Friday, November 15, 2013

An Evening with Carl Gottlieb

Last Wednesday night I had the pleasure of sitting across the table from the screenwriter of Jaws, Carl Gottlieb, as he entertained a small group of film lovers in the back room of a local Italian restaurant in Olympia. I had a tremendous time. Gottlieb is a soft-spoken, genial man who was not shy about answering all of our questions. The first question he was asked was about unproduced screenplays he had written. And he had two great ones.

The first was something called “The Wolf and the Blood” about a male and female team of police detectives, one a werewolf and one a vampire. But neither knows about the other’s secret. When a malevolent killer from the past is accidentally unleashed on L.A. they wind up revealing their powers to each other and have to decide if they’re going to use them to catch the killer. Not only was it a great premise, but the specifics of the story really showed Gottlieb to be a tremendous talent. His other screenplay about modern piracy was written long before Captain Philips. Instead of a straight drama, like the Tom Hanks film, it was more of an espionage action film with a U.S. senator, Middle East terrorists, and mercenaries all trying to reclaim the ship.

When the discussion turned to Jaws I discovered that Gottlieb had not seen Peter Benchley’s original script, or Spielberg’s own attempt. Instead, he worked off the Howard Sackler script, one that Spielberg didn’t really like, and had to hammer out pages just ahead of the shooting. Benchley’s screen credit was simply contractual. Gottlieb also had some great stories about the sequels where he was offered scale in the beginning, turned them down, and when both projects tanked early on in filming they came begging and he was able to gouge the studio for the money he should have been offered in the first place. The end of the evening found him talking about a couple of his more popular directing projects, Caveman with Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach, and Amazon Women on the Moon.

The evening was put together by the Olympia Film Society as part of a screening of Jaws 3. I didn’t attend the film as it is my least favorite in the franchise, but he did sign my first edition copy of The Jaws Log, a fantastic look behind the scenes of making the original film. Carl Gottlieb has had a small but important career in Hollywood. He’s a terrifically approachable man and has a flair for telling a story, not only in person but obviously on paper. It was a fantastic evening and a memory I’ll always cherish.

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