‘Jaws’ Director Steven Spielberg Had a Harder Time Keeping Extras on Set Than Battling the Shark

Jaws director Steven Spielberg notoriously battled the flailing mechanical shark during the film, but a behind-the-scenes book revealed that the failing shark was not his biggest hassle.

The film was filled with extras. Mainly people who lived on the tony island of Martha’s Vineyard where the movie was shot. Many of the extras were thrilled to take part in what became a historic, groundbreaking horror film. But, quite a few weren’t as enthusiastic about showing up day after day for only $2.50 an hour.

Steven Spielberg had to re-shoot ‘Jaws’ due to missing extras

In fact, quite a few people would show up for a scene one day. But then they would not return for additional shots. “Except for the thrill of maybe catching a glimpse of themselves on the big screen, there wasn’t a whole lot of incentive for people over eighteen to keep hanging around in the cold all day, even at $2.50 an hour,” extra Andy Fligor shared in the book, “Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard,” Martha’s Vineyard Magazine shared.

'Jaws' stars Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss on the set
Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss on the set of Jaws, 1975. | Photo by Universal Pictures/Getty Images

“One day, an unassuming couple were placed about thirty feet from where [Steven] Spielberg was directing, close to the water,” Fligor continued. “When we came back the next day, the assistant directors announced, ‘Okay, everybody remember your locations.’ When all of the extras had placed themselves, Spielberg looked around, then pointed to a spot on the sand and said, ‘Where’s the couple that sat here?’ That happened quite a bit and was a real problem for continuity. It forced them to roll back further into the scene because they’d have to start the shots all over again.”

The ‘Jaws’ shark wasn’t the biggest problem

Production Designer Joe Alves recalled how at least the crew had some control over how they manipulated the shark. “At least when the mechanical sharks had problems, we could troubleshoot and knew that with just a little more work, [Special Effects Supervisor] Bob [Mattey] could probably fix whatever the problem was,” he recalled.

“But when that bad weather started rolling in over the beach, there wasn’t much anyone could do except to play around with different types of filters and lights to brighten the shots,” Alves said. “Quite often, though, the weather was too gloomy to even do that.”

Some ‘Jaws’ extras wanted to be a star

Missing extras wasn’t the only problem Spielberg faced. Some overzealous extras wanted to be stars. “During one of the panic shots, everyone bolted from the water like they were supposed to except for one woman,” Vineyard resident Will Pfluger recounted. “She was just an extra but stayed in and began posing in all kinds of dramatic positions, waving her arms, screaming, and flailing all around. It was overly dramatic to say the least. Finally, one of the directors spoke into a megaphone and said, ‘Ma’am, that won’t be necessary. Please get out of the water.’ The entire beach was in hysterics.”

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Another issue was the frigid water. Jaws took place during the summer. But it was filmed in early spring, long before it was warm enough to put a toe into the surf. “It was so cold on that beach that the cast and crew were passing around shots of brandy in little paper cups just to warm up,” Julie Flanders shared. “The extras got in on it too. Everybody’s lips were blue and chattering.”