Book Review: ‘Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece’ by Jason Bailey

PulpFictionPulp Fiction hit me like a sucker punch when I sat down for my first viewing back in 1994. Up to that point my cinematic tastes were fairly mainstream, with a heavy lean towards big budget Hollywood fare. I still love that kind of stuff, by the way, and won’t apologize for it; but, back then, I wasn’t a very adventurous moviegoer. If it tells you anything, the main reason I wanted to see Pulp Fiction was because Bruce Willis was in it.

By the time Quentin Tarantino’s movie was over, my taste in movies had transformed. I was stunned, excited, and curious. What the hell had I just seen? Were there other movies out there like this one?

In the 20 (!) years since that first viewing, I’ve watched Pulp Fiction too many times to count, and I’ve quoted Pulp Fiction too many times to count. I’ve anticipated – and, so far, enjoyed – each of Tarantino’s subsequent releases. And I’ve read everything I could get my hands on regarding the director’s work (and on Pulp Fiction in particular).  In Jason Bailey’s Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece I think we have – short of a making-of book penned by Tarantino himself – the definitive word on this highly influential film.

Bailey wraps a serious, thoughtful examination of the movie in a brightly colored, beautifully designed package. Don’t let any of those phrases fool you – this is neither a dry, academic paper nor is it a picture-laden puff piece. Bailey covers all the bases: essays that delve deeply into the movie’s characters, themes and influences; chapters on writing the film, casting it, and the nuts-and-bolts of shooting it; and sidebars on the minutiae that fans love, like a chart listing the events of the movie in chronological order, a look at the recurring use of diners and cafes in Tarantino’s movies, and charts of the many homages and cinematic references in the movie. Also – and this is one of my favorite things about the book – Bailey peppers the book with artwork inspired by the film.

Like the movie it covers, Bailey’s book has a ton of layers, and repeat visits will be rewarded. I don’t typically read books like this straight through, but I couldn’t put this one down until I’d read every article and pored over every picture. It’s available right now, and I can’t put a high enough recommendation on it.

Oh, and here – just for fun – is what Pulp Fiction would look like as an old video game. If only it were real….

‘Terminator Vault’ to take us back 30 (!) years to the making of a sci-fi/horror masterpiece…and its sequel

“It absolutely will not stop. Ever.” – Kyle Reese, The Terminator

terminator-vault-bookSo, next year, The Terminator turns 30. Just let that wash over you. It’s been three decades since Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron cemented their geek cred with this mind-bending, time-bending little movie. So naturally, when a big anniversary of a genre touchstone like this approaches, you can expect to see all kinds of goodies appear to capitalize on it. The first piece in what I expect will be a major wave of merchandising next year arrives a little early – October 15, to be exact – in the form of a new behind-the-scenes book, Terminator Vault.

As Kyle Reese predicted way back in the first movie, the Terminator franchise seems unstoppable. Cameron and Ah-nuld reunited in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and although I think most of us would have been fine if things stopped there, others have attempted to take up the reins with a couple of so-so sequels and a television series. To this day, rumors persist that a new film is happening and that Schwarzenegger will be involved in some way. While fans debate whether or not that’s a good thing, most agree that the first two movies are sci-fi/horror masterpieces.

(And yes, they lean heavily toward sci-fi, but try telling my 12-year-old self, who levitated out of his seat when the Terminator’s exoskeleton shoved his way out of the burning wreckage of a truck cab in the first movie, that they’re not horror, too. He refuses to believe you.)

Terminator Vault appears to be focused solely on the making of the first two movies, promising the kind of in-depth look and reproduction of materials (concept sketches, script pages, and the like) and interviews with insiders that have become staples of these kinds of releases. Author Ian Nathan, who also wrote Alien Vault and is an executive editor at Empire film magazine, should have plenty to work with when it comes to these movies, as the majority of the principal players are still around and involved with the industry.

Good things just keep stacking up in October, don’t they?

