Interview with Matt Taylor & Jim Beller

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?
MT: Money.
JB: [Laughs]
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!


Related Content
  • Book Review: “Access All Areas: Stories from a Hard Rock Life” by Scott Ian
  • Reading a Book vs Watching a Movie
  • Interview with Steve Alten
  • Interview with Jim Sharman

    Jim Sharman is best known for directing the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. The film became a midnight screening sensation. 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of “RHPS”. Movie Mikes (and some help from “RHPS” uber-fan Dave Picton) was able to ask Jim a few questions about “RHPS” and reflecting on its success over the years.

    Click here to purchase “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” merchandise

    Mike Gencarelli: The endings of the US and UK cuts of “RHPS” differ in that the UK cut includes the “Super Heroes” sequence and end credits roll over the “Science Fiction Double Feature” reprise. US cut omits “Super Heroes” and credits roll over “The Time Warp.” How did these two versions come to be and what are your feelings about each of them?
    Jim Sharman: The version with Super Heroes is the original ending and the best one. Somewhere – way back when – I guess it was in between the original release and the initial late night screenings – there was some studio tinkering and Super Heroes was deleted, probably through a desire to give it a more conventional movie ending – which is frankly impossible with a film like “RHPS”. The fans eventually complained and the original ending was restored, for which I’m very grateful. I guess there are a few of these older prints still floating around, but the current DVD version is the full original version. The film begins and ends quietly, reflectively, and in darkness – and that’s how it should be.

    Mike Gencarelli: How did you first become aware of the audience participation phenomenon that evolved around “Rocky Horror Picture Show”? Have you ever attended a screening of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in which the audience participation occurred? If so, what did you think of it?
    Jim Sharman: After the initial release, I’d returned to Australia – which is where I mostly live and work – and I heard about it on the “Rocky Horror” grapevine. Soon after, I was visiting New York and just dropped by the Waverly Cinema to check it out. It was in the early days of dress-ups and audience-participation and there was great enthusiasm and a sense of anarchic fun in the air – so I really enjoyed it. My strongest memory was that a film which had begun as a celebration of late-night movies had somehow fulfilled its own destiny and entered it’s own mythology. It had become a late-night movie that was being celebrated late-night and I thought that was pretty cool. We had played the original stage show in derelict cinemas and turned them into theatres, and now the film was turning cinemas into theatres – complete with costumes, make-up and audience participation. The fact that the film had become wallpaper for a non-stop party didn’t bother me at all – I thought it was great that the movie was generating so much energy and pleasure. As with most things related to Rocky Horror, there was no sense of what was ahead – for instance, that we’d still be talking about today. Rocky Horror has a life of it’s own – it set out to confound and subvert convention and it’s amazing to think that it’s still doing that, 35 years on.

    Mike Gencarelli: What’s your best memory from making “Rocky Horror Picture Show”? Worst memory?
    Jim Sharman: It was long ago and far away, so the best and worst tend to blur a little. When Lou Adler and Michael White, the original producers, first invited me to direct the film, they gave me two options. One was a regular movie musical budget and schedule, with the proviso that I cast some established stars – current rock stars, movie stars, whatever; and the other was an essentially B picture budget and a short 6 week schedule, if I stayed with key members of the original cast and creative team. Rocky Horror had flouted conventional wisdom from the get-go and the B picture route seemed truer to its spirit. That spirit was something I wanted to keep alive in the film – more spirit than polish was both the aim and the outcome. There was also a strong sense of camaraderie and like-mindedness amongst the original creative team, so I chose option B and that pretty much governed everything that followed – it created the best and the worst. I’m still grateful that Lou and Michael understood this, and went with it. Maybe that was the best moment? If I’d gone the other path, I don’t think we’d still be talking about Rocky Horror today. You only have to think of all those long vanished films featuring rock stars of the era. The Rocky Horror team had one thing in common, we’d all grown up on late night movies and this had the potential to be the ultimate thank-you note to that tradition. This genuine affection for late-night movies informed every aspect of the filming. The schedule was so tight that the film was mostly edited in the camera and our decision to film it at the old Hammer Horror Studios – which was affordable, but semi-derelict at the time – gave us dire working conditions. I remember everyone freezing in mid-winter and, as we mostly shot in sequence, when we finally got to the underwater filming for “Don’t dream it, be it”, I resorted to encouraging excess by pointing out that the wilder it was, the sooner it would be over! It may look dreamy onscreen, but my only recollection is of chattering teeth and everyone stamping their feet to keep warm while shivering in their underwear. For me, the best was the consistent camaraderie and the fact that everyone understood the spirit of the piece and entered into it fully, which meant a minimum of re-takes. The original cast and creatives brought this with them and it was contagious, so those new to the craziness quickly got on-board. I remember a studio visit from Fox studio execs, who were very pleasant but completely baffled by what was going on. They had no frame of reference for this film and the result was they decided to leave us alone and there was no interference. That was probably the best thing that happened, because the finished film is exactly the one we intended to make – spirit intact.

