How Steven Spielberg Got Creative With 'Jaws'
Steven Spielberg started Jaws by trying to instill fear in the audience visually, but instead created the horror with anticipation.
Steven Spielberg sat in Boston's Logan Airport with his hat pulled below his eyes.
It was 1975, and he had made just one little-known movie to this point. As he waited near the gate before his return flight to Los Angeles, Spielberg pondered the events of the last few months. He had just finished directing Jaws, a film about a shark that was $5 million over budget.
Jaws was littered with problems from the onset. The cast and crew never got along, the script was written on the fly, and the scenes on the water were proving difficult to shoot.
Spielberg was most concerned by the film's mechanical shark. It simply didn’t look real, and this lack of authenticity made him feel his movie would become a laughingstock around Hollywood.
“We started the film without a script, without a cast, and without a shark,” star Richard Dreyfuss would later say.
But during the six-hour flight home, Spielberg had an idea. He would limit the shark's actual appearance on screen, giving viewers just a hint of the dangerous beast, while implying its presence with ominous music in the background. Less time on-screen but with a daunting tune could still terrify the audience with anticipation.
Spielberg's idea proved to be a winner. Jaws opened in 409 theaters and made over $7 million in its first week. The movie became the hit of the summer and went on to gross $475 million, over 50 times what Spielberg poured into it.
As leaders, what can we learn from this saga, besides staying out of the water when sharks are near?
Spielberg started Jaws by trying to instill fear in the audience visually, but instead, the horror was created with anticipation. It's the same logic Steve Jobs used when selling Apple products. Jobs was not selling products, he was selling dreams. Spielberg pivoted from selling fear to selling anticipation.
Each day we lead, we have an opportunity to sell something, to engage our followers with the right messaging to enhance their performance. But we cannot keep selling the same thing over and over or else we run the risk of losing their attention. We must think like Spielberg and Jobs, to create different paths for our communication.
Regardless of how far away we drift with our message, we must then re-focus on how the idea can make us all better. That's how we create thought with our team members, then inspiration, and finally, enthusiasm for the work.
We all should spend more time thinking of different ways to deliver the same message. One minor change can create a major blockbuster.