"On Location... On Martha's Vineyard: The Making of the Movie Jaws (45th Anniversary Edition)" Book Review

Written by Robert Gold

Published by BearManor Media

Written by Edith Blake
1975, 211 pages, Reference
Released August 6th, 2020


Peter Benchley’s upcoming novel Jaws was seemingly guaranteed to be a best seller and Universal Pictures was quick to snatch up the movie rights. Twenty-six-year-old rising filmmaker Steven Spielberg was assigned directing duties and the movie was set to move forward budgeted at an impressive $3.5 million with a shooting schedule of fifty-five days. Production began in the spring of 1974 in New England on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Nobody was prepared for the unprecedented level of challenging setbacks that came with shooting scenes in the actual ocean, as opposed to in a studio tank and, more alarmingly, getting the titular shark to perform as needed. The fifty-five day shoot stretched to a painful one hundred fifty-nine days and the budget tripled to $9 million.

The notoriously troubled production history on the movie Jaws has been well-documented by many film scholars, fans and critics alike. Countless books, articles and essays have been written over the years documenting the making of the film, starting with screenwriter Carl Gottlieb’s insider’s account, The Jaws Log (1975), which remains the quintessential text on the subject to this day. That same year, the story was told from a different perspective, by someone outside the world of show business. Edith Blake, an islander present for the duration of the lengthy shoot recounts her observations in her book On Location… On Martha’s Vineyard: The Making of the Movie Jaws (1975).

Ms. Blake tells of the tranquil life found on the quiet island of Martha’s Vineyard that quickly changed with the arrival of location scouts from Hollywood for their upcoming project. They were polite and gracious and the community seemed ready to welcome them with open arms. She continues with stories of the company hiring many locals to perform any number of tasks behind the scenes and later for others to appear on camera. Some opportunistic islanders began charging higher rates for the use of their homes and businesses, but the studio didn’t seem to mind. Crowds of locals were gathered to play extras in the numerous beach scenes, an exciting opportunity to be in a movie that quickly soured for some because of the lengthy process of repeating the action countless times to get the angles and the action just right.

As the production stretched well into the island’s critical summer season, residents began to wonder how much longer this would go on. Within her community, Blake and the others would often shake their heads at the studio’s lavish spending – due to union rules – on items being shipped cross country that are readily available nearby. There is also the producers’ refusal to listen to advice from the locals concerning currents and boats. This costly mistake results in lengthy delays on a daily basis while they try to set up a shot. Blake laughs it off and continues to report about the positive experiences like meeting the generous and friendly actors. She is also impressed by the top-secret mechanical sharks – that were immediately photographed and published in various papers.

On Location… On Martha’s Vineyard is an interesting fly-on-the-wall tour through the daily ups and downs of a major Hollywood production. It is a refreshing outsider’s perspective of how the gears turn behind the scenes. The book was rushed into print when the movie proved to be a runaway hit and Jaws-mania swept the nation. Because of the urgency to get the book onto shelves, the overall work suffers from the lack of a proper editor and each chapter is riddled with typos and grammatical errors. For the forty-fifth anniversary re-release, a great opportunity was missed to correct these errors and so they remain intact. There is one baffling addition to the new edition that appears early in the book in which part of an e-mail exchange is printed within a lengthy confusing sentence:

“Suddenly, and in no understandable way, the congestion increased when the entourage of encamped trucks and attendant confusion was enhanced by the other know okay okay the code is 7310 to get into it as I have a have a code on exam work email on it now Just think the garage a house which seemed to prowl the streets with human intelligence.” (p.47)

As informative as the book is, the question I was left with concerns Ms. Blake herself. Who is she and how did she find herself in such a position to document the production so thoroughly? Did she work for the city or a newspaper or the mayor’s office? It appears many observations were culled from conversations with other islanders, but she seems awfully close to the center of the storm. The original printing contained a number of rare behind-the-scenes black-and-white photographs that enhanced the stories. For this anniversary edition, the grainy originals were scanned and restored, resulting in sharper images. New to this edition is a generous number of never-before-published photographs spread across thirty-four pages that offers even more immediacy and are definitely worth checking out. Author Michael A. Smith (Jaws 2: The Making of a Hollywood Sequel) provides a new introduction and epilogue, sharing his love of Jaws and his fond memories of talking with Edith Blake.

In today’s Hollywood, there is no way this film running three times over schedule and tripling its budget would be allowed to continue, especially without replacing the young director. Despite the delays and overruns, Jaws went on to become the first summer blockbuster earning $100 million at the box office. The film has spawned three sequels and inspired countless underwater horror adventures. Over the years there have been a number of books written chronicling the making of the original classic. Edith Blake’s On Location… On Martha’s Vineyard remains a high watermark and is just as engaging as it was in 1975.


Overall: 3.5 Star Rating Cover
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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer


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