Rumor was, the movie would flop... big. Reports from the set were not good: filming had started without the screenplay being finished, the production was over budget and way over schedule (principal photography was supposed to take 55 days; it took 159), some of Hollywood's bankable actors turned down the project (even the eventually-cast Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss originally said no), and worst of all, the mechanical shark, named "Bruce" after a well-known L.A. attorney, constantly broke down.
The film's young director, whose career hung in the balance, called the shark "the great white turd" years later. Universal Pictures eventually shoved the movie into a release date of June 20, 1975, which was not a good omen considering that studios traditionally released weaker pictures in summer months.
Nonetheless, Jaws changed everything. Universal pulled in unprecedented box office receipts and even built amusement parks based on its films; movie studios quickly began slotting their biggest audience-pleasing films during the summer (they would henceforth refer to them as "tentpole" films); and Steven Spielberg, that young director, began directing a string of films still unmatched in pleasure and profits.
"It was the first real blockbuster. It was the best. It was so scary," said Molly Deckart. "I think I was in third grade when I first saw Jaws at my friend's house. Her family had a VHS copy of Jaws, and it hadn't been on television yet. We were absolutely petrified. We had a pool with a grate over the drain on the bottom, and I was absolutely convinced there was a shark down there."
Deckart knows a thing or two about scary. She's the founder/director of the Idaho Horror Film Festival, heading toward its second year this October. In anticipation of the fright fest, she chose to celebrate the film that changed summer cinema forever—and still holds up as a masterpiece of suspense.
"We're calling It a 'Jaws Float.' Have you ever watched Jaws while floating in a pool? Neither had we but what a cool idea," said Deckart. "We're pretty thrilled about showing it, and it's the film's 40th birthday."
Filmgoers will be able to dangle their toes in the pool of the Boise Racquet and Swim Club Thursday, Aug. 20 while watching one of the scariest summer films in cinema history. Admission is $15 ($20 gets you admission plus a floaty). Alcoholic beverages will be offered and the Idaho Horror Film Festival organizers are limiting the event to 16 years and older.
"We're definitely going to sell this one out. The moment we starting telling people, tickets began going fast," said Deckart, who spends most of her days preparing for this fall's sophomore season of IHFF, which is slotted to screen films Thursday, Oct. 15-Saturday, Oct. 17.
"The horror genre is the common denominator of filmmakers. You name the modern filmmaker and chances are, his or her career included horror. Somehow, horror is the common thread that stitched itself into filmmaking," she added.
If the 2014 debut of IHFF was any barometer, Boise has a taste for horror.
"But quite frankly, the most important part of our festival surviving is to pivot away from the content of the film," Deckart said. "It's less about what the film festival shows, and it's a lot more about sustaining the art form. Unfortunately, Idaho hemorrhages way too much filmmaking talent each year. We have to start forming a framework that supports filmmakers, giving them access to technology, venues to screen their work and a lot more education opportunities.
"Honestly, it's not terribly difficult to convince talented artists to come here for a film festival," she added. "The real challenge for any organizer is to sustain public and private support for this kind of creativity."
Perhaps the best example of that will be IHFF's sponsorship of a two-day workshop from Mark Stolaroff, an L.A.-based film producer and founder of the "No Budget Film School," geared to mentor low-budget, high quality filmmaking. The Boise edition of the No Budget Film School will coincide with the October film festival and Deckart said that if she has her way, the workshop will be free-of-charge during the run of IHFF.
However, the film festival is still about the fright and the fun. Case in point: After the Aug. 20 Jaws Float, festival organizers have their sights set on an outdoor screening of a 1980 Stanley Kubrick classic.
"We're planning to show The Shining inside the grotto outside of Angell's Bar and Grill. It will become this amazing outdoor amphitheater for this amazing horror classic," said Deckart.
For the immediate future, it's all about the Jaws Float.
"Oh, and one more thing: The floaties have to be [transparent]," said Deckart. "Seriously, they do. We don't want anything lurking beneath the water."
The afternoon starts with a forum, where students grades can handle professional cameras and editing equipment, get advice from experts about creating short films, and possibly win scholarships for JUMP classes and programs.
Proceeds from ticket sales go to Bogus Basin ski teams, education and safety groups, including Recreation Unlimited—a program that adapts snow sports for people with physical and developmental disabilities.