Can Universal smell money the way a shark smells blood?

What else would lure the studio back to the potentially troubled waters of this winter-bound resort to re-create Amity, N.Y., for “Jaws: The Revenge,” the fourth thriller in the saga of the world’s hungriest Great White Shark? (The other three have grossed $382.5 million domestically at the box office.) And what else would motivate Universal executives to compress the usual time it takes to develop a major film from idea to production--about two years--into a frantic nine months, aiming for a July 3 release date?

Battling weather, rough ocean and sometimes local animosity, it took director Steven Spielberg 155 nightmare days to shoot the original “Jaws” here in 1974. The cast and crew of this “Jaws” is being asked to wrap the $23-million feature in 54 shooting days--six here in Edgartown for Christmas scenes (it started shooting last Monday), 38 in the sunny Bahamas, 10 back in Los Angeles.

Although a week-old snow blankets the town and shoreline here, the weather through press time has been balmy. But pressure and portent still hang over the shoot.


“This will be the fastest I have ever seen a major film planned and executed in all of my 35 years as a production manager,” said associate producer and production manager Frank Baur, between takes of a graveyard funeral scene, in which farewells are bid to the latest shark victim.

Producer-director Joseph Sargent (“MacArthur,” “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”) calls the hurried production “a ticking bomb waiting to go off.”

“Sid Sheinberg (president of MCA Inc., parent company of Universal Pictures) expects a miracle--and we’re going to make it happen,” Sargent said. But, he added, meeting Sheinberg’s July 3 deadline is sure to “drive everybody mad.”

Sargent got a call from Sheinberg in late September asking him to direct this latest episode of “Jaws”--with no script yet written. Said Sargent: “I didn’t have time to laugh, because Sid explained he wanted to do a quality picture about human beings. When he told me, ‘It’s your baby, you produce and direct,’ I accepted.”

Then, said Sargent, Sheinberg “cut through all the slow lanes and got ‘Jaws’ off and running.” Sargent hired writer Michael de Guzman to script a new story and began assembling a cast. Special effects specialist Henry Millar began building the new mechanical sharks--seven will be needed this time out--and working out logistics.

A “Jaws” spoof set in Malibu had been in development under Frank Price, then chairman of the motion picture group, who departed the studio in September. That project was aborted after his departure, and with costly duds like “Howard the Duck” and “Legal Eagles” recently plaguing Universal, another expensive “Jaws” sequel would seem on the risky side.


But Sheinberg, on the phone from Universal City, told Calendar: “For a considerable time, I believed we should do a good ‘Jaws’ movie.” (He called “Jaws 3-D,” produced by Alan Landsburg Productions but distributed by Universal, “a pretty bad movie.”) “The people running Universal motion pictures at that time (the Price regime) couldn’t get the ‘Jaws’ notion off the ground.

“The only way to get another ‘Jaws’ done was to take direct responsibility myself. I got the kind of people I knew could work fast and well with the ‘Jaws’ premise. It was done in a very unconventional manner.”

But why not the comic “Jaws” project left over from the Price era? Said Sheinberg: “I thought it was an atrocious idea. Under the aegis of Mr. Price, there was that ‘Jaws’ idea kicking around, but it had nothing to do with the real ‘Jaws’ except that it had a shark.”

This is a more human story, he said, than any of the previous “Jaws” films. “The script and the picture should make you laugh and cry and give you a few good scares in between because of its quality. We have very high expectations for its commercial success.”

Sheinberg’s wife, Lorraine Gary, the only principal cast member to return from the first two pictures, offered her own version of events.

“The truth is my husband runs the studio,” said Gary between scene set-ups aboard the Chappaquiddick ferry. “I heard about it at home. He came in and said, ‘You’ve got to have a hit movie this summer and I think we can do another ‘Jaws.’ I was stunned. I thought he was teasing me.”

He wasn’t, and because the film has such potential “to make money for the summer,” the picture is facing a “genuine deadline and the potential of problems of hardware and weather.” But the script, she insisted, “is in much better shape” than it was with “Jaws” and “Jaws 2.”

Admitted Sargent: “If Sid had waited another few weeks, it would have been too late to have made ‘Jaws’ happen in time for summer.”