New book showcases artful side of ‘Prometheus’

In the weeks since its release, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus has established a reputation as perhaps the most divisive film in the ALIEN franchise. Most fans agree that the original film and its immediate sequel, ALIENS, are classics of the horror/scifi/action genres; most fans also agree that ALIEN 3 and ALIEN: Resurrection are deeply flawed as follow-ups. Prometheus, the “indirect prequel” to the aforementioned films, has fans championing its ambitious ideas and epic scale, and detractors troubled by some questionable characterization and gaping plot holes.

One thing it seems that everyone can agree on, however, is that Prometheus is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. Prometheus: The Art of the Film, a lavishly illustrated new book from author Mark Salisbury and Titan Books, is all the confirmation for this opinion that anyone will ever need.

The book gathers a wealth of visual material – everything from rough sketches to schematics to conceptual art to full paintings and behind-the-scenes photographs – augmented by contributions from Salisbury, Scott and Arthur Max, the film’s production designer. We learn about Scott’s desire to use primarily practical effects (hallelujah!) enhanced by only the most judicious use of CGI. We get to see the gigantic sets and creature suits used to bring Scott’s ideas to stunning life. And we get to see the evolution of those ideas as the design team brings together elements as diverse as ancient architecture, Nazi-era gold smuggling devices and Russian and American spacesuits to form a singular vision for the film.

H.R. Giger’s works is of course one of the most recognizable and revered elements of the ALIEN franchise, and this book demonstrates how careful Scott was to retain Giger’s signature flavor while forging beyond it. We can also see where other elements from the previous films – details like the crew’s sleep chambers and the ship’s octagonal hallways – have been translated in this new entry.

Love it, hate it, or hover somewhere in between, you can’t deny that Prometheus is a labor of love from one of our most exciting visionary filmmakers. The Art of the Film is a fascinating peek behind the curtain, a book filled with frame-worthy pages that are the best kind of eye candy for genre film fans.

Expanded ‘Crystal Lake Memories’ ready to stalk ‘n slash your e-reader

I snagged a copy of Peter Bracke’s massive hardcover retrospective Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th when it came out in 2005, and I still don’t think I’ve read it all. Not that it’s not compelling material; it’s probably one of the best making-of/retrospectives I’ve ever come across, and from a franchise I have a deep affinity for to boot. There’s just SO MUCH STUFF in there. Plus, I like to read the sections on the individual films in conjunction with watching the movie itself, so there are some sections I’ve been through a couple of times (The Final Chapter) and some I haven’t touched yet (Jason Takes Manhattan).

Now, thanks to Dread Central and a host of other sites, I understand that there’s a new version – an EXPANDED electronic version – on the horizon. And it’s coming out next week, appropriately enough, on Friday, April 13.

For this edition, Bracke is adding in stuff that had to be cut from the hardcover release, as well as material from new interviews he’s conducted in the years since the book’s initial release. The press release linked above doesn’t give specifics as to who these new interviews are with, but it does promise (in perfect exploitation move fashion) “key Friday the 13th alumni…many who break their silence for the first time!” (Exclamation point mine.) Also things like “Bigger and bloodier than ever…!” (Exclamation point, again, is mine.)

Cool. I’m sold. I’m going to miss out on some of the new stuff, though, because my Kindle Touch isn’t going to support the Enhanced Edition, which will include more stills, video, and interactive elements, but that’s okay. The new interviews and other material, plus the portability of it (Crystal Lake Memories is a BIG book) are attractive enough. With the plethora of good-to-great making-of books being released these days, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities, and I’m sort of proud that one of our humble little slasher film franchises is leading the way.

You can find more information about the new electronic versions of Crystal Lake Memories on this Facebook page. I’ve yet to see prices, but hopefully with the release date so close that will be available soon.

