people that paid $75 for the kayak to the movie + gold bracelet and they had to leave because the movie was bounced. Just seems like everything was very disorganized and very poorly laid out. You want to say ‘Well it was a labor of love, they did what they could.’ Then you realize people were dropping hundreds of dollars on bracelets and then the sympathy goes out the window. It’s not hard. Clearly define what you get for the bracelets and then make sure people get it. One worker said gold (bracelets) got free bags. Other worker said they didn’t but got a special bag. A third worker said the special bags were for special bracelets above gold. No one had a clue what you got and the answer was really nothing. Red bracelets got a free key chain bottle opener that can’t open bottles. That’s it. $50 for a $1 key chain? You could say they got to see the movie in the park but IT WAS IN THE PARK and I was sitting next to people without bracelets.”
In my opinion, the Fest was a cash grab. Autographs were $20.00 each. They were free at the 2005 JawsFEST. Having done many celebrity events in my lifetime I’ve always tried to include the guests signing fee in their appearance fee. Maybe limit autographs to (2) per person per guest so as not to take advantage. I have no problem with the celebrity guests charging for their autographs. For some of them that is how they make their living and I certainly don’t fault them. For a brief time they were charging $10.00 for admission to the memorabilia display, even though it was advertised as free. . One woman told me, “the red bracelet got me nothing but $50.00 lighter…it almost seemed like it cost money to breathe the air!” One of the main problems I saw was that “JawsFEST: The Tribute” was NOT sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce as 2005’s event was. It was put on by a private promotional company and the goal in putting on an event is to make money.
One of the questions I’ve been asked constantly is “where did the money go?” I really don’t know. I know that money put in the donation cans is earmarked for the SHARK SAVERS organization and that money will continue to be raised into September. I’ve sent out a couple of emails but haven’t heard if any of the proceeds from the sale of bracelets, T-shirts, etc was going to anything but to offset the cost of the event. Perhaps if there is a profit some of that money will go to SHARK SAVERS.
- WHERE WAS AMITY?
Another complaint registered by many of the fans who had attended the 2005 event was that Edgartown looked exactly like…Edgartown! Unlike the original Fest, the sign on the city hall still read “Edgartown,” there were no welcoming banners (Amity Island Welcomes You) and several of the businesses that still had their “Amity” business signs neglected to hang them.
- THE GUEST LIST
Though a final confirmed guest list was posted on line in early June, several earlier promoted appearances never occurred, including Brenda Scheider (widow of Roy) and Virginia Shaw (widow of Robert) and their children. As I was working on a charity event in Roy Scheider’s memory and had wanted Brenda’s input I was informed that she would not be attending. But even though these family members were originally listed as attending nothing was posted to say they wouldn’t be. In fact, if I hadn’t overheard “The Shark is Still Working” director Erik Hollander speaking with her I never would have known that Mr. Shaw’s sister, Joanna, was in attendance. She was included on the V.I.P. list but it was virtually unknown to “Jaws” fans that she was indeed there. One fan had hoped to share a tragic coincidence with Brenda Scheider. Sadly, her father had not only passed away from the same cancer that took Roy Scheider from us all too early, he had been under the care of the same physician and passed away in the same hospital as Roy had. Tragic, yes, but a tragedy that had touched both of them similarly and one she’d hoped to share.
- THE TRIBUTE?
What happened to “the Tribute” part of “JawsFEST: The Tribute?” Fans were promised a “multi-media tribute to Peter Benchley, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw.” Due to my past relationship and association with Roy Scheider I had asked to be a part of whatever tribute was being prepared for him. My understanding was that “the Tribute” was to be presented prior to the outdoor screening of “Jaws.” The original screening planned for Saturday evening was moved inside the Old Whaling Church due to the threat of rain that evening. It was re-scheduled for Sunday evening at the park in Oaks Bluff. Again, from a fan, “there were two guys playing some weird instruments and a poet laureate from the island read a poem about sharks and Wendy Benchley spoke for two minutes. No “tribute” whatsoever.” Another asked, “(you mean) they couldn’t find some college kid to ‘intern’ and edit together some sort of tribute montage of people who had passed away?” And a final comment on the screening pretty much summed up the event in total: “A large group of obnoxious full grown adult men and women were sitting WITH NO RED BRACELETS AT ALL next to us at the film screening. When they were asked to leave the VIP area by the soccer mom security JawsFest 2012 representative, they basically started yelling at her that (and I quote verbatim) “We ain’t goin’ no place!” So what did the JawsFest 2012 rep do? She GAVE them (for FREE) a handful of red bracelets (that I had to pay $50 each for) and told them to “just flash these if anyone else asks to see your bracelets”. We literally sat there and witnessed this first hand. If that wasn’t a kick in the balls to those of us who played by the rules and trusted that the event planners had this all under control, I don’t know what was. If it matters to anyone, the woman who gave away the red bracelets (that we had to pay $100 for) was walking around the film screening wearing the JAWSFEST 2012 banner over her shoulders like it was James Brown’s cape. She was also the person I heard yell to the angry fans who DID pay to sit in that area that “Hey, I told them (the non-payers) to leave. What more do you want? Call the police if you want to.” This was the level of professionalism our hard-earned dollars got us. It was essentially an “Amateur Night at the Apollo” free-for-all and we (the fans who actually paid) were footing the bill.”
On the positive side, many of us who have been “Jaws” friends for years got to spend time with each other. Old friendships were rekindled and new ones fostered. Which makes sense because Amity, as you know, means friendship. I was able to put a face to so many people I had only known via the computer and I began new friendships that I hope will last forever.
So where do we go from here?
2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of “Jaws.” This gives the powers that be, if they are so inclined, to start planning. One of my friends on the island stated that the original “JawsFest” had “caught lightning in a bottle.” And he was right. Everything fell together perfectly. Maybe it was because the people in charge weren’t planning on a huge turnout. My understanding is that they had hoped 500 fans would show up, not the 3,000 plus who came from literally all over the world. And I mean ALL OVER THE WORLD. I shared a house with fans who had traveled from New Hampshire, California, Kansas, Great Britain and Australia! Many of us have held our own “Fests” since the first “JawsFest.” 50 of us spent a week at Camp Amity for the exciting “NOFest” of 2006.” A Tom (“Smallville”) Welling sighting was one of the highlights of RestFest in 2007.” Even as I write this many fans are already talking about getting together unofficially next year in Amity. Should the island undertake another “Official ‘Jaws’” event, I’m hoping the Chamber of Commerce will not only be involved but will invite some fans to help plan some of the events. And hopefully it will be in June, the month the film originally opened and when the rates are a little more reasonable. It will give us a chance to not only celebrate our favorite film but to celebrate our friendships. Which is really what “JawsFEST” should be about.