Steven Spielberg and John Williams Talk About How Two Iconic Music Notes Became Invisible Actors in ‘Jaws’

Stephen Colbert sat down with film industry legends Steven Spielberg and John Williams to discuss their amazing work together over the past 50 years. Spielberg specifically noted how Williams’ compositions became an additional character in the film. The pair talked about the iconic two music notes denoting the shark in Jaws.

I thought it was a joke when Johnny played it for me on the piano. He called me up and said I have the theme for “jaws.” come over and listen to it, and I went running over to johnny’s house, and Johnny sat down at the piano, and he was really excited to preview for it for me, and he takes two fingers. He didn’t need all ten. He goes, “duh-duh, duh-duh.” I started laughing. Johnny had a sense of humor, but he had never teased me before.

As it turned out, Williams was serious. And it turned out better than Spielberg could have expected, particularly since Bruce the shark wasn’t working all the time.

Willilams: Another big issue with us was that if you play this very softly and slowly, you advertise or you advance the thoughts. The shock is there just by hearing the music. There is no shark nearby, but if it speeds up and comes closer to you and gets louder and louder, this seemed two notes. You’ve got an actor that you can’t see and a threat that by some primordial instinct you are threatened. …

Spielberg: Johnny sort of saved the movie because he became the shark, and then music substituted for the absent shark, which made it a hell of a lot scarier and more SUSPENSEFUL.

Colbert continued the interview with Spielberg, asking him about aliens, his past contributions, and his favorite movies.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.