“This is a story about making a film on Martha’s Vineyard when technology was crude,” says David Bigelow, producer-director and Jaws researcher. “This story is about the Islanders.”
Following in the footsteps of Spielberg’s 1975 film “Jaws,” Bigelow hopes to enlist as many Islanders as possible to work on the production for his documentary “Making the Monster,” a project chronicling the making of the cult classic.
Bigelow aims to feature the Islanders that worked on the original “Jaws” set and helped bring Amity Island to life, retelling the making of the classic film in a way that’s been little heard or seen before.
With interviews, photos, and archival footage already collected, the remainder of the film’s production will consist mostly of dramatic reenactments with a cast and crew.
Bigelow intends to film here on the Island next year, in the shoulder seasons of 2024.
“There have already been four ‘Jaws’ docs,” said Bigelow. “But none of them have shared the MV perspective; no one has shared stories from locals who worked on the film.”
As for wanting to hire local crew, Bigelow has an open call out for more help from Islanders for the project.
Bigelow took the open request to Facebook, and specifically Islanders Talk, the popular Vineyard locals page. He says the response has been positive so far, and he commends the generosity of Islanders who share his vision. “A lot of people are volunteering help and wanting to be part of the project,” he said. Though his focus is on prepping for next year’s filming, Bigelow still welcomes more behind the scenes photos, archival footage, and stories.
“If you think you have a cool story or photos about the making of Jaws that nobody knows or nobody’s seen,” Bigelow encourages Islanders to reach out to him.
Bigelow aims to have the project ready for the 50th Anniversary of the ‘Jaws’ premier, which is June 20, 2025. He is confident he and his team will be able to deliver the film by the deadline, as he has been working on ‘Making the Monster’ for six years now with the anniversary in mind.
“It gave us a good timeline,” said Bigelow.
According to the filmmaker, the dramatizations of the making of “Jaws” will work to illustrate and complement the stories being told in interviews, and to show the duress the filmmakers experienced during the original shoot. Bigelow also expects to use elements of computer generated 3D animation for recreations.
He said there’s even the possibility of a first shot taking place this fall before year’s end.
“We feel like we don’t need a lot of time, but finding the weather and the time, we’re working around that,” he said, mindful of the challenges of filming on the ocean amidst weather, and the separate obstacles of working around peak summer season on the Vineyard; not to mention the logistics of getting actors, film equipment, and a film crew to the Island.
“We don’t have a lot of footage to shoot, we just have a lot of challenging footage to shoot,” said Bigelow.
The director has also been in communication with the U.S. Coast Guard in regard to proper procedure and safety protocols for filming on the water, something he is prioritizing for the upcoming shoots. With safety being a concern for Bigelow, he said he wants to make sure the crew and actors are extremely safe during the boat scenes, especially with the possibility of many other private vessels on the water. “Coast Guard involvement will be very helpful in making sure we have security for our shoots,” he said.
So far on the seven-year production, Bigelow says they’ve spent in the low six figures, with money coming out of his own pocket and from other contributors who he preferred not to name.
“We’re certainly looking at 7 figures to produce the project,” he said, in anticipation of the final budget. The rest of the project will be supported by grants, fiscal sponsorship, and equity investments. “We’re looking at a couple of financial instruments appropriate for a film of this size and scale,” said Bigelow.
Because the production has been and will remain completely independent of major studio support, Bigelow and his team have the freedom to work around the Hollywood strikes, to operate on a schedule of their choosing, and to retain full rights and creative control. Though Bigelow is open to what could happen with the project in the future, he says he intends to maintain controlling interest of the project.
As a colorist and editor for Boston’s WGBH, Bigelow is familiar with post production work and assembling a coherent story from many disparate parts and pieces, as will be the case in assembling “Making the Monster,” with its variety of source materials. This sets Bigelow up well for his task ahead. With over 10 years of experience at WGBH, Bigelow estimates he helped color grade on over 150 documentaries.
“You get all different camera and lighting conditions, and my job is to wrangle that into one cohesive product,” he said of the work.
It was through WGBH that Bigelow met his collaborator and filmmaking partner on the ‘Making the Monster,’ John Campopiano, archives and rights manager for the PBS program “Frontline.” Campopiano serves as executive producer and archive rights manager for ‘Making the Monster.’
David Bigelow is set to direct and will produce the project alongside Campopiano, with Rick de Gregorio of Duxbury writing on the project. Jim Beller, a world renowned expert on the production of Jaws, has also been closely involved with the project since 2018. Beller has one of the largest collections of the film’s memorabilia today and is a co-creator of the best selling book “JAWS: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard.”
Being a “Jaws” expert himself, Bigelow has amassed little-known stories about the original production. He was an extra in Jaws at age 5, in the first scene, and has been a lifelong fan and aficionado ever since. His connection with the Island has also continued, as Bigelow keeps his boat in Oak Bluffs Harbor and visits regularly from Townsen, MA.
Bigelow expects the film to be “revelatory,” teasing never before heard local stories, like illegal mob activity associated with the set, and more untold tales from the depths of production.
For those who may not know, the filming of Jaws on Martha’s Vineyard was notoriously fraught with challenges. According to Bigelow, Jaws-lore even says that production initially had its eyes set on Nantucket as a filming location, as Peter Benchley, the author of the 1974 book “Jaws” and co-writer of the script, had spent summers on Nantucket and used it as inspiration for the Amity Island in his novel. As fate would have it, the day legendary Hollywood production designer Joe Alves set out to scout Nantucket, the boats were diverted back to Woods Hole due to high winds. But the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard was still running. Not wanting to waste the day, Alves boarded the ferry to the Vineyard, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What made the Vineyard so valuable, according to Bigelow, was the relatively shallow, sandy bottom that extended far from the Island’s shores – perfect for operating the platform shark and giving the illusion of open seas – as well as the small, two-foot tide. After seeing Menasha and Edgartown, Bigelow says the young Spielberg knew this island was his Amity.
When the mechanical shark malfunctioned early on during filming in Edgartown harbor, it threw the crew’s 55-slated day production schedule for a loop and ended up being 189 days. With the shark in the shop for repairs, every scene featuring the film’s antagonist had to be put on hold, or creatively worked around. Everything on land was shot early, pushing beach sequences to the front of production. And though the extras in those beach scenes may look frightened, Bigelow suggests that the chilly May water and air temps were partially responsible for those expressions.
These are just some of the many lesser-known stories audiences can expect to learn in Bigelow’s ‘Making the Monster.’
Since the project’s inception in 2018, Bigelow has conducted about 50 interviews with various people involved in the original production or fandom, from Hollywood crew to Jaws superfans to local hires that are Island fixtures still living on Martha’s Vineyard today, like Eric Ropke, Rene Ben David, and Edgartown Harbor Master Charlie Blair. Blair reportedly operated a crew boat for the majority of the production, often serving as actor Robert Shaw’s water taxi from a house on Chappy to set.
Hollywood interviews in the film showcase the likes of production designer and creator of the shark, Joe Alves, actor-producer who played Hendricks, Jeffrey C. Kramer, screenwriter, author, and actor Carl Gottlieb, special effects professional and chief shark-fixer Cal Acord, the Directors Guild of America trainee who was assigned on the project, Andy Stone, and more.
“Hollywood came to the Vineyard and got in over their heads,” said Bigelow. It was the generosity, spirit, and hardwork of the Islanders that kept them afloat, literally and figuratively, according to Bigelow.
“The island is a character in that film,” said Bigelow. “And the people are part of it.”