Sub-editing 101: Jaws

Though the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s epic Jaws was written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb – built on the bones of Benchley’s pulp thriller and fleshed out by Gottlieb’s great ear for dialogue – the standout speech in the film – and one of the best in movie history – was ‘written’ by Howard Sackler, John Milius, and Robert Shaw.

Sackler invented the idea of Quint having a personal vendetta against sharks by placing him in the middle of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945. The speech comes at a crucial moment in the film, during a lull in shark-hunting when all three men, Quint, Hooper and Brody, are bonding over beers and scar-stories. It’s a catch-yer-breath few minutes for an audience suffering from white knuckles and chest pains from the heightened tension. You can’t take your eyes off of Quint as he tells the others how his character was born in the warm water east of the Philippines.

So, Sackler conceived of the speech, but it was lengthened by Milius – who knew how to write dialogue for alpha males, since he worked on the Dirty Harry movies and was Oscar nominated for Apocalypse Now – and then it was polished by Shaw. Apparently, Shaw tried to deliver the speech while drunk, but in the final version he’s as sober as a judge.

Full speech – 463 words

Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin’ back, from the island of Tinian to Laytee, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. quintDidn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know… was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh huh. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it’s… kinda like ol’ squares in battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’ chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well… he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He’s a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

300 words

Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side. Just delivered the Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water? By lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know… was our mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. The idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and he’d start poundin’, hollerin’ and screamin’. Sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. Then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and they all come in and rip you to pieces. By the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! Noon the fifth day a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he saw us. He’s a young pilot, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

200 words

Japanese sub slammed two torpedoes into us. Just delivered the Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Didn’t see the first shark for half an hour. Our mission had been so secret no distress signal had been sent. Very first light, the sharks come cruisin’. quint-speech1So we formed ourselves into tight groups. The shark comes to the nearest man and he’d start poundin’, hollerin’ and screamin’. Sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t. A shark’s got…black eyes, like a doll’s eye. Doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. Then you hear that terrible screamin’, the ocean turns red and they rip you to pieces. By the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! Don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! Noon the fifth day a Lockheed Ventura saw us. Three hours later a PBY starts to pick us up. That was when I was most frightened. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. Eleven hundred men went in the water, 316 men come out, sharks took the rest, June 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

100 words

Sub slammed two torpedoes into us. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Didn’t see the first shark for half an hour. No signal was sent. The sharks come cruisin’, so we formed tight groups. The nearest man’d start poundin’, hollerin’. Sometimes the shark would go away. A shark doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya. Then you hear screamin’ and the ocean turns red. Noon the fifth day a PBY starts to pick us up. That was when I was most frightened. Eleven hundred men went in, 316 men come out, June 29, 1945.

50 words

Sub slammed torpedoes into us. Sharks come cruisin’. We formed groups. Sometimes sharks would go away. Then you hear screamin’ and ocean turns red. Noon the fifth day, PBY picks us up. That was when I was most frightened. 1,100 men went in, 316 came out, June 29, 1945.

Tweet

Sub torpedoed us. Sharks came cruisin’ and ocean turned red. On fifth day, PBY picks us up. 1,100 men went in, 316 came out, June 29, 1945.

1 word

Sharks.

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One comment

  1. […] large box for two fans of Spielberg’s shark film, as we’ve seen it now on TV, VHS, DVD, blogged about it and read the coffee-table book. (Also, I own a picture showing the three main leads looking […]

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