    MG: To what extent do you credit the extended “Rocky Horror Picture Show” scene in the 1980 film “Fame” with “Rocky Horror Picture Show’s” success?
    JS: Just as “RHPS” specifically references umpteen late-night classics, there have now been heaps of references to “RHPS” in other movies. I guess, by now, it’s a classic in its own right. The sequence in Alan Parker’s film was, I think, the first. It was very affectionate and suggested that even during the early tentative days of its resurrected life as a late-night movie, there were some film-makers who understood the phenomena and, as it were – got it. From memory, the sequence in Fame features an otherworldly Richard O’Brien and I remember Richard being touched by the context – it emerges from the dream-life of a lonely isolated teenager, if I remember right – which was pretty much on the money. I’m sure it helped, but as to how much? It’s hard for me to quantify, but it was certainly appreciated at the time.

    MG: How do you feel that “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is celebrating its 35th anniversary and shows no signs of slowing down in popularity?
    JS: As I said before, it has a life of it’s own. I’m sure it will continue, though the party might shift from the cinema to the living room, via DVD, or to somewhere in cyberspace. There are various theories as to why, but best to leave it to its own mythology and simply enjoy it. For what it’s worth, Rocky Horror does play with myth and I was always conscious of directing a dark fairy tale – Hansel and Gretel with sex and rock n’ roll, as it were. Fairy tales are the means by which kids first come to terms with the difficult things in life – fear, sex, death, transience, etc. Fairy tales deal with heavy issues in a light engaging way. Given that the audience for the film tend to be young people stepping into adulthood and confronting some of these complexities, maybe it serves as a useful rite of passage. Far be it for me to suggest that Rocky Horror could have some redeeming and magical transformative value – let’s face it, for most people it’s just a good excuse for a party – but there could be something more at play here.

    MG: Can you reflect for me about “Shock Treatment”, why do you think it didn’t take off like “Rocky Horror Picture Show?
    JS: As ever, there are many reasons. “Rocky Horror” grew from a tiny stage show into a film with a simpatico cast and creative team and the chance to refine it in front of a live audience. Movie musicals are a notoriously hard genre to crack and “Shock Treatment” was not only served up cold, but it was created in circumstances that took it from something conceived in a realistic context – we were originally going to shoot it on location in Austin, Texas – to an artificial studio film. As such, it was one of the first films to predict a world where we’d all end up as fame-whores and serfs to an out-of-control totalitarian media. There have been others since, and better ones – “To Die For” and “The Truman Show” are two good examples. Both “Rocky Horror” and “Shock Treatment”, which are otherwise unrelated, have an anarchic cartoon surface, but – whereas “Rocky Horror” is hot, “Shock Treatment” is cold. The martini without the olive, so to speak. As you might gather from my other responses, there’s always something subversive going on under the surface in these seemingly slight films. For me, strange as it may seem, what underscored “Shock Treatment” was a kind of cartoon response to the Jonestown Massacre – a famous incident where an out-of-control religious sect mass-suicided on poisoned kool-aid. Shock Treatment wasn’t well received on release and, unlike “Rocky Horror”, has never bounced back. I’ve only read one review that was onto it, from an English critic, Raymond Durgnat, who compared it to the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill opera – “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” – a work that has also eluded general popularity, having been overshadowed by their more popular “The Threepenny Opera”. I don’t think “Shock Treatment” is in the same league as “Mahagonny”, but the late Mr Durgnat was onto something.

    MG: Do you think “Rocky Horror Picture Show” will ever be remade and what are your feelings about it?
    JS: I’m sure it will happen and is maybe awaiting the right time and chemistry of people and, maybe, a little courage. I think that to replicate the original is impossible, because it was the product of a special moment in time and an extraordinary combination of personalities. However, using the same template, maybe even the same screenplay, it would be possible to approach Rocky Horror from a completely fresh and different angle. That’s where courage comes into it. I keep seeing stage versions of Rocky Horror announced as the NEW Rocky Horror Show but, when I finally saw one, it looked pretty familiar to me. A successful movie remake would require someone, or a highly creative team, with the courage and imagination to say goodbye to the familiar Rocky Horror frippery and completely re-invent it for a new era. I hope it one day happens and, if and when, I look forward to seeing it.

    Click here to visit Jim’s website

    Click here to purchase “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” merchandise