Jaws is memorable for so many of its scenes, not least the opening sequence which features the attack on Chrissie, a young woman who has been partying at the beach with friends. Chrissie is so iconic, she features on the universally recognizable Jaws poster. Steven Spielberg took a hands-on approach to this scene, personally pulling the wires that simulated the shark attack.
In the book Steven Spielberg: The First Ten Years, the director explains (via Vanity Fair) how he cast Chrissie in the thriller movie; “I didn’t want an actor to do it. I wanted a stunt person because I needed somebody who was great in the water, who knew water ballet, and knew how to endure what I imagined was going to be a whole lot of violent shaking. So, I went to stunts to find her, and Susan Backlinie was up to the challenge.”
Spielberg explained how they created the impression that Chrissie was been violently dragged by the shark; “[Susan] had a harness on. There were two eye rings in it, and wires that led to two stakes in the beach. Five crew were on one side, and five crew on the other, and they basically pulled Susan.”
Spielberg continued explaining how they made the opening scene of the best shark movie of all time; “There was a ribbon hanging from the wire, and when it got to one of the stakes, they had to stop pulling and the other team took over and pulled the other way. What you didn’t want to have happen was for both teams to pull at the same time. For extra safety, she had the ability to quick release the wire if something went wrong. It had to be perfectly choreographed to give the impression the shark was pulling her violently to the right and then immediately violently to the left.”
Spielberg then added a surprising detail, as a throwaway line, but which definitely deserved some follow-up questions; “I did [the pulling] myself [when the shark first attacks Chrissie], but that was then – I don’t go into the water anymore.” The director doesn’t make it clear if he means he doesn’t go in the water during filming anymore, or if making Jaws has put him off the sea all together.
Given how punishing the Atlantic Ocean was to the Jaws cast, crew, boats, cameras, equipment and most of all – Bruce the mechanical shark – it’s hardly surprising that Spielberg now views it less than favorably.