Despite being set on July Fourth, the horror film Jaws was actually shot in May of 1974, mainly to avoid a looming actor’s strike planned to begin in early July. Filmmakers and actors had to improvise to make the setting on Martha’s Vineyard appear summerlike, despite being constantly submerged in ice-cold water.
‘Jaws’ filmmakers had to wrap before July Fourth for another reason
Filmmakers also needed to pack the shoot into a short time frame, avoiding July Fourth, because the holiday typically marks an extremely busy time on the island. But Spring weather on the Vineyard typically doesn’t mimic hot, steamy July days.
“By the time they began shooting on the beach, the realities of shooting a coastal picture in New England had really started to set in,” Susan Murphy, a local who worked on the film told Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.
“From day one, they really had experienced it all: rain, fog, wind. New England weather is famous for its inconsistencies,” she remarked. “It’s rainy one day, followed by three days of fog, then maybe a little bit of sun. But when you’re spending as much money as Universal was to film a scene that’s supposed to look like a fun, warm, sunny beach, and all you’re getting is clouds and cold wind for weeks on end, you’ve got serious problems.”
“They had no choice but to keep all the extras and crew on the beach each day and pick away at whatever shots they could get because after July 1, thousands of real tourists would be arriving,” she added. “Waiting until September certainly wasn’t going to work because all the kids they needed for the scene would be back in school.”
Some extras from ‘Jaws’ didn’t return because of the cold
The July Fourth scenes were shot in late June, still too cold for the beach. “Each morning began with all the extras being lined up by the cabanas, then being placed at certain locations along the beach,” extra Andy Fligor recounted. “It was remarkable how well they kept track of everybody. But when extras failed to return the next day because of the cold or the really long hours, it was a problem.”
“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,” Fligor added.
‘Jaws’ extras drank brandy to keep warm
The weather was so cold, some extras started drinking brandy to stay warm. “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 remembered. “The extras got in on it too. Everybody’s lips were blue and chattering.”
Another extra remembered the water being extremely chilly. “The scene called for the mayor to finally convince us to go swimming, so the next thing we shot was all of us getting up from our blanket and holding hands as we walk down the beach and into the water,” Lydia Mello recalled. “Because we’re going in, everybody else assumes it must be safe, and so they all rush in with us. We weren’t filming any of the shots of people actually swimming that day – just the five of us wading into the water and the crowd getting up off their blankets behind us. For each take, we’d get about three feet into the water, and they’d yell, ‘Cut!’ Then we’d have to turn around and come back out.”
“That was the hardest part, because it was the first really warm day of the summer, and everybody on the beach wanted to swim for real,” she added. “It was also ironic because on the days they actually needed us to go into the water, it was so cold you could barely stand it.”