"Spielberg took [Peter Benchley’s] framework and grafted onto it genuine human beings and an original American Hero. These were not concepts created through demographic data mining, but were born out of artistic ambition and a respect for the audience. The human beings on display in “Jaws” are incredibly detailed and real. Like the protagonist who proceeded him such as Huck Finn, Natty Bumppo, Ichabod Crane, or Holden Caufield, Chief Brody wears the mantle of the American Hero in a classic, literary sense. He seems to have the common heroic ability to sense that something nasty and dangerous is at hand like Natty Bumppo in Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales“. Like RP MacMurphy, however, Brody faces off against a “system” that makes decisions based on de-humanizing factors such as profit and political power… and some time simply the perpetuation of the system itself. As played by Roy Schneider, Brody is a humble family man who appreciates the subtle joys of getting ripped with your wife and spending a night locked in the bed room. He is also a mythic hero like Jonah or Luke Skywalker trying to run away from their destiny. Like all great American literary heroes, Chief Brody is a reluctant hero just doing his job who can’t quite figure out where he fits in until destiny comes calling embodied by the big river, the big nurse, or a big-ass great white shark."
Chad Nance writes about Jaws and describes it as a cinematic ‘Great American Novel’.
When did it come to Hollywood?
I pitched it to DreamWorks [senior vp production] Jonathan Eirich in October. I met him in a waffle shop in Los Angeles. He said, “Look, I’m going to go in right now and repeat as much of this as I can for Steven Spielberg because I think he’ll love this.” And by the time I landed back in the U.K., I had an amazing phone message saying, “Steven Spielberg would like to talk to you.”
Describe that feeling?
It was the most exhilarating and nerve‑racking experience in my life. Suddenly, his voice is there on the phone: “Matt, I heard you’ve got a great story to tell me. Shoot.” I gave him the pitch, and I talked him through the whole story. I got to the end of it, and he said, “How fast can you write it? Because I’d love to direct it.”
Matt Charman, who has written Spielberg’s forthcoming Cold War thriller, talks about how the job came about.