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The best scene in Jaws was actually written over the phone, somehow

Jaws has a behind-the-scenes story as utterly fascinating as one of the best movies of all time, including the writing of its most famous and thrilling scene.

Jaws best scene written over the phone

Blockbusters don’t come much bigger than Jaws and there are Jaws scenes embedded deeply into the brains of all movie lovers. It’s not just one of the best movies ever made; it’s among the most influential works of cinema of the 20th century. As fans of the best shark movies, we simply adore Jaws.

Jaws reaches its most powerful moment in the scene known as “The Indianapolis Speech”. Delivered by Robert Shaw as shark hunter Quint, the monologue tells a fictionalized version of the true story of the USS Indianapolis, which was sunk by Japanese torpedoes in 1945 while delivering components for the Hiroshima bomb. Survivors in the water were targeted by sharks.

There is plenty of dispute around the origins of the speech, but Steven Spielberg has one version of the story. And as he’s one of the best directors of all time, his tale has to be worth a listen.

In a behind-the-scenes featurette, Spielberg said playwright Howard Sackler conceived the speech, but it was only two paragraphs long. The director saw potential in the scene and asked one of his writer friends, John Milius, to “take a crack” at it.

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Milius said he “wrote it over the phone” and Spielberg explained that the version he ended up with was a 10-page monologue. The director then said Shaw edited it down on the set, summing it up by saying: “It’s Milius’s words and Shaw’s editing that ended up in the final film.”

Jaws writer, Carl Gottlieb, however has disputed this and claims that it was Shaw who wrote the majority of the speech.  “Somehow, the mythology was that Milius wrote that speech, but there were 10 versions of that speech, including my own. We gave them to Robert Shaw,” Gottlieb told The Writer’s Guild Foundation.

He added: “[Shaw] took it all, synthesized it. And one night while we are all at dinner … he came in with a handful of paper and said: ‘I think I have the pesky speech licked’. And he basically performed it for the table. We all went ‘wow’ and Steven said: ‘That’s what we’re shooting’.”

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It’s not at all clear whose version of the story is true, but the disputed authorship doesn’t make the stunning scene any less powerful. As the critic Mark Kermode is so fond of saying, Jaws is not a film about a shark and the Indianapolis scene brings the themes around masculinity to a head… just in time for a shark to show up and smash the boat to pieces.

If you want to know more about the fascinating making of one of the best Steven Spielberg movies, find out about the Jaws scene so gory Spielberg refused to include it and why Spielberg thinks Jaws is a secret sequel to this underrated movie.