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“Jaws” production designer Joe Alves talks CGI, 3D and the film’s legacy

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For a movie that’s almost four decades old, “Jaws” has aged remarkably well. A lot of that can be attributed to Joe Alves, the production designer responsible for creating the movie’s titular shark.

Universal Pictures is honoring “Jaws” during the studio’s 100th anniversary celebration by releasing the Steven Spielberg classic on Blu-Ray for the first time ever. Lovingly converted frame by frame from 35 mm to the digital Blu-Ray format, this new release is sure to continue to wow fans for generations to come. In anticipation of the Blu-Ray release on August 14, IFC was invited to chat with Alves and some of the other people involved in the project and its restoration.

The interview with Alves took place on Jaws Lake, the area of Universal Studios Hollywood where the film’s great white shark has been terrifying theme park attendees for years by jumping out of the water accompanied by a burst of flames. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the legacy “Jaws” has created ever since its release in 1975.

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“I think the legacy is the simplicity of it,” Alves explained. “It’s the three men fighting this beast, which is not a beast, it’s a real thing that’s out there, a white shark, just a little bit bigger. Fear. Fear if you go in the ocean it will get you any time. And so I think it’s that. It’s not like a monster movie, not like a real horror movie. It’s like a very realistic something that could terrorize a community. Could hurt you if you’re there at the wrong time.”

It only helped that Alves’s shark looked like something that could easily be spotted in the ocean around Cape Cod. That fear is still prevalent today, where as recently as a few weeks ago a shark was spotted off Massachusetts’ coast.

“We created something that’s realistic, so there was no exaggeration. It wasn’t like we had strange monsters, Transformers and stuff. It was a fin and if you look at [a real shark] fin, it looked like our fin,” Alves said.

Of course, at the time he and Spielberg made the movie it was a lot more difficult to convince people that it was a great idea. Alves got to work on the shark for “Jaws” before Spielberg was even on board, and he admitted that he had quite a few struggles making it. The studio wasn’t too thrilled about the movie when they finally wrapped, because — as Alves puts it — “we had gone way over budget and schedule, so we weren’t heroes.” Everything rode on the movie’s opening night premiere in Long Beach.

“[The crew] used to laugh there when the shark didn’t work. You know, it made funny noises, because of the valves and things,” Alves said of the major cause of his nervousness during the screening. “So if it didn’t work, the crew would laugh, and so, take away those sounds, add other sounds, add John Williams’ music, the best editing, and we showed the movie and we’re sitting there going, ‘Oh god, I hope they don’t laugh.’ And they didn’t laugh. And they went crazy.”

He continued, “If you’re really dedicated to what you do, sometimes you do pictures where the script’s not so good, but you always try to do your best, because you take it personal. And some of them work, and some of them don’t. And ‘Jaws’ just happened to work. And it went on and on and on.”

At the time “Jaws” was created, there wasn’t much of a reliance on computer generated technology to make films look better. Alves and Spielberg had to find real-life solutions to the effects they wanted to create in the film. We asked Alves how he thinks “Jaws” would be different it was created in today’s Hollywood, and he had a very clear idea.

“There’s no question: a lot of CGI. You may do some close-ups with a real [shark,] mechanical, some prosthetics and stuff like that, but I think you’d heavily rely on computer-generated images. Why not? It makes it easier,” he said. “I think you get a script and you take the technology that you have available, and you say what works best for this? A prosthetic would work better, actor could react to it, or do it totally green screen and CGI. Those are the decisions that you make for creative reasons and financial reasons, time elements.”

Alves also directed “Jaws 3D,” one of the major 3D films of the ’80s. Obviously 3D has had a huge comeback in recent years, and Alves reflected on the struggles he had directing a 3D movie in that day and age.

“When I made ‘Jaws 3D,’ I did it to take the [emphasis] off the ‘3,’ because they weren’t making ‘3’s or sequels. And I like the underwater quality of it, but I had no idea that when I made this decision and the studio jumped on it and I was going to direct it that the equipment was all so old,” he said. “So we had to make equipment and so we were fighting technology, and so it was really difficult. And the convergence and get all that. And then the glasses were bad, cardboard glasses. Today you get these beautiful glasses and you’ve got all this technology, so it’s easier.”

Who knows — maybe “Jaws” will get a 3D makeover next.

Do you plan to pick up “Jaws” on Blu-Ray when it comes out Tuesday? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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