Quint and legendary producer Richard Zanuck briefly discuss Jaws and Alice In Wonderland... well, mostly Jaws...
Published at: June 1, 2010, 11:14 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a few minutes of my chat with producer Richard Zanuck. Now, we were supposed to talk about ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The interview was set up in support of the DVD and Blu-Ray, which comes out today… but as you’ll see the focus of the conversation was on JAWS, which he produced alongside David Brown.
I mean, look at my chosen pseudonym. He didn’t really stand a chance at pimping Alice for the whole interview and thankfully for me he seemed just as content talking about Jaws.
You’ll notice the interview is rather short… well, it wasn’t as short as what’s below, although I had only been given a few minutes over the phone to start with.
We started very conversationally and as I introduced myself and my nom de plume he started going into Jaws stories. After about 5 minutes I realized the interview had actually begun and I scrambled to hit the record button on my digital recorder.
Briefly, we covered a little ground on the name Quint and he said that when he and David Brown optioned the book, pre-release, the character’s name was Flynn, but Peter Benchley was pressed to change it due to its similarity to a well-known fisherman at the time.
I brought up the one Jaws story I had gotten out of Spielberg when I had the chance to speak with him on the set of War of the Worlds, about how Robert Shaw campaigned him to change the name from Quint to McGregor. Zanuck laughed and said, “That was probably because he wanted to use his own accent.”
We were still on the topic of Robert Shaw when I decided I was a fool for not recording any of this, so the below starts with Zanuck telling me how Shaw was drunk as a skunk when doing the famous Indianapolis speech, which he had rewritten himself before performing.
Richard Zanuck: I don’t know whether he had prepared or how much he had prepared his own thoughts, but most of that story and that scene… And Steven [Spielberg] was sharp enough and smart enough to just let the camera roll and there were big pauses and everything, which we cut our way through, but most of that was not on the page in the script. He was half in the bag and just let it flow and it was a remarkable performance and bit of acting in that one scene.
He was a great personal friend and I was in France when he died and I actually became very, very upset, because I considered him a personal friend. We went through a lot of episodes together, most of them when we were both heavily drinking at that time. He was great fun to be with. He was a good tennis player and so am I, so we had fun wherever we were playing tennis. When he died so abruptly, it was a terrible shock personally.
Quint: Yeah. I can imagine.
Richard Zanuck: So, you carry on and behave yourself with such a fine name!
Quint: (laughs) Yeah, I’ve got to carry on the legacy, which I’m absolutely not suited for in anyway. Jaws was a famous production in that it was a very hellish production, but I’ve always wondered why you personally… What was it that gave you the trust in Steven to pull it off when everything was just at it’s worst? Was it the footage you were seeing? Was it the fact that you had worked with him on SUGARLAND EXPRESS?
Richard Zanuck: Well, Steven came to me with SUGARLAND and it was a project that… I was between studios at that time and it was on turn around at Universal. He prepared it and had been a big influence with Barwood and Robbins, who were the screenplay writers, but they put it on turn around.
I had met Steven sometime before while I was head of Fox. It was a very good meeting and a year later he came and brought me SUGARLAND and he said, “You know, I’m trying to get this going. Read it.” Which I did and I called him up and I said, “This is great, I want to make it” and I said to him confidentially “You will read about it in a couple of days, but I’m making a deal at Universal.” He said “Oh, oy vey!” He said, “Jesus, I didn’t want to tell you because I thought it would color your opinion of the script, but they don’t like it!”
So I said “Well, let me conclude my deal over there and then I’ll see what I can do.” A couple of days later, I concluded the deal and met Steven in the commissary for lunch. He was a little kid sitting there and I came down and I said, “I just met with (Lew) Wasserman and he had one question about THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS” and he looked up fearfully and said, “What was it?” I said, “He wants to know how soon we can start.”
Richard Zanuck: He said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” I said, “No, I’m not kidding you at all. He’s gambling on you and he has trust in me, so let’s pack our bags and go to Texas and start looking for locations because this is a go.” He was just like a little kid. It was remarkable.
But to answer your question, after the first shot on SUGARLAND on the first day, I knew I was dealing with a guy that was a total genius in terms of camera, how to tell a story, how to move people in front of the camera, how to move the camera in front of the people, and his pacing, the fact that the actors loved him. I saw right away in the first shot and thereafter that I was dealing with a guy who knew more about cameras and lenses than the DP, who was a well-known DP at the time.
So, when JAWS came up, when we bought that, the studio wanted a tried and true adventure director and I said to Wasserman, “That’s exactly what we don’t want, with all due respect Lew, I want to see it through this kid’s eyes. I want his incredible camera work and his take on it, not somebody who has done a lot of action adventure pictures.” I said, “Maybe we’d know what we were getting, but the beauty of Steven is we don’t know what we are getting. Let’s take a chance.” I think it was even before the release of SUGARLAND, which wasn’t a hit; we had made that decision on JAWS.
[Quint is told time is almost up and thanked by a rep.]
Richard Zanuck: Let him ask one more question!
Quint: You know, I don’t know what your schedule is like over the next few days, but I would love to continue talking maybe when you are not so pressed for time, because we didn’t even really get to touch on ALICE at all.
Richard Zanuck: Ask me one question on ALICE.
Quint: All right, let’s ask one question of ALICE.
Richard Zanuck: We can end with that. I don’t know what… They’ve got me hopping around and then I’m leaving to go back to London towards the end of the week, so my time is a little tight. Let’s not go through the whole thing without touching base with ALICE.
Quint: Of course. The thing that struck me with ALICE is that it’s such a giant iconic property and I think you gathered a really nice team for the movie, but the question that I have is what your biggest personal challenge was on the project. You had to deal with large the scope of the picture, bringing together all the talent, etc. What took priority for you? What was the most important thing for to handle?
Richard Zanuck: The most important thing, once you get past the story and doing justice to this well known project is that Tim [Burton]’s vision was going to be realized in terms of the budget that we had and also in terms of the time restrictions. We had a date long before we started, a release date. The picture was actually booked in thousands of theaters long before we started, so my aim obviously was to make that date and it was very close. The last couple of months we worked every Saturday, every Sunday, late into the night during the week, over time, double-time the whole time. So that that was the biggest challenge, but to give Tim the tools and what it took financially and in terms of other talent, the tools to bring off his vision and he did.
Quint: Fantastic. Man, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I would love to do a profile on you at some point and talk about all of your films. It can be anytime; a month, two months, whenever.
Richard Zanuck: Yeah, we can set that up and figure that out.
Quint: I would love to do it, man. I really appreciate you taking the time. It was great talking to you.
Richard Zanuck: Okay, well I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks.
Quint: All right, goodbye!
The whole thing feels way too truncated and I absolutely plan on following up on that profile piece idea. The man is Hollywood royalty who was behind some of the best films of the ‘60s and ‘70s up to today. I could spend an hour just talking about Jaws, never mind THE STING, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, COCOON, DRIVING MISS DAISY, etc.
Hope you guys enjoyed the little nuggets from him thus far. Hopefully you’ll have more soon!
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