‘Halloween’ series subject of upcoming behind-the-scenes book

Behind-the-scenes books have become all the rage these days, and I for one am glad. I love digging into books like The Hammer Vault and Crystal Lake Memories that are stacked cover-to-cover with photos, memorabilia reproductions, script pages, and interviews with everybody from major stars to the guy who ran catering on the sixth film in the series. The Alien series got the treatment last year, and the making-of books on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and the Indiana Jones movies are must-owns.

Now another iconic genre series is getting the coffee table treatment: in October of 2013, Trancas International Films is set to release Halloween: The Complete Authorized History by Justin Beahm.

According to the press release circulating throughout the Internet, Beahm’s book will begin with John Carpenter’s historic first film and run all the way through the good and the bad that followed, including Rob Zombie’s two takes on the Michael Myers mythos and the upcoming (if it happens) Halloween 3D. Following the example of the titles listed above, the book will be packed with photos, interviews, magazine articles and other ephemera devoted to the Halloween franchise. With ten movies in the can and another one potentially on the way, there should be plenty of fodder for Beahm to work with.

Beahm is a Fangoria editor and a writer for Famous Monsters of Filmland, so he should possess both the writing chops and the fan cred to make this something special. Considering that Carpenter’s original film is my favorite horror movie, and that I can find something to love in just about all of the others (except maybe for the one with Busta Rhymes – that one’s just inexcusable), I’m very excited for this book. I understand waiting until the 2013 date to tie in with the original’s 35th (!) anniversary, but I wish I could get my hands on this one, like, now.

While we wait, consider this: what other film series would you like to see get a book (or books) like this devoted to it? I’m thinking a giant book on the Nightmare on Elm Street series could be something special. Let us know what you’d like to see in the comments below.

Review: ‘The Art of Hammer’ by Marcus Hearn

Movie posters ain’t what they used to be.

At one time movie posters were art in and of themselves, a major selling point for the films they advertised. For many movies the poster was the only advertisement they got, so it had to be good. And, in many instances, the poster turned out to be better than the movie, promising things that the filmmakers couldn’t possibly match on the strength of their miniscule budgets (or, perhaps, their miniscule talents).

Those days are long gone. Movie posters are often an afterthought, a throwaway piece of paper that falls way below the trailer and the website and the viral videos and the interactive online games that studios employ now to get the word out. From a practical standpoint, I get it; marketing dollars are at a premium, and the studios have to go where they’re going to get maximum impact for the money spent, and a poster just isn’t it. For most, a poster is the thing they pass on the way into the theater – they’re already sold on the movie, so there’s no point in putting too much effort into the poster. Just Photoshop the stars’ heads onto a generic background, make sure everything’s spelled right, and move along.

Books like The Art of Hammer demonstrate why this is such a shame. The posters in this book are a huge part of the Hammer mystique, the particular flavor and identity the studio was able to cultivate over the years.  Horror movies dominate, of course, but Hammer also made comedies and crime thrillers and war pictures and science fiction movies, and the posters for all of these genres are umistakable in their Hammer-ness.

Hearn gives these posters plenty of room to shine on their own, showcasing them in big, beautiful reproductions while chiming in here and there with interesting tidbits on the artists, the back stories of the chosen art and the variations for different markets. The oversized format and glossy paper help sell that this is a true art book, and it’s doubtful (tempting as it may be) that anyone will be ripping these pages out to tape them to the wall. It may, however, send you scrambling to the Internet to try and track some of these down, so buyer beware.

Between this, The Hammer Story (written with Alan Barnes), Hammer Glamour and the upcoming The Hammer Vault, Hearn (who is the official Hammer historian, an awesome job if there ever was one) continues to share and preserve the wonderful history of this amazing studio. We owe him a debt of gratitude, as well as all the talented artists who gave us such striking and iconic images to enjoy.

Dark Score Stories offers more clues on ‘Bag of Bones’ adaptation

I want to be wrong. I really, really do.

Mick Garris has wrapped up his adaptation of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, which will air in just a little over a month on A&E. I should be excited about this, because Bag of Bones is my favorite King book. Unfortunately, Garris is my least favorite director of King adaptations. I like some things about his version of The Stand, and I liked his approach to The Shining, but there was a good bit more there that I didn’t enjoy. And Sleepwalkers? Riding the Bullet? Desperation? “Ugh” all around.

