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The mad science laboratory
of a screenwriter & consultant



Sunday

Jaws: 17 x Seven Minute Vignettes


This post will make a lot more sense if you've read Paul Gulino's book Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. I've linked to it on the right if you haven't.




While having breakfast I thought I'd spend a few hours analysing Jaws. Something pretty interesting came up. It is clearly visible in the main beats AND has near perfect mathematical consistency - let me explain --

I tried an 8 sequence breakdown at first, but at only 5 minutes the film doesn't have much of a Sequence H, so I thought I'd try to figure out what sequence structure fit it best.

It's a shade over 2 hours long and the sequences seemed to break down pretty neatly like this:

Seq. A • 14 minutes
Seq. B • 14 minutes
ACT 2
Seq. C • 21 minutes
Seq. D • 14 minutes
MIDPOINT
Seq. E • 21 minutes
Seq. F • 14 minutes
ACT 3
Seq. G • 14 minutes
Seq. H • 5 minutes

There's obviously some multiples of 7minute sub-sequences going on there:


Seq. A • 2 x 7 minutes
Seq. B • 2 x 7 minutes
ACT 2
Seq. C • 3 x 7 minutes
Seq. D • 2 x 7 minutes
MIDPOINT
Seq. E • 3 x 7 minutes
Seq. F • 2 x 7 minutes
ACT 3
Seq. G • 2 x 7 minutes
Seq. H • 5 minutes

Or to put it another way -

Act 1 • 4 x 7
Act 2A • 5 x 7
Act 2B • 5 x 7
Act 3 • 2 x 7 + a 5 minute climax and coda

Perfectly symmetrical... but with 9 minutes chopped off the end.

I'm not just doing some silly frivolous mathematical sleight of hand here either -- almost without fail there is a real tangible story-beat transition every seven minutes. I actually marked them as possible split points as I was watching, before I'd even realised the bigger picture.

Here's the wikipedia synopsis broken into seven minute sections - I swear I'm not fudging this!




17 Vignettes - Structural Analysis of JAWS  (screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb)

Seq. 1 During a late night beach party on the fictional Amity Island in New England, a 23-year-old woman named Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) goes skinny dipping, only to be dragged under by an unseen force.

Seq. 2 Amity's new police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), is notified that Chrissie is missing, and deputy Len Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) finds her mutilated remains on the beach. The medical examiner informs Brody that the death was due to a shark attack. Brody plans to close the beaches but is overruled by town mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), who fears that reports of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season, as it is the town's primary source of income. The medical examiner reverses his diagnosis and attributes the death to a boating accident. Brody reluctantly goes along with the explanation.

Seq. 3 A short time later, a boy is brutally killed by a shark at the beach.

Seq. 4 The boy's mother places a bounty on the shark, sparking an amateur shark-hunting frenzy and attracting the attention of local professional shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw). Two fishermen throw a large beef cut into the water and chain it to a pier. One is nearly killed after the shark tugs at the bait so hard the pier collapses.

/

Seq. 5 Brought in by Brody, marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) examines Chrissie's remains and concludes she was killed by a shark. A large tiger shark is caught by a group of fishermen, leading the town to believe the problem is solved, but Hooper is unconvinced that the shark is the killer and asks to examine its stomach contents. The dead boy’s mother turns up and condemns Brody for having allowed the beach to stay open, knowing there might be a shark.

Seq. 6 Vaughn refuses to make the "half-assed autopsy" public, so Brody and Hooper return after dark and discover the dead shark does not contain human remains.

Seq. 7 Scouting aboard Hooper's boat, they come across the half-sunken wreckage of a boat belonging to local fisherman Ben Gardner. Hooper explores the vessel underwater and discovers a sizable shark's tooth, and also the remains of Ben Gardner, which makes him drop the tooth in a panic.

Seq. 8 Vaughn refuses to close the beaches, and on the Fourth of July numerous tourists arrive.

Seq. 9 A prank by two boys involving a cardboard fin causes panic before the real shark enters an estuary, kills a man and causes Brody's son to go into shock after witnessing it. MIDPOINT.

//

Seq. 10 Brody convinces Vaughn to hire Quint, and he and Hooper join the hunter on his fishing boat, the Orca, to kill the shark.

Seq. 11 Brody is given the task of laying a chum line while Quint uses deep sea fishing tackle to try to hook the shark. As Brody continues chumming, an enormous great white shark looms up behind the boat; the trio watch the great white circle the Orca and estimate it weighs 3 short tons (2.7 t) and is 25 feet (7.6 m) long.

Seq. 12 Hooper takes pictures of the shark for research purposes. Quint harpoons the shark with a line attached to a flotation barrel, designed to prevent the shark from submerging and to track it on the surface, but the shark pulls the barrel under and disappears. The sun sets.

Seq. 13 Night falls without another sighting, so the men retire to the boat's cabin, where Quint tells of his experience with sharks as a survivor of the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Seq. 14 The shark reappears, damaging the boat's hull before slipping away. In the morning, the men make repairs to the engine. Attempting to call the Coast Guard for help, Brody is stopped by Quint, who destroys the radio with a baseball bat. 

/

Seq. 15 After a long chase Quint harpoons another barrel to the shark. The men tie the barrels to the stern, but the shark, after Quint harpoons it again adding a third barrel, drags the boat backwards, forcing water onto the deck and into the engine, flooding it. Quint is about to cut the ropes with his machete when the cleats are pulled off the stern. The shark continues attacking the boat and Quint heads toward shore with the shark in pursuit, hoping to draw it into shallow waters, where it will get beached and, once unable to swim, suffocate. In his obsession to kill the shark, Quint overtaxes Orca's engine, causing it to seize.

Seq. 16 With the boat immobilized, the trio try a desperate approach: Hooper dons his SCUBA gear and enters the ocean inside a shark proof cage in order to stab the shark in the mouth with a hypodermic spear filled with strychnine. But when the shark attacks and begins destroying the cage, Hooper drops his spear. The shark gets tangled in the cage's remains, allowing Hooper to escape and hide on the seabed. As Quint and Brody raise the remnants of the cage, the shark throws itself onto the boat, crushing the transom. As the boat sinks, Quint slides down the slippery deck into the shark's mouth and is eaten alive. 

Seq. 17 Brody retreats to the boat's partly submerged cabin. When the shark attacks him there, he shoves a pressurized scuba tank into the shark's mouth, then takes Quint's rifle and climbs the Orca's mast. Brody begins shooting at the scuba tank wedged in the shark's mouth, causing it to explode and blow the shark to pieces. Hooper and Brody make rafts out of the Orca's remains and paddle back to Amity Island.
RK / Wikipedia 2011


Quite apart from the beneficial effects of the artificial constraint of needing to follow such a strict rhythm (think of rhyming poetry, haiku or iambic pentameter) imagine how stress-free it would be to be able to schedule the shoot and actually film in seventeen easy seven minute sections like this. I'm pretty blown away by this. What are your thoughts?