It took multiple, continual drafts for Spielberg to arrive at a screenplay that satisfied him. Carl Gottlieb, who was hired first to act in the film but then later was asked to work on the script, in an interview for The Writers Guild Foundation, explains Spielberg wasn’t satisfied with the original Jaws script, the first draft of which was written by the novel’s author Peter Benchley(05.24). The hectic and complicated writing of the Jaws script is well known and well documented. In an article for Final Draft, screenwriter Edwin Cannistraci explains that Spielberg sought an upbeat, crowd-pleasing story. In the screen adaptation, Spielberg wanted to emphasize the relationship among the three men and capture the sense of camaraderie as they headed out to sea aboard the Orca. The second draft of the screenplay, written by the uncredited Howard Sackler, moved the overall storyline in the desired direction and also provided more dramatic weight to Brody’s fear of the water and developed Quint’s backstory in the form of his survival of the USS Indianapolis disaster (4). The emphasis on the three men heading to sea creates a focused, action-oriented narrative line, while Brody’s fear of the water represents the past and provides opportunity for externalized internal conflict. Still though, the script was not yet ready.
Carl Gottlieb, already cast as Harry Meadows, was the next writer to have a go at the work-in-progress. According to Cannistraci, Gottlieb added humor and humanity. His background as a sitcom writer, working on shows such as The Bob Newhart Show and The Odd Couple, provided him with the skills necessary to contribute light-hearted touches that added life and levity to the relationship among the three men. “Most impressively, Gottlieb did most of the rewrite during a nine-week period of principle photography. He was on set every day and would literally rewrite a scene the night before they shot it. His contributions were so significant, he [was] cited as the script’s primary writer and the only one to share official writing credit with Benchley.” Additionally, it is noted that the personalities and talents of the three leads contributed to the script. For example, Scheider’s fan-favorite ad-lib line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” (1-11). All of this is to say the Jaws screenplay was a collaboration, not the creation of one single visionary. This is notable because it is impossible to determine if the result came as a consequence of Spielberg’s creative genius, the skills of the contributing writers, or just plain luck of circumstance. Add in the tight filming schedule and the fact that rewrites were being done daily, it is likely a combination of all factors.