I know it sounds harsh, and I’ve been rebuked about my opinion on this before because, by all accounts, Garris is a very nice person. I’m sure he is, and I mean nothing personal at all toward him. It’s just that King is my favorite writer, and so I’m a little more critical in my opinions of what’s done with his work. To be fair, I’ll say that Garris did not make the worst Stephen King movie ever – that honor goes to King himself for Maximum Overdrive.

But I digress…when I heard an adaptation of Bones was in the works, I was happy. Then I heard it was Garris, and not so much. However, given that he had two nights on cable TV to work with, I was – and continue to be – willing to be open-minded. And I’ve got to say, the bits and pieces that have leaked out from the show so far have only strengthened my optimism.

I’m not one of those that has to have a letter-perfect recreation of the source material to be happy. I can tell from the photos and such that we’ve seen so far that there are some differences from book to screen, and that’s fine – it has to be done, sometimes, to make an adaptation work. All I want is for the spirit and tone of what King pulled off in the novel to make it to the screen. I don’t have to feel like I’ve read the book again after seeing the movie, I just want to feel like I’ve experienced the book again.

So far, it’s looking good. Photos, trailers, the little behind-the-scenes video that’s been circulated – everything seems to be hitting the right tone. Today, though, brought the best indicator so far of the work and dedication that’s gone into this project – a website called Dark Score Stories.

I haven’t delved into the whole thing yet, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Basically, Dark Score Stories purports to be a photo essay about Dark Score Lake, the locale in which Bag of Bones is set. The “photojournalist” (I’ve yet to locate a name on the site) is exhibiting portraits of several Dark Score residents, most of whom will be familiar to anyone who has read Bones. There’s also a brief written essay on each subject, as well as audio commentary that I haven’t made my way through yet.

But the photos themselves give several clues as to how Garris is approaching the story, and again – my optimism grows. There are characters both familiar (Buddy Jellison, Mattie and Lance and Kyra Devore, Jo Noonan) and unfamiliar (Edgar Owens, who appears to be our gateway into the story of Sara Tidwell). There are locales like The Village Cafe and Dark Score Lake itself that look spot-on. And stuffed into practically every photograph are callbacks and Easter eggs to King’s immense body of work. Look closely and you’ll see references to characters, products, phrases and places harkening all the way back to King’s debut novel Carrie. It’s an amazing amount of detail, and I hope that it’s more than just some throwaway fun for Garris and the production crew – I hope it’s an indicator of how keen they are on the little things that matter in a big way.

As I said, I don’t expect a rote adaptation here, and it’s clear that’s not what we’re going to get. But Bag of Bones, the novel, is a haunting piece of work that has continued to resonate with me long after I finished it the first time, and I hope to have a similar experience when I tune in this December.

Cemetery Dance, FEARnet join forces

Cemetery Dance and FEARnet formally announced yesterday that they are working together to bolster the horror fiction coverage found on the FEARnet website. FEARnet is, of course, a cable channel devoted to horror, boasting not only a deep slate of original movies and series but the combined libraries of Sony Pictures Television and Lionsgate. I doubt that if you’re a regular reader of October Country that I need to tell you anything about Cemetery Dance, so we’ll just say that they are the preeminent small press publisher of horror fiction and leave it at that. That these two are working together to bring coverage of horror literature to FEARnet’s wide and established audience is a good thing for all parties involved.

And, I’m happy (and proud and humbled) to say, I am actually one of the parties involved. Cemetery Dance’s Brian James Freeman has asked me to join the team of writers (which includes Bev Vincent, Nanci Kalanta of Horror World, Del Howison of Dark Delicacies, Lisa Morton and Kevin Quigley) contributing to the site. I jumped at the chance, and it looks like my first piece will be online sometime next week. What I do there will be similar to what I do here – a mix of reviews, news bits, and interviews. I couldn’t be more excited, and I hope that I can contribute in some small way to the success of this project.