An experienced observer, Steven Spielberg, sent this note to Sargent after reading the script for “Jaws: The Revenge”:

“Like the Vietnam vet, I came home too and managed never to think about the year 1974, until I started reading ‘Jaws: The Revenge.’ Got to Page 18 and found myself holding that service revolver and discharging it until empty into the Atlantic Ocean (in one scene in the new film, Gary empties her late husband’s service revolver in similar fashion). I just couldn’t go on reading because it brought back so many memories.

“Good luck, Joseph Sargent. Bring a lot of Joseph Conrad to read while you’re waiting for the next shoot.

“Call home often to talk to people you love.

“With tremendous sympathy and two winks of my right eye, (signed) Steve.”

Although Spielberg is not involved in this version, Sargent said, “We’ve learned a lot from ‘Jaws 1,’ ‘2’ and even ‘3-D.’ But this is the new generation Bruce”--as the mechanical shark is called, after Spielberg’s attorney, Bruce Ramer. “Ours is bigger, more flexible and more realistic looking.” (John McCosker, a leading authority on great whites and director of San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium, is on location as a consultant.)

Bruce IV is actually seven mechanical sharks, or parts thereof. The four complete models are 25 feet long, each weighing over a ton, constructed of fiberglass molded over a metal frame and covered with a latex skin. As you read this, Millar is assembling them in the Bahamas. Sixty assistants are stationed at Universal, with 25 more in the Bahamas, racing to have the sharks ready when cast and crew arrive later this week.

Writer De Guzman still marvels that all this was put into motion before he had ever written a treatment. In fact, De Guzman, a TV writer, had never scripted a feature before “Jaws: The Revenge.” After a meeting in which he outlined an idea verbally to Sheinberg, De Guzman said, “We were left hanging. Next thing I knew, I picked up Variety and was stunned--a two-page color spread announced ‘Jaws 1987’ and that I was writing and Sargent was producing and directing.”

De Guzman is also amazed that “Universal spent millions in pre-production, building sharks, giving contracts, hiring special-effects people on faith. They spent all that money and had trust on a story that didn’t even exist.”

Sheinberg, he added, was “deeply involved in the story meetings, rolling up his sleeves and reading all the revisions. Unusual for a busy head of a studio.”

De Guzman promises fewer shots of the fish, less slaughter but more fear, and more humanity.

The latest human sushi fest has the mechanical monster munching his way from frosty Amity to the sun-splashed Bahamas. The story, set 15 years after the original attack, focuses on Gary as Ellen Brody, widow of the town’s police chief (played in the first two pictures by Roy Scheider, who didn’t sign for this one). Already suffering “sharkaphobia”--she blames the shark for her hubbie’s coronary--she’s hit with another tragedy when Brucie kills one of her sons (Mitchell Anderson). Her surviving son (Lance Guest) convinces his distraught mom to join him and his wife (Karen Young) in the Bahamas, where he’s a marine biologist.

There, Gary’s grief ebbs as she falls for Michael Caine, a charming but mysterious air-taxi pilot. Everybody likes to snorkel, etc., in the clear Bahamian water, which the Ministry of Tourism swears is shark-free. But guess who’s coming to dinner? You get the picture.

In the dead of winter, semi-deserted Edgartown has been transformed into lively Amity. About 125 cast and crew members have moved in and 250 local extras hired. The sign outside the local drug store now reads “Amity.” Prop Christmas lights and decorations are up. The local gravestone maker frenetically turned out 51 slabs to lend authenticity to a mock graveyard used for Sean Brody’s funeral. The wharf pub is serving “shark a la Brody” and “killer white mousse.” And “Jawsabilia” is already appearing: postcards, T-shirts, plastic sharks.

Toby Codding, manager of the local video store, calls “Jaws 3-D” “trashy” and won’t stock it. But “ ‘Jaws 1’ and ‘2’ are our biggest moneymakers after ‘Repo Man’ and ‘Spinal Tap.’ ”

Spielberg was not beloved by all the townspeople--and vice versa--but now only a few locals seem to be grumbling about the invasion. When the city council met in a special November meeting to decide if Universal was again welcome, one crusty old Yankee complained: “The worst thing that ever happened to Edgartown was Universal Pictures and Ted Kennedy.”