My work there will not slow me down here, though. I’ve got a big batch of stuff planned for October Country over the next couple of months, and hopefully some of the FEARnet folks will come along for the ride. I continue to be amazed at the opportunities I’ve gotten over the past couple of years to add my voice to the conversation in and around the horror genre, and I will work as hard as I can to add something worthwhile.

For those who have become regular readers of this little blog, thanks. For those authors and publishers who have let me interview them for this site or sent me books to review, thanks. It’s because of those opportunites (and the chance to write for places like Horror World and Dark Scribe) that I’ve been invited aboard this new project. I look forward to seeing you at FEARnet, and just know that you’re all welcome here at OC anytime.

Ghouls on Film: King, Keene announce big movie news this week

Typically, I shy away from writing about movies on this blog. I love movies almost as much as I love books, but I wanted to keep the focus of October Country squarely on the written word. Besides, there are many websites that do movie news far more comprehensively than I could ever manage.

Every now and then, though, there’s a bit of news that ties so closely to my work here that I can’t help myself – I have to talk about it. This week, there was more than a bit – it seemed like each day brought a new announcement that I wanted to write about. So I’ve decided to gather those announcements up and do one post on them all, and hopefully open up a discussion on these that we can all enjoy.

First up is the news that the creative team behind much of the Harry Potter series will be working on a big-screen version of Stephen King’s opus The Stand. This seems like a great fit because David Yates (director) and Steve Kloves (screenwriter) have proved that they can take big, complex source material and streamline it for film without watering it down too much. The Stand got the small-screen treatment years ago with a mini-series that had two strikes against it going in: 1) It was directed by Mick Garris*, a largely unimaginative filmmaker who got all the pieces on the screen, but failed to tap into that book’s deep, dark heart; and 2) it was on network television, which resulted in a watered-down version of the story. With proven filmmakers working on a large (hopefully two or three film) canvas, this may bring us a cinematic version of the book that we’ve all been hoping for.

While we were digesting that piece of information something else came along – Variety’s announcement that Jonathan Demme (director of Silence of the Lambs) is on board to direct a film version of King’s upcoming novel 11/22/63, a time-travel tale which sees a modern history teacher take a portal back through time with the intent of stopping the JFK assassination. (Here’s a new trailer from Hodder & Stoughton that’s a good tease for the book.)

We’re still a couple of months away from the book’s publication, and we all know that things have a way of changing rapidly in Hollywood, but I hope this one comes to fruition. If so, we could be in for a high-quality run of King movies the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Misery, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.

Finally, the always-on-top-of-King-news Bev Vincent pointed out this article about a cool King project coming up in October on cable channel TCM. A documentary in which King discusses the classic horror films that influenced him as a writer? If my DVR saw that far ahead, I’d already have it set. I’m also excited to see in that article the news that TCM will be running classic scary movies throughout the month of October, with a full slate of Universal monsters, Val Lewis thrillers and Hammer horrors to lead us into Halloween. 

King wasn’t the only horror author with movie news to share this week. Brian Keene gave fans a rundown on his website of the various works of his that are in different stages of production. Filming is complete on Ghoul, adapted from his novel of the same name (soon to be re-released by Deadite Press, along with most of the rest of Keene’s back catalog), and it will be debuting on the Chiller channel later this year before moving on to DVD/Blu-ray. The most tantalizing bit of news to me is the idea that Drive-In Films, which is Joe R. Lansdale’s production company, has optioned Castaways, Keene’s insanely violent tribute to author Richard Laymon. That’s going to make one hell of a popcorn flick.

So, lots of good stuff to look forward to. Get ready to get your nose out of those books and hit the theaters…in the meantime, what do you think of these announcements? Do you think Demme is a good fit for a King adaptation? Who do you want to see cast in The Stand? Feel free to discuss below!

*Everybody I talk to says Mick Garris is one of the nicest men working in the movie industry today, so it pains me to be so harsh. But it just so happens that he’s done a lot of work with my favorite author, and NONE OF IT has done the original books justice. His version of The Stand was okay, but it needs to be more than okay. I liked the fact that his version of The Shining stuck closer to the book, but again, it was just rote transcription – no visual flair, no real scares, nothing. Sleepwalkers was abysmal. And now – NOW – he’s making a TV version of Bag of Bones, which just so happens to be one of my favorite King books. It’s got Pierce Brosnan in it, and I’ll watch every second of it, and probably will come on here and rail on and on about how blah it was. You’ve been warned.

Interview: Jim Beller & Matt Taylor on ‘JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard’

JAWS, the blockbuster film based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, turns 36 this year. This is a movie that was made way before the advent of digital filmmaking, CGI, and other tools that would have no doubt made Steven Spielberg’s life easier at the time – but probably would have made for a far less interesting end result. The difficulties Spielberg encountered in making JAWS (uncooperative ocean, uncooperative mechanical shark), and, most importantly, the way he responded to those difficulties, helped him craft an adventure story that still resonates with audiences more than three decades later.

Photo copyright 1974 Edith Blake

Jim Beller and Matt Taylor are just two of the millions of fans who have a special place in their heart for Brody, Quint, Hooper and Bruce the Shark, and – lucky for the rest of us – they’ve poured that appreciation and love into a unique look back at the making of the movie. JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard is a behind-the-scenes book told from the perspective of the islanders who suddenly found themselves in the midst of a huge Hollywood production. At nearly 300 pages stuffed with over 1,000 photographs taken by locals given nearly free reign to observe (and, in many cases, become part of) the action, plus story after story told by locals who became integral parts of the production, it’s a completely different take on the making of a legendary film.

As the book’s June 20 release date draws near, Beller and Taylor took the time to answer a few questions about pulling this massive project together.

OC: What’s your earliest JAWS memory?   

JIM BELLER: I was a big monster film nut when I was nine and I remember it was the last day of school in 1975 and was waiting for the bell to ring to let us out for the summer. I went up to my teacher’s desk and saw a copy of the Time magazine with the “Super Shark” JAWS painting on the cover and asked her what that was. She told me that it was a movie about a “monster shark eating people while at the beach.” Well that was it. I ran home when school got out and begged my parents to go see it. My mom told me that she was going to see it that night with my dad and she would see. The next weekend she took my friends and me to see it in Boston and I’ve been an avid JAWS fan and collector ever since.

MATT TAYLOR:  I was only two years old when the movie was shot in 1974, but was on the island. I have these really hazy mental images that can barely be considered actual memories, but are there nevertheless, of family members talking about JAWS, or simply, “the movie.”  I saw it for the first time in 1979, at the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven, which was its final theatrical run before being aired on network television later that fall. I was absolutely mesmerized. For me, being just seven years old, the movie played almost like a documentary because I recognized so many of the faces in the movie from around town, and of course, swam daily at all of the beaches you see in the movie. It was funny because the studio actually left the Orca II on the island when they wrapped in the fall of ’74, and there it sat on the beach at Menemsha. I saw it nearly everyday as a kid. Most people when they’d come to Martha’s Vineyard would say, “Oh, look! There’s the boat from Jaws!” For me, when I saw the movie for the first time, it was, “Oh, look! There’s the boat from Menemsha!” I can remember my little seven-year-old legs kicking involuntarily at the seat in front of me during the scene where Quint is sliding into the mouth of the shark.

How did you two conceive this project, and how long you have been working on it? 

JB: My original concept was for a coffee table book that showed the making of JAWS only in photos which were taken from a couple of locals on Martha’s Vineyard, and then to have a foreword and epilogue. That’s it. Shortly after making trips to the island to gather these photos, I was looking for a writer and was introduced to Matt Taylor. He told me that he knew a number of people who were involved in the production and thought that it would be interesting to get some new stories from them along with their photos. I thought that Matt’s idea for a bigger, more comprehensive book was great, and so my original concept went right out the window. Once Matt jumped in, the book snowballed with more photos and stories from locals and the book became bigger and better than I could ever have imagined.  