But by spending some cash (Universal paid the town $10,000 to cover permits, site rentals and administration), throwing a bash for about 200 townspeople (shark canapes were served) and hiring six local handicapped kids as extras, the studio got its location site.

“ ‘Jaws’ is a welcome relief,” said Jimmy Carter, owner of the Heritage Hotel. “Business in February is always dead, but now three hotels are full thanks to ‘Jaws.’ A lot of unemployed people are making money too. I didn’t like the movie, but I’d welcome a ‘Jaws’ crew here every year.”

Only about 7,000 locals are left from a summer population of 85,000. A local production liaison, Michael Wild, has been hastily tracking down absent summer residents to seek permission to park trucks near their property, string up lights (so the town looks fully inhabited), etc.

“I’ve been sending letters and cables to all the sunny spots trying to track down the residents,” Wild said. “I even sent one cable to a lady who’s in Bombay to get permission to turn on the lights outside her house.” Meanwhile, on the set, makeup artists are mixing gallons of fake blood for a shark attack (the recipe: Karo syrup, Hershey chocolate syrup and red food coloring).

A local said that he’s delighted with all the activity, because in winter, the only pastimes in Edgartown are “sex and fishing, and in February it’s even too cold to fish.”

Throughout all this, Lorraine Gary, 50, stands as the only vestige from the original “Jaws,” which made a directing star of Spielberg and which some contend launched a new genre--the summer movie.

Gary stopped working nine years ago after appearing in Universal-Columbia’s “1941” (directed by Spielberg) and Columbia’s “You and Me Kid.”

“I haven’t had an acting job since the phone stopped ringing,” she confessed. “I was miserable.” A literary agent offered her a position “and from that moment on, I have not wanted to work as an actress.” Three years ago she left her agent’s job, did volunteer work with mentally ill children and began leading a “very wonderful, leisurely, middle-aged lady’s life.”

She describes returning to an work before the camera as “a major shock.” During the first day of rehearsal, she was in a “state of depression and panic. I didn’t want to leave my family and friends and prove myself again as an actress.”

But now those “terrible” feelings are over: “I know I can act. This role is what I used to dream of, until I became happy as a person, no longer depending on acting to be fulfilled.” She calls the part “sensational, better than any I’ve ever been offered,” but is still unsure if she’ll ever act again--”It’s too tough emotionally and the older you get, the worse it is.”

“Being married to Sid was a handicap. Some directors were afraid to hire me in case we had disagreements on the set. And I think there are other times that people wouldn’t use me because they don’t like Sid.” And then there were the others, she said, who “would be afraid of appearing to be kissing his behind.”

But she also admitted, “I have access (to people) that I never would have had.”

Still defensive about questions of nepotism and salary (a couple of minor MCA stockholders reportedly once questioned her $242,349 salary for “Jaws 2”), she said she has paid her dues by appearing in over 70-plus TV shows and five features.

“I made a good deal (on this latest sequel), but I didn’t make as good a deal as I would have if I weren’t married to Sid,” she insisted. “This is the one situation where I can claim genuinely to be worth something because I’m not only reprising a role, I’m reprising it for the third time. My deal is very nice, but it’s not as nice as Michael Caine’s by a long shot. He’s a major international star. This is my third time around (as Ellen Brody) and I’m not embarrassed to say I’m getting more because I deserve more, certainly more than I got on ‘Jaws.’ ”

Roy Scheider, in a telephone interview from L.A., said he turned down an offer to appear in the new “Jaws” because “we did ‘Jaws’ once and we did it right.” He appeared in “Jaws 2” because it was a “contractual obligation that I didn’t know I had. I had to do it. Now I don’t have to do ‘Jaws’ anymore. If I’d choose, I could probably continue doing ‘Jaws’ pictures for the rest of my life, because it seems Universal is going to do ‘Jaws’ pictures for the rest of their lives. I’m not joining the dance.”

Back in Edgartown, others are gladly joining the dance, hoping this movie recaptures the “Jaws” magic and box office, with many sequels to follow.

But for now, they’ll be happy just to keep this one on its tight schedule.

“We pray a lot,” said Frank Baur, moving quickly to another set-up. “If the shark and the weather and the ocean cooperate, we’ll have accomplished the impossible.”