Is it safe to say the locals at Martha’s Vineyard had unprecedented access to the making of a big studio movie? Can you see any movie allowing that kind of access now?

Photo copyright 1974 Andy Fligor

JB: Yes, they really did, and that really wouldn’t happen again to the same extent. I think that a lot of that had to do with the crew wanting to be nice to the locals so they wouldn’t have any more trouble with zoning laws, or raising the prices for supplies that they needed to buy locally (laughs). Seriously though, I heard from a number of locals that the crew was fantastic and let them come right up as close and take as many photos as they wanted, just so long as they didn’t get in the way. But as soon as the crew began shooting, the locals with the cameras had to stop because all of the clicking would have ruined the shots!

How important was Martha’s Vineyard – both as a location and as a group of people – to the success of JAWS?

JB: It was very important. As Joe Alves, who found the island while scouting the east coast for locations, has said, “The Vineyard was just perfect—there was such order with the clam-shelled driveways and white picket fences. It was the perfect place for a shark to come in and destroy.”

Why do you think the movie continues to resonate with fans old and new today?

JB: Well, I always say that it’s a film that has everything. It has great drama, suspense, horror, action, comedy, and a soundtrack that no one can ever forget. Plus, there is always the possibility that the events of the story could actually happen. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility. I still don’t go swimming deep in the ocean. I don’t like not knowing what’s swimming beneath me.  

Why do you think movies that try to imitate that formula – including the JAWS sequels – continue to fall flat?

MT: Well, first, as far as JAWS sequels, you can only use the same, basic storyline so many times—once, really—before it fails to resonate with audiences. I mean, how much can people maintain their suspension of disbelief?  Second, I firmly believe that despite all of the ingredients that went into creating JAWS, and all of the hard work of so many wonderfully talented people, it was the vision, and natural born talent of Steven Spielberg that made that movie what it was. Without his artistry, and just raw, gut feeling about how to tell that story, we’d essentially have had Deep Blue Sea twenty years earlier. That’s not to say Deep Blue Sea is a bad movie—it just doesn’t have that magical quality that JAWS has. JAWS without Spielberg would have been like the 1980s Boston Celtics without Larry Bird, or the Beatles without McCartney.   

Were there things you wanted for the book that you were unable to get? Were there things you wanted to include but ran out of room for?

MT: Yes—I had to trim somewhere around fifty pages from an early draft just to get the book down to a manageable and affordable print size. I’d love to one day publish an expanded edition, as there are many more stories I’d like to include. The stuff that was cut had a lot to do with the shark being damaged on set out in Cow Bay, and focused a lot on how they’d repair it on a daily basis. Lots of technical, nitty-gritty-type stuff with Roy Arbogast, and how, exactly, the shark was damaged—coming up with various combination of chemicals to make the skin look more realistic.

Some of that stuff survived the final edit, but at the end of the day, our book is mainly about the Vineyard people involved with the production. I tried to use the material from the Hollywood contingent only when we didn’t have local stories. Lynn and Susan Murphy were two locals heavily involved with operating the sea sled shark—the one that was towed behind Lynn’s boat, and so in keeping with the book’s local flavor, I decided, in the end, to focus more on their stories about the sea sled shark because they tied in with the whole local angle. And, there are just as many great sea sled shark stories as there are ones about the platform shark.    

How easy was it to get people to come forward with stories and photos for the book?

Photo copyright 1974 Jackie Baer

MT: In some cases it was very easy, and in others it was a complete nightmare. People who have lived on Martha’s Vineyard for a long time tend to become very set in their ways—ways that are generally not in sync with the ways of the mainland as far as schedules and meeting deadlines. In some ways, the island is almost too laid back. And so getting many of the book’s participants to show up for their interview, or to find a photo—things that could have been done in an hour—in many instances, took months. I interviewed around 120 people, though, and so that was not the case with everybody. People like Lynn and Susan Murphy and Joe Alves were just great. They made the book.

Is the filming of JAWS looked back on as a positive experience by the people of Martha’s Vineyard?

JB: It all depends on who you talk too. There are some locals who loved it, like the business people, and the ones who landed roles in the movie, and there are some who loathed it because there were these big studio trucks blocking their streets and they had to deal with listening to saws & hammers in the middle of the night while building the ORCA or fixing the sharks.

You touched on your choice to limit stories from the professionals involved with the movie – was that in keeping with a specific tone you wanted for the book?

JB: We really didn’t involve many of the Hollywood crew in this book because that story has been told already a number of times through various books, magazine articles and documentaries over the years. Matt wanted to focus on stories that hadn’t been told before. But the handful of Hollywood participants that we did involve were fantastic, and shared all kinds of new stories and photos that JAWS fans are going to love.

MT: I wanted the book to feel local—a “Hollywood comes to Mayberry” type feel. The more Hollywood names we involved, the more we’d lose that “hometown” feel. I think we have a good blend. The book is mostly told through the perspective of the local islanders who were involved. The Hollywood personnel I interviewed were the ones who worked most closely with the locals involved with the production. Joe Alves worked a lot with local artisans. Bill Gilmore worked tirelessly in helping to clear up zoning issues with the selectmen, and of course Carl Gottlieb spent considerable time absorbing local color and characters into the script. Shari Rhodes, who was the location casting director, was fantastic. I was really upset to learn of her passing last year. I got to know her quite well during production of the book, and she contributed tons of great material. She coordinated all of the locals who appeared in the movie.

What’s the response to the book been so far?

JB: It’s been incredible. It’s great to finally hear people’s reactions to the book. As a JAWS fan who has read and seen mostly everything that has been out there on the making of this film, I can honestly say that Matt Taylor has done something that no one has done before, in digging down deep into the Vineyard community and dredging up these old stories that were at risk of being forever lost. JAWS fans are really going to be blown away by what they read and see in this book.

Have you come across things about JAWS in putting this book together that surprised you? 

MT: The order in which a lot of the scenes were shot. That is something our book offers that no one else has ever recorded—the production in chronological order from beginning to end. Also, the degree to which Lynn Murphy, a local mechanic who worked on the movie, influenced Robert Shaw in his portrayal of Quint. People always thought it was just a local guy named Craig Kingsbury. But it was Lynn, too. Perhaps just as much so.

Will you be doing anything special for the book’s release? A launch party in Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps?

'JAWS: Memories from Martha's Vineyard' will be released on June 20th by Moonrise Media.

JB: Yes, on July 2nd there will be a Book Launch and Signing in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Joe Alves, the production designer will be there to do his “Making Of JAWS” lecture, and there will also be a locally produced, narrated slideshow called “Inside JAWS” that hasn’t been seen since the ’80s. Plus, there will be many locals who were either in the film or on the crew in 1974, who will be signing the book. We’re working on getting the entire local cast and crew reunited for the book signing. You can go to  for more information on the event.

JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard is scheduled to start shipping on June 20th. You can preorder it now at the book’s official website, where it’s available in two editions: a $59.95 paperback and a limited, $250 “Collector’s Edition” hardcover that comes with an actual piece of the Orca  II and a DVD containing behind-the-scenes footage shot by Martha’s Vineyard resident Carol Fligor.

I’d like to give a special “thank you” to the good folks at Moonrise Media for providing the pictures that I’ve run with this interview. I’d also like to point you in the direction of an excellent interview with Steven Spielberg over at Ain’t It Cool News conducted by JAWS superfan “Quint.” If you’re like me, and you can’t get enough of JAWS, there are some great tidbits in there, including some long-awaited news about the upcoming Blu-ray edition